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San Francisco-When Morgan, Lewis & Bockius said last month that it had landed the right team of lawyers to open an office in Beijing and the permission of Chinese authorities to do it, it was a double coup. While obtaining a license to practice in China isn’t the mystery it used to be for U.S. firms, it’s still an arduous process. Firms can wait as long as a year to get an answer from local officials and the Chinese ministry of justice, as Morgan Lewis did. And that’s after completing the lengthy application that must be notarized, approved by U.S. agencies and then translated into Mandarin. Nor is it a secret that landing a solid team of U.S.-licensed, Mandarin-speaking lawyers in a crowded market is challenging. “I know some firms that to aggressively get into China have made attractive offers,” said Greg Pickrell, who heads Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman’s China practice. The firm submitted an application in September to open an office in Shanghai. “It is not out of the question to offer senior associates partnership if they move over.” Poaching season Morgan already had several Chinese-educated lawyers in house, and the firm’s intellectual property practice had been working to develop its ties with companies in China. One of its China-educated partners, K. Karen Loewenstein, who has a doctorate in physics from Virginia Tech University in addition to a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center, went to Beijing a year ago to handle licensing issues and start building ties with prospective clients. But the firm also poached two lawyers from Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati’s China practice: partner Lucas Chang and counsel Peter Zhang. Chang, who will be based in Palo Alto, Calif., but make frequent trips to China, said Morgan Lewis’ strengths in IP and corporate law were the reasons he chose the firm. Before spending a bit more than two years at Wilson, Chang was with Heller Ehrman. Last year, Wilson brought in Carmen Chang from New York-based Shearman & Sterling to lead its China practice. Philip Werner, managing partner of practices at Morgan, said both Lucas Chang and Zhang had tech clients in China who have aspirations to go public in the United States or seek exit strategies by being acquired by U.S. companies. “Increasingly it was clear that our technology-based practice in Silicon Valley was increasingly looking to China,” said Werner. “We thought that to be a credible firm in Silicon Valley, we needed to have a bridge to China.” In choosing Beijing, Werner said, Morgan Lewis recognized a strong industrial base of Chinese clients. Also, Beijing was home to many of the country’s regulatory agencies, in the same way that Washington is in the United States. However, China is not Morgan’s first foray into Asia. Last year, the firm built on its small Tokyo office by forging a joint venture with TMI Associates, a 130-attorney Japanese law firm.

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