Hong Kong skyline
Hong Kong skyline (Photo: Daniel Fung/Shutterstock.com)

Antony Dapiran, a prominent Hong Kong-based capital markets partner at Davis Polk & Wardwell, is leaving the firm in June.

Davis Polk confirmed the impending departure, which comes at a time when many Hong Kong capital markets legal practices appear to be struggling because of less work in that field. Dapiran declined to comment.

Dapiran specializes in Hong Kong Stock Exchange-related initial public offerings, listings and other corporate transactions. A fluent Mandarin speaker, he is known for representing Chinese companies, especially state-owned enterprises. In late 2015, he represented People’s Insurance Company of China, or PICC, on a $4 billion acquisition of shares in Shanghai-listed Hua Xia Bank Co. Ltd. held by Deutsche Bank AG.

Hong Kong-qualified Dapiran joined Davis Polk to launch a local law practice in 2010, having come from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, where he was the Beijing managing partner. Dapiran, then a rising star in China-related work, started his career at Freshfields in 1999 and was made partner in 2008.

In addition to Dapiran, about a dozen Hong Kong-based corporate lawyers are also set to leave the firm, having been “given the hint to leave,” according to multiple sources familiar with the matter. The lawyers have been given six months to look for another job, the sources said.

“Whether a lawyer is encouraged to leave within a given time frame depends on the circumstances, as I am sure is true at any firm,” Davis Polk Asia head William Barron said, adding that the firm does not discuss the circumstances relating to particular lawyers.

Barron said that Davis Polk is “not laying off lawyers” and he described the departures as a normal part of Big Law’s business operations. “Every year a large number of lawyers leave Davis Polk, or any other large firm, for a variety of reasons,” he said.

Barron said the firm reviews lawyer performance rigorously every year. Only a small portion of lawyers are promoted to partner or counsel at Davis Polk, and in Hong Kong, the firm hasn’t promoted anyone to partner since 2011, when it promoted M&A partner Miranda So.

“The fact is only a very small percentage of lawyers who start at Davis Polk … end up staying,” Barron said.

According to data compiled by RivalEdge, nine nonpartner lawyers left Davis Polk’s Hong Kong office in 2016; eight of them were corporate lawyers.

Barron said departures this year are not expected to reduce head count in Hong Kong. “Partner and associate head count is likely to be higher by year-end, as we grow to enhance and capitalize on our leading practice,” he said.

Davis Polk is one of the largest U.S. firms in Hong Kong. The New York-based firm reported 86 lawyers in Hong Kong last year. The firm has significantly expanded in Hong Kong, more than tripling its head count since 2009, when it reported only 27 lawyers.

The rapid expansion was largely driven by Hong Kong Stock Exchange listing-related work. That practice was launched in 2010 with the hiring of two partners. One of them was Dapiran. The other was Bonnie Chan, then head of IPOs at the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

The duo, alongside the firm’s U.S.-qualified Beijing partner He Li, advised on several big-ticket Hong Kong IPOs by Chinese companies. In 2012, they advised insurer PICC on a $3.1 billion Hong Kong IPO; the following year, they acted for state-owned China Cinda Asset Management Co. Ltd. on a $2.5 billion debut in Hong Kong; in 2015, they represented Lenovo Group Ltd.’s parent Legend Holdings on a $2 billion Hong Kong listing.

In 2013, as the Hong Kong IPO market started to slow down, Davis Polk launched a Hong Kong litigation practice, hiring then-Clifford Chance Asia disputes head Martin Rogers and fellow litigation partner James Wadham. The group now consists of 20 full-time litigators, including six counsel. Barron said a large local litigation practice is one key factor that sets Davis Polk apart from its peer U.S. firms in Hong Kong. It is an important reason why Davis Polk believes it is worth maintaining a large office in the city, he said.

The expected Davis Polk departures come at a time of upheaval in capital market legal practices in Hong Kong. Last month, Hong Kong partner Dominic Tsun resigned from Kirkland & Ellis; earlier this year, the entire capital markets team at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe left to join Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. In an interview last month, Orrick chairman Mitchell Zuklie said his firm had decided to de-emphasize Hong Kong capital markets practice for its low profitability.

Barron agreed that the IPO market in Hong Kong is challenging, but it is nonetheless a vital part of the firm’s practice.

“So much of what we do here—litigation and M&As—revolves around the Hong Kong Stock Exchange; it’s the straw that stirs the drink here,” he said.

Anna Zhang is based in Hong Kong, where she writes about the business of law and legal issues in Asia and Australia. Contact her at azhang@alm.com. On Twitter: @azhangc.

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