Last November, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan managing partner John Quinn stated in no uncertain terms that his high-powered firm, a litigation-only shop that ranks No. 2 in the Am Law 100 in terms of profits per partner, had ruled out a Hong Kong office.
"We looked into it ... But I really have the impression that it's a market that's beyond competitive with a lot of pressure on billing rates and the revenues and incomes of lawyers impacted accordingly," Quinn told The Asian Lawyer then. "For us, it was hard for it not to be dilutive."
Well, a man can change his mind.
"I think it'll happen before the end of the year," Quinn now says. "We'll have an office in either Hong Kong or Singapore."
What's different now, he explains, is that last year the Los Angeles-based Quinn Emanuel had been weighing the launch in Hong Kong of the type of financial sector-focused litigation practice that has worked well elsewhere for the firm. Quinn still thinks Hong Kong and its conservative court system aren't ready for such a practice and that it wouldn't be nearly profitable enough for his firm. That's indeed a high bar -- the firm had profits per partner of over $4 million in 2011, according to the most recent Am Law 100.
But, since the beginning of this year, Quinn Emanuel has been focused on building a leading international arbitration practice. Last month, the firm recruited two top practitioners from Allen & Overy in London: Stephen Jagusch and Anthony Sinclair. Earlier this month, Quinn Emanuel also brought on board as a New York partner Singapore-born Tai-Heng Cheng, a New York Law School professor and international arbitration specialist.
Now that Quinn Emanuel has decided to have a global platform for international arbitration, a presence in one of the two budding Asian international arbitration centers makes sense, says Quinn, who sees opportunities in large bilateral investment treaty arbitrations as well as major commercial disputes. "I've looked at the statistics," he says. "There are probably 10 to 15 big cases a year out there." By big cases, he means those where the amount in dispute is in the U.S.-dollar eight- or nine-figure range.
"If you have a smallish team, you just need one of those a year," he says.
But it has to be the exactly right team. "We are looking for somebody who's recognized as a star," he says, "a practice leader, someone with a following." Whether Quinn Emanuel opens in Hong Kong, Singapore, or at all, says Quinn, depends mainly on if and where they can bring the right person aboard.
Who fits the bill? Quinn's not saying but lawyers in the region say it's not hard to guess who he has in mind. "I think John Quinn has a copy of the Chambers Guide and is going down the list," says one Hong Kong-based arbitration specialist.