Last Wednesday night, at a gala dinner held at the Conrad Hotel in Hong Kong, The Asian Lawyer presented its inaugural All-Star Awards. We sought to do something different, recognizing excellence in advising key industries rather than simply honoring the biggest, highest-profile deals of the year (though we took those into account too).
We also said we would be publishing the reasons for the decisions that we made. And so here we do exactly that, category by category.
Banking and Finance
Firm Finalists: Clifford Chance, Davis Polk & Wardwell, Latham & Watkins, Sullivan & Cromwell
Winner: Sullivan & Cromwell
The judges sought to honor a firm that didn’t just work with banks on financings in other industries but also was a go-to firm for strategic deals in the financial sector itself. Sullivan & Cromwell’s reputation as one of the leading firms for U.S. bank deals precedes itself in this part of the world, but the firm’s Asian teams showed in the last year that they’re more than capable of carrying that torch, taking the lead role in landmark industry matters like Bank of Tokyo–Mitsubishi UFJ’s $5.75 billion acquisition of a stake in Thailand’s Bank of Ayudhya, CITIC Securities Co. Ltd.’s $1.25 billion acquisition of Hong Kong brokerage CLSA and the merger of the Osaka Securities Exchange with the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
Bonnie Chan, Davis Polk & Wardwell: Chan led teams from her firm that advised on major financial sector deals including the $2.5 billion Hong Kong initial public offering of Chinese “bad bank” China Cinda Asset Management and the $1.1 billion IPO of China Galaxy Securities Co. Ltd. On top of that, however, she—along with fellow partner Martin Rogers—was the choice of the top investment banks in Hong Kong to advise them on a new regulatory regime for IPO underwriters.
Drew Dutton, Debevoise & Plimpton: Few lawyers in the region can boast the close client relationship that Dutton has with certain heavyweight financial institutions. He has been the go-to lawyer for AIA Group, the Asian spinoff of America’s AIG, in its many acquisitions in recent years, including its $1.8 billion takeover last year of ING Groep N.V.’s Malaysia unit.
Firm Finalists: Kim & Chang, Sullivan & Cromwell, WongPartnership, Yulchon
Many folks in the West stopped paying attention after Heineken N.V. beat out Thai billionaire Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi to acquire the maker of Singapore’s Tiger Beer for $4.6 billion. But Charoen’s subsequent acquisition of Fraser & Neave, the drinks maker that previously co-owned Tiger, actually dwarfed the Heineken deal in size. The $11.2 billion deal was one of the largest ever in the Asian consumer sector, and it was Singapore’s WongPartnership, not one of the big names from London or New York, that advised the acquirer.
Kyungsun Kyle Choi, Kim & Chang: Choi leads a 60-lawyer team that advises consumer goods companies across a spectrum of regulatory, transactional and litigation matters. In the past year, she’s worked on significant matters for a virtual who’s who of global brands including Procter & Gamble, Ikea, Kellogg’s and Haagen-Dazs.
Paul Chow, Davis Polk & Wardwell: When it comes to advising China’s burgeoning consumer sector, few lawyers can claim as many big deals in the past year as Chow. He advised Chinese food giants China Mengniu Dairy and COFCO on major bond offerings and China Hui Yuan Juice Holdings Co. on a significant reorganization.
Finalist Firms: Clifford Chance, Herbert Smith Freehills, Latham & Watkins, Mayer Brown JSM, Vinson & Elkins
Winner: Herbert Smith Freehills
China’s resource-hungry state-owned enterprises are buying energy assets all over the world, and in 2013 Herbert Smith Freehills was there to help. The firm represented Chinese clients like CNOOC, PetroChina, and CNPC as they made far-flung investments in energy fields and facilities in the North Sea, Iraq, Mozambique and Australia. Our judges were also impressed by the range of other clients advised by HSF: Australia’s Woodside in acquisitions in Myanmar; Singapore Power in a divestment in Australia and JAPEX in a Canadian shale oil deal.
Hilary Lau, Herbert Smith Freehills: Lau led many of the big deals that made his firm our winner in this category, from CNOOC’s $2 billion purchase of a stake in the Queensland Curtis LNG project to PetroChina’s $3 billion investment in Iraq’s West Qurna field. A former in-house counsel at two oil and gas companies, he has particular expertise in oilfield services and has developed durable working relationships with several Chinese state-owned enterprises—such as China National Petroleum Corp., for which he’s HSF’s relationship partner.
