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Houston-The energy business is far and away the leading reason why a growing number of large Texas firms have opened offices halfway around the world in the booming market of China. “The reason we decided to open an office in Asia is we regard ourselves as the pre-eminent law firm in the world representing energy clients,” said Stuart Schaffer, a partner in Baker Botts, which opened an office in Hong Kong in 2005 and has asked the Beijing Municipal Justice Bureau for permission to open an office in Beijing. “We open in key energy hubs,” said Schaffer, head of the global projects group at the 717-lawyer Houston-based firm. “That’s why we are in London and Moscow and Dubai [United Arab Emirates]. We felt the biggest hole in our network of foreign offices was Asia.” Baker Botts isn’t the only large Texas firm established in Hong Kong, Beijing or Shanghai, or considering it. According to a November 2005 report in The American Lawyer, a sister publication of The National Law Journal, 39 of the 250 largest U.S. firms have offices in at least one of those Chinese cities. Other Texas-based firms in China include Fulbright & Jaworski, Vinson & Elkins and Andrews Kurth. The management committee of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, which has four Texas offices, was expected to vote on Feb. 17 on opening an office in Beijing. “It’s ripe for a decision,” said Akin Gump Chairman Bruce McLean of Washington. “Many firms look at China the way firms looked at London a decade ago. If you represent significant international businesses and significant financial institutions . . . [they] want to invest in China.” “Certainly to call yourself an international law firm you probably do need . . . a China practice,” said James “Jay” Cuclis, a partner in Vinson & Elkins in Houston who coordinates the firm’s international practice. The China veteran Among Texas firms, 953-lawyer Fulbright is the gray-haired veteran in China; its Hong Kong office dates back to 1990. That contrasts with Andrews Kurth, which held the grand opening for its office in Beijing this month. Energy is a big push for the big Texas firms. “The opportunities are there, and that’s the whole deal,” said Thomas Bateman, a Houston partner in 413-lawyer Andrews Kurth who will spend some of his time in Beijing. “Economically, China is huge, and especially from an energy, telecommunications perspective.” Other practices, besides energy, also prompt the Texas firms to look long-term and invest in China. For Fulbright, it’s structured finance, international arbitration, and cross-border mergers and acquisitions, said Jeffrey Blount, the partner in charge of the firm’s Hong Kong office. Akin Gump is considering a Beijing office because, in addition to the energy business, the firm also sees opportunity in China in global projects and intellectual property work, McLean said. Despite the rush to get into China, there is China-related work for Texas lawyers at firms lacking an outpost in Asia. Because of that, Tom Tong left Locke Liddell & Sapp in 2005 after six years as an associate to open a bilingual firm in Houston targeting the China practice. “When I was at Locke Liddell, I was basically the one-man Chinese department,” said Tong, a native of China who came to the United States to study business under a cultural exchange and stayed after the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. He joined Locke Liddell after graduating from Vanderbilt University Law School in 1999. But Tong said client conflicts at 384-lawyer Locke Liddell made it difficult to expand his practice. He wants to build the Tong Law Firm into a bilingual boutique concentrating on the China practice, with some of the firm’s work coming from referrals from large Texas firms that don’t have contacts or expertise in China. “When [Chinese] clients come to Texas, they like a big firm to help them, but they also want somebody who knows the language and the culture,” he said. “I’m seeing opportunity. I’m trying to build a team,” Tong said, noting that he has hired two other Chinese lawyers since he opened his firm last September.

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