Dechert has become the latest in a line of large Pennsylvania firms entering the Asian market.
The firm opened a Hong Kong office and established a formal association with Hwang & Co. The firm will be known as Dechert, in association with Hwang & Co.
The new office will focus on private equity, venture capital, and hedge fund formation and investing; capital-raising and sales of equity stakes through capital market offerings; cross-border mergers and acquisitions and Asia-bound and outbound strategic and financial investments.
The firm will have five attorneys practicing full time in the Hong Kong office with three others spending some of their time in China along with one trainee solicitor who is there full time.
The office technically opened a little more than a month ago, but the firm didn't have permanent space until last week.
Basil Hwang was elected as a Dechert partner and is managing partner and the sole member of Hwang & Co. In order to practice local Hong Kong law, a U.S. firm would need to have ties to a firm in China, according to Philadelphia corporate and securities partner Craig L. Godshall, who has received authorization from the Hong Kong Law Society as a "registered foreign lawyer."
After about three years, such a partnership is no longer needed, he said.
Hwang is qualified to practice in Hong Kong, England and Singapore, and focuses his practice on advising private equity, venture capital, and hedge funds investing in China. Hwang also advises issuers and underwriters in securities offerings.
Keith Robinson, a partner in Dechert's financial services group, is transferring to Hong Kong from Washington, D.C.
Corporate and securities partners James Lebovitz and James Croock, along with others, will focus on the U.S. and U.K. law aspects of the client transactions in Hong Kong.
Candy Tsui, a Hong Kong and U.K.-qualified lawyer, has joined the office in Hong Kong along with Juliana Kho, an associate, and Carmen Cheng, a trainee solicitor.
Dechert associate Derek B. Newman will transfer to the Hong Kong office and associates Jianlin Song and James Stonehill will split their time between the Hong Kong office and other Dechert locations.
Godshall said the new attorneys to the firm came from Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker with the exception of Tsui, who moved from Baker & McKenzie.
The additions give Dechert more than 1,000 lawyers across 17 offices.
While Dechert may follow behind some of its Pennsylvania counterparts in entering the Hong Kong market, it has expanded abroad much earlier in other markets. The firm has international offices in Brussels, London, Luxembourg, Munich and Paris.
Godshall said Dechert has been researching and visiting Hong Kong for the past two to three years and was waiting for the right attorneys at the right time.
The firm wasn't going to open an office there just to say it had one, he said. While Dechert realizes it may need to put in a year or so of investment, Godshall said he thinks the firm's strong financial services practice and focus on high-end work will result in a profitable expansion.
"Many of our largest clients in the United States and Europe are also in Hong Kong," he said. "We're essentially following our clients."
That, in combination with the financial services practice, should lead to success in the market, Godshall said.
Dechert has immediate plans to grow the office, but he said there is no target number. While it is focused now on the corporate practice, he said the firm would look to add more in the financial services arena.
The next step for Dechert would be to open an office in mainland China, most likely in 2008, he said.
Consultants have pointed to the benefits of moving from Hong Kong into the mainland.
Reed Smith's Jan. 1 merger with Richards Butler Hong Kong gave the firm about 110 attorneys across offices in Hong Kong and Beijing. The firm said it also had immediate plans to apply for a law license in Shanghai.
When Reed Smith announced the merger in October 2007, consultant Peter Zeughauser of the Zeughauser Group said it was a good first step but Shanghai was an important next step.
He said the acquisition "absolutely" put Reed Smith ahead of its counterparts in Pennsylvania, but there are several firms that already have a large presence in China. Baker & McKenzie has about 200 lawyers in China and 800 throughout Asia, he said.
"There's no question that mainland China today is more important than Hong Kong," Zeughauser said.
Blank Rome acquired a Hong Kong office through its 2006 merger with Healy & Baillie, a firm largely known for its work in maritime law.
K&L Gates acquired offices in Beijing, Hong Kong and Taipei, Taiwan through a merger with Preston Gates & Ellis in January. There are a little more than 50 lawyers between the three offices.
Morgan Lewis & Bockius opened a Beijing office in February 2006. In April 2007, White & Williams formalized its alliance with Chinese-based Xue Law Firm.Instead of entering Asia by way of China, Duane Morris opened an office in Singapore and two in Vietnam.