Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton on Thursday announced plans to launch a Hong Kong law practice with a partner recruited from U.K. firm Norton Rose.

Freeman Chan, an experienced capital markets lawyer, is currently head of the China corporate finance practice at the U.K. firm. He has acted as issuer’s counsel in several recent Hong Kong initial public offerings, including the $741 million debut of Sihuan Pharmaceutical in October and the $450 million IPO of China Modern Dairy in November.

“We are excited that Freeman, an acknowledged market leader, will join us to lead our Hong Kong law practice,” Cleary managing partner Mark Walker said in a statement. “Adding Hong Kong law capability to our existing, successful Asia practice is a natural and important extension of our firm’s global business model, which combines strong local law and international law practices around the world.”

Cleary is the latest U.S. firm to take the plunge into a Hong Kong law practice, having previously practiced only U.S. law in Asia. Davis Polk & Wardwell; Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy; and Shearman & Sterling also have launched Hong Kong practices in recent months.

Such firms are responding to the growth of Hong Kong as an IPO destination, especially for Chinese state-owned enterprises. Hong Kong saw two of the largest trading debuts ever in 2010, with the state-owned Agricultural Bank of China and American International Assurance, the Asian arm of the bailed-out American International Group, both raising over $20 billion.

The move is a substantial advance for Cleary which, though it has offices in both Hong Kong and Beijing, has expanded more slowly in the China market than competing firms.

Cleary’s choice of a Norton Rose partner is further sign of the challenges such expansion by U.S. firms holds for British firms who traditionally have had an edge in the market. To help launch its Hong Kong practice, Davis Polk recruited the Beijing office heads of both Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Linklaters.

This article first appeared on The Am Law Daily blog on