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Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe has agreed to acquire most of Coudert Brothers’ China practice, in the first such move to follow Coudert’s announcement last week that it is disbanding. Through the agreement, San Franciso-based Orrick will gain its first presence in China. The nine partners and roughly 30 other lawyers joining Orrick presently comprise all of Coudert’s Hong Kong and Shanghai staff and a large part of its Beijing office. The two firms announced their agreement, which will be finalized next month, with a joint statement in which Orrick Chairman Ralph Baxter copiously praised Coudert for blazing a trail in China. Baxter said in the statement that his firm would be “privileged to continue Coudert’s China legacy” and credited Coudert with “an unparalleled reputation” in China and “an intimate knowledge of Chinese law, economics and culture.” The display of amity stood in sharp contrast to Coudert’s accusations in May that Orrick had taken advantage of alleged merger talks between the firms to hire away all eight partners in Coudert’s London and Moscow offices. Coudert threatened suit against Orrick at the time, but no action has been brought. A Coudert spokesman said the firm would not comment on the earlier matter. In an interview, Baxter also declined comment on the matter but said his firm did not have an issue with Coudert. He said Orrick had long spoken to Coudert partners on an individual basis. That was also the case, he said, with the China offices. But he said last week’s events had a major impact on those discussions. “Their decision [to disband] created a very different situation,” said Baxter. “It became possible to do things in a mutually agreeable way.” In the joint statement, Coudert Chairman Clyde Rankin said the transfer to Orrick was an example of the orderly manner in which the firm would be proceeding with its breakup in the weeks to come. “Our highest concern is the service of our clients, which is consistent with the way Coudert has operated for 152 years,” said Rankin. Coudert’s China practice was among the strongest at the pioneering international firm, which was the first U.S. law firm to open offices there. Many other firms eager to expand into the China market had been expected to recruit from Coudert. Orrick’s China acquisition marks a major international expansion for the firm, which has added around 90 lawyers in Europe and Asia this year. Indeed, the expansion of other U.S. and British firms into international practices once dominated by Coudert was one of the chief factors in that firm’s decline over the past several years. Coudert had sought a merger with another firm, but its announcement last week marked its failure to reach a deal with its latest prospective partner, Chicago’s Baker & McKenzie.

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