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San Francisco-based Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe has decided to close its office in Singapore as a result of the continued economic slump in Southeast Asia. Orrick would not discuss its plans for the Singapore office on the record, but informed sources confirmed the office was set to close during the first quarter of 2003. Orrick opened its Singapore outpost in 1996, and in 2001 it won a coveted license from Singapore’s attorney general to establish a joint venture with Singapore firm Helen Yeo & Partners. The Helen Yeo firm subsequently merged with Singapore’s Rodyck & Davidson. The two other U.S. firms that were granted joint venture licenses — New York-based White & Case and Shearman & Sterling — withdrew from their joint ventures with Singapore firms last year. Both firms retain offices in the country. Orrick’s Singapore office focuses on project finance, securitization and distressed debt work, representing such clients as Lehman Brothers, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. and Bank of America. The office peaked at about a dozen attorneys in early 2001 when the Singapore economy was booming. It now has five attorneys. Several U.S. firms have offices in Singapore, including San Francisco-based Morrison & Foerster, Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe and Pillsbury Winthrop, Latham & Watkins and Boston-based Bingham McCutchen. MoFo partner Cedric Chao said Singapore has been hurt by the global recession and uncertainties within the Indonesian economy. In addition, he said a lot of manufacturing jobs are being transferred to China, which has lower labor costs. Nevertheless, he said Singapore has several strengths going for it. “It’s the regional hub for finances and professional services,” Chao said. “Many western companies will continue to see Singapore as a place to set up regional headquarters.” In the mid-1990s a wave of U.S. firms entered the country, drawn by the project financing boom in the region. When a financial crisis hit Asia in 1997 some firms pulled out and others refocused their practices. Orrick switched to distressed debt work, helping banks and governments deal with the crisis.

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