Stephen McWilliams, Latham & Watkins: McWilliams had a leading role in several key energy deals throughout the region. He represents the lenders in the $20 billion financing of the giant Ichthys LNG project in Australia. That alone would have gotten the judges’ attention, but McWilliams also worked on the $8.5 billion project financing of the Australia Pacific LNG project and the $1 billion financing of a hydroelectric project in Laos, among other significant deals. Such financings are typically highly complex matters in which there is no easy blueprint to follow.
Finalist Firms: Allen & Overy, Ashurst, Minter Ellison, Shearman & Sterling
Winner: Allen & Overy
The Magic Circle firm advised on a number of big-ticket infrastructure projects and was active in a broad range of jurisdictions. Most notably, Allen & Overy is acting for a consortium of bidders for the $15 billion East West Link toll road in Melbourne, with the winning bid expected to be announced by April. But the firm also advised on projects in China, Indonesia, Singapore and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
Bill McCormack, Shearman & Sterling: McCormack’s biggest deal last year was his representation of Malaysian Petroliam Nasional Bhd. on a $20 billion petrochemical refinery project. But that’s just the start; he’s also representing Philippine conglomerates Ayala Corp. and Metro Pacific Investments Corp. on a $2 billion rail project in Manila, and is involved in other power projects from Indonesia to Pakistan.
Nathan Dodd, Mayer Brown JSM: Dodd, who joined his current firm from Linklaters in 2012, has quickly made his presence felt in the projects arena in both South and Southeast Asia . His notable projects including a $1 billion mining and transport facility in Indonesia, along with a number of sizable but still-confidential matters in the region as well.
Finalist Firms: Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton; Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy; Sidley Austin; Weil, Gotshal & Manges
Winner: Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton
The judges looked at firms that had a good mix of fund formation work and M&A. None worked both sides of the practice last year more impressively than Cleary. They advised KKR on the biggest Asia fund—$6 billion—ever raised. But the firm also handled a host of big-ticket deals on behalf of funds, including TPG’s $1.5 billion sale of its stake in an Indonesian bank to Sumitomo Mitsui and Korean fund MBK Partners’ $1.7 billion acquisition of ING Korea Life.
Philip Culhane, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett: The scope of Culhane’s funds work in the region is truly impressive. Sure, some are the usual suspects from Simpson’s top-tier global private equity practice; he advised Blackstone on the formation of a $3.5 billion Asia real estate fund last year. But, during that time, he also represented major Chinese and Japanese funds. And how’s this for diversity? Last year, he even advised the sponsors of a North Korea–focused fund.
Andrew Ostrognai, Debevoise & Plimpton: A longtime Asia funds hand, Ostrognai is a go-to lawyer to top global names like Carlyle and HarbourVest. But he has also emerged as one of the top advisers to Asian domestic investment companies; Ostrognai is currently advising on the formation of the three of the largest funds ever out of each of China, India and Southeast Asia.
Finalist Firms: Cooley, Kim & Chang, O’Melveny & Myers, Sidley Austin
Winner: Sidley Austin
Sidley Austin stands out for the breadth of its offerings and a blue-chip client list. In 2013, it advised U.S. companies like Medtronic, GlaxoSmithKline, and Novus on a variety of M&A transactions, joint ventures, and licensing deals with Chinese partners. Another key component of the firm’s China practice: regulatory work for Big Pharma clients that include Baxter, Roche, Pfizer, Celgene and Amgen. The judges were also interested to see that Sidley has leveraged its expertise in FCPA and anticorruption work into compliance assignments for both U.S. and Chinese clients.
Chen Yang, Sidley Austin: Chen’s expertise in corporate law and compliance have made her perfectly positioned for cross-border dealmaking in Asia’s burgeoning life sciences sector. She regularly represents U.S. pharmaceutical clients as they develop, license or sell drugs and medical products in China. Both U.S. and Chinese companies turn to her for advice on compliance with Chinese and American regulatory regimes—especially the FCPA.
Hwa Soo Chung, Kim & Chang: Chung impressed the judges with the high-stakes nature of her practice. In recent years, Korea has instituted strict new competition and anticorruption measures. Both pharma and health care companies have relied on Chung not only to help them develop effective compliance programs, but often to defend them in criminal or regulatory investigations. Chung’s practice also includes a substantial M&A component, advising clients in the sector on the Korean law aspects of multinational transactions.
Finalist Firms: Herbert Smith Freehills; Mayer Brown JSM; Paul Hastings; Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
Winner: Mayer Brown JSM
The firm has long been associated with Hong Kong’s top developers—Swire Properties, Sun Hung Kai Properties, Hongkong Land and others—and has followed those clients as they have gone on to become some of Asia’s top developers. Last year, Mayer Brown JSM advised Hong Kong conglomerate Great Eagle Holdings Ltd. on an initial public offering of a trust holding Hong Kong hotels the Langham, Langham Place and Eaton that raised $548 million, and the real estate team has acted for institutional investors on the mainland as well.
Psyche Tai, Norton Rose Fulbright: Tai advised on some of the highest-profile Hong Kong real estate deals last year: Hong Kong Parkview Group Ltd.’s $1.8 billion purchase of a commercial property portfolio from its parent, Chinese state-run food and agriculture company COFCO Corp. It was one of several so-called reverse takeovers engineered by Chinese companies seeking to tap Hong Kong’s capital markets in the face of restrictions on the mainland.
Matthew Sheridan, Sidley Austin: Singapore-based Sheridan led his firm’s work on a number of real estate finance transactions, mainly on behalf of mainland Chinese real estate developers. These included a $700 million perpetual securities issuance for Agile Property Holdings Ltd., $1.5 billion worth of high-yield bonds in two tranches for Country Garden Holdings Co. Ltd. and $415 million syndicated loan to SOHO China Ltd.
Technology, Media and Telecommunications
Finalist Firms: Davis Polk & Wardwell; Latham & Watkins; Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy; Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
Winner: Davis Polk & Wardwell
There are individual lawyers at other firms who arguably have a higher profile in this sector than those at Davis Polk, but the judges were struck by how many of the firm’s partners are active in TMT. Hong Kong partners James Lin and Miranda So and Beijing partners Li He and Howard Zhang all advised Chinese tech clients on big deals including IPOs for gaming company Forgame Holdings and travel site Qunar and big acquisitions by Baidu Inc. and Shanda Games.
Julie Gao, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom: No single lawyer is perhaps as strongly associated with Chinese tech startups as Gao. Last year was another big one for Gao, who guided online classified advertising site 58.com through its $200 million U.S. IPO and handled sizable bond offerings for Baidu and Ctrip.com. She was also active on strategic deals like 21Vianet Group’s cloud computing joint venture with Microsoft and digital mapping company AutoNavi’s $294 million investment from Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba.
Leiming Chen, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett: Long a leader among lawyers in the Chinese tech space, Chen helmed several major deals in 2013, including a $127.3 million Hong Kong IPO for online game developer Boyaa Interactive, a $90.7 million U.S. listing for online retailer LightInTheBox.com and Alibaba’s $586 million investment in Sina Weibo, the microblogging service that is China’s answer to Twitter.
Finalist Firms: Clyde & Co; Ince & Co; Reed Smith; Watson, Farley & Williams
Winner: Watson, Farley & Williams
The judges were impressed by the weighty matters Watson Farley handled in the last year, a contrast with the routine work that often characterizes the sector. The firm advised lenders to bankrupt Korean shipper STX Pan Ocean Co. as part of the company’s restructuring and also represented Malaysia’s SapuraKencana Petroleum Bhd. on most of the financing for a $2.9 billion tender rig deal with Norwegian deepwater driller Sea Drill Ltd.
Robert Melson, K&L Gates: Gates, who specializes in aircraft finance, last year acted for Japan Airlines on its historic $9.5 billion purchase agreement for 31 Airbus A350 planes, with options for another 25. It was JAL’s first-ever deal with Airbus, and Melson landed the role after his work for foreign lenders during JAL’s bankruptcy caught the company’s attention. Outside the aircraft sector, he also handles financing for projects, mergers and acquisitions and real estate, among others.
Henry Fung, Holman Fenwick Willan: Chinese shipping giant COSCO Group counts Fung as a trusted adviser and has done so on a range of matters—litigation and commercial—for the past 17 years. Last year, he advised COSCO on one of its highest-profile and most controversial transactions—its additional investment in the Greek port of Piraeus, which many view as China’s attempt to establish a commercial maritime foothold in Europe.