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English-speaking expats are edging out of the market as Chinese-speaking equivalents come to dominate the scene in Hong Kong, fulfilling the needs of many PRC clients, who not only value the language capabilities but also the cultural affinity with China. In perhaps one of the most high-profile moves of 2016, Chiann Bao joined the dispute resolution practice at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, bringing not only Mandarin language skills but also vast experience as the former secretary general of the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre (HKIAC).

Hong Kong remains a tough place for firms to operate in, owing to intense fee pressures, especially in areas such as Hong Kong IPOs, where lawyers have to work hard to complete deals while generating respectable margins. Indeed, many simply work on IPOs in the hope of developing longer-standing relationships with banks and issuers.

In an incredibly fluid market, Hong Kong continues to experience a high frequency of lateral moves. Many international firms continue to show determination in gaining a foothold in Asia’s principal financial centre outside of Japan. For example, Latham & Watkins LLP rebooted its Hong Kong practice with hire of M&A and private equity specialists Simon Cooke from Clifford Chance, Amy Beckingham from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, and Frank Sun from Kirkland & Ellis. It also recruited acquisition and leveraged finance leader Gary Hamp from Hogan Lovells’ London office.

The market also experienced a number of senior-level retirements in 2015 and 2016. In the corporate and M&A segment, Roger Denny, Neil Hyman, Teresa Ma, Gary McLean and Jamie Barr all stepped down from Clifford Chance, Slaughter and May, Linklaters, Allen & Overy and Hogan Lovells respectively. In the debt capital markets space, Bryant Edwards retired from Latham & Watkins LLP and Jeremy Webb from Linklaters.

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