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The doors of DLA piper’s Beijing office have been swinging furiously. In September, Jingzhou Tao, the firm’s trophy partner in the region, abruptly resigned. Tao resurfaced a couple of months later-as a partner at Jones Day’s Beijing office, with nine former DLA associates in tow. At about the same time, DLA announced another crucial departure: Nick Seddon, the firm’s managing director for Asia since 2004. Though Seddon has been replaced (with Alastair Da Costa, former head of DLA’s Europe, Middle East, and Africa corporate practice), he’s not formally severing his ties with the firm until this spring. Seddon’s destination is not yet known. Considered a big fish in China, Tao doesn’t mince words explaining his recent move. “I left DLA because of this guy,” he says, meaning Seddon. Indeed, it’s been an open secret in the Western legal community in China that there was no love lost between Tao and Seddon-both of whom claim credit for DLA’s rapid rise in China. From the get-go, Tao and Seddon were a study in contrasts. Educated in China and France, Tao specializes in corporate work, international trade, and arbitration. As the former managing partner of Coudert Brothers in China, he brought cachet to DLA’s nascent practice when he was hired just two years ago. Tao generally gets credit for expediting DLA’s license to practice in China. “I established [DLA's] Beijing office; I built it from scratch,” Tao says. “I was the top rainmaker for DLA in Asia. I have $6 million a year in revenues.” Seddon, on the other hand, had neither Asian experience nor language skills when he was dispatched to China from DLA’s Scotland office. He does, however, have plenty of confidence. “What I’m good at is growing business and introducing order to chaos,” he says. Seddon claims responsibility for the growth of DLA’s China practice from $20 million three years ago to $70-80 million today. The blunt-talking Seddon says that Tao “was used to a significant amount of autonomy at Coudert, [but] that’s not the way DLA operates.” Tao doesn’t address those accusations directly but (ignoring the Piper side of DLA Piper) he says, “I think an American law firm is better. They are less bureaucratic. They realize that in an international network you have to . . . have local expertise and adapt to the local legal environment.” British law firms, he says, “are more colonial.” Tao says that his clients, mostly European companies with some Fortune 500 American companies in the mix, will likely follow him to Jones Day. (DLA’s joint chief executive officer Nigel Knowles, however, says that Tao’s departure “will have no impact on our Asian business.”) Jones Day seems giddy to have Tao aboard. “There’s not a lot of people like Tao,” says Johnson Tan, the head of Jones Day in Beijing. Indeed, says James Zimmerman, a partner at Squire, Sanders & Dempsey and a former Coudert partner, “it’s all about revenues and cultural fit. If you are an experienced China hand with both, you are a hot commodity.”

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