So far this year, four global firms have pulled back from operating in mainland China, either by closing offices or severing ties with a partner firm. While the coronavirus outbreak—which initially had a larger impact in Asia—certainly exacerbated the challenges in China, the moves by Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, Stephenson Harwood, McDermott Will & Emery and Vinson & Elkins are part of a continuous trend of global law firms reassessing their China practices as the market changes.

International law firms’ retreat from China has been a recurring theme for years. Among the 2019 Global 100 firms alone, eight have closed at least one office in mainland China in the past five years. These include Bryan Cave and Troutman Sanders, which both closed Shanghai and Beijing offices; Vinson & Elkins, Winston & Strawn and Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, which shuttered Beijing offices; Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, which closed in Shanghai; and McDermott and Pinsent Masons, both of which ended exclusive China alliances. Outside of the Global 100, Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft and the U.K.’s Stephenson Harwood both closed in Beijing, and Seattle-based Davis Wright Tremaine shuttered its 24-year-old Shanghai office.

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