Crowell & Moring has expanded its international trade practice to California by adding former Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner attorney David Stepp as a partner in Los Angeles.

Stepp’s move comes as international trade attorneys find themselves busier than ever before, thanks to the Trump administration’s embrace of protectionist measures. Illustrating the volatility of the moment, President Donald Trump announced Monday an agreement with Mexico to revise key portions of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Companies are trying to figure out what are the changes to global supply chains and how to minimize the impact,” Stepp said.

Stepp spent nearly 14 years with Bryan Cave and moved from Los Angeles to Singapore in 2014 to serve as managing partner of the legacy firm’s outpost in the city-state and determine a strategy after a series of partner departures. He returned to Los Angeles upon the 2017 closure of the office, although the Am Law 100 firm ultimately gained a new Singapore presence earlier this year as part of its merger with the U.K.’s Berwin Leighton Paisner.

Stepp noted that the merger presented the prospect of some conflicts and made him receptive to an inquiry from Crowell & Moring.

David Stepp

“Crowell has a really deep bench in international trade and customs issues, and with all the trade tariffs and other changes taking place with the new administration, it’s a great place with a wide variety of resources to advise my clients,” he said. 

His practice focuses on customs compliance and counseling, and he advises multinational companies and importers as they move goods across borders and establish subsidiaries around the world.

“David’s global customs experience represents a wonderful addition to our international trade group,” said a statement from Crowell & Morning chair Philip Inglima, who took over the firm’s top leadership role late last year. “Further building our highly-regarded trade practice is a firm priority, and David’s presence in California presents new opportunities for us. He has a well-earned reputation as a trusted adviser, and his experience will be a tremendous benefit to many of the firm’s clients.”

Stepp, who spent significant time in China when he was based in Singapore, said his clients are especially tuned into the impact of tariffs on trade with the country. While some have already been implemented, hearings were held last week in Washington, D.C., on another set of Chinese goods.

He noted that a goal of Crowell & Moