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Earlier this month, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe announced a tidy little agreement with Coudert Brothers for the orderly arrival of nine of the dissolving firm’s 11 partners in China. But beneath the surface, the dissolution of Coudert’s China practice isn’t so tidy. Intent on finding a foothold in the region, some of the world’s largest law firms are making a play for parts of the practice. With talks continuing, Orrick Chairman Ralph Baxter Jr. said late last week that he expects close to 50 partners and associates from Coudert’s offices in Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai to join Orrick. The firm has also landed Owen Nee, who helped found Coudert’s China practice and now works in New York. “We are going to make offers to all the associates in the three locations,” Baxter said. But, he acknowledged, “so are lots of other people.” A lawyer in Coudert’s Beijing office said Thursday he expects about 40 timekeepers to head “a major UK-U.S. firm.” He declined to name the firm, but last week, a British press report said DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary had “swooped” in and would be taking at least some members of the Beijing office for itself. DLA leadership won’t comment on that report, but J. Terence O’Malley, DLA’s U.S. co-managing partner, acknowledged the firm is recruiting Coudert lawyers “in Asia.” The Coudert lawyer in Beijing, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said partners there had met at least five firm chairs in person, and had spoken to about 15 more via telephone or videoconference. A stateside lawyer, who asked not to be identified, said his firm is talking to one of the partners earmarked for Orrick. But Baxter said he’s confident that other firms won’t pick off any of the nine partners included in the agreement he reached last month with Coudert’s management. The nine “practice and operate as a cohesive team,” Baxter said. “The practice of the other two” � Beijing partners Jingzhou Tao, who headed the Beijing office, and Laetitia Tjoa � “are separate and different,” he said. Those two “were never of interest to us.” Baxter said he surmised that those two partners will be recruiting associates. Baxter said he forged the formal agreement with a special committee of Coudert partners. Neither Baxter nor officials at Coudert will reveal details of the agreement, including whether Coudert received payment or whether leases for Coudert’s office space were included. However, recruiters point out that such deals are particularly precarious in situations where a firm is unwinding. “It is like any business acquiring another business; everything can fall apart in the boardroom in the last minute � acutely so because we are dealing with partnerships,” says Katharine Patterson, a recruiter with Patterson Davis Consulting. Orrick has obtained a license to practice law in Hong Kong, Baxter said, and the firm is still waiting for Chinese government approval in Beijing and Shanghai. Consultant Peter Zeughauser, who is not involved in the talks, said it is typical in such a deal for one firm to take over another’s liabilities, such as rent, associates and staff, if a certain number of partners agree to join. Typically, Zeughauser said, a deal would be struck between a firm and a group of key partners. “Ralph is a pretty smart guy, and I’m sure he struck a deal that makes sense,” Zeughauser added.

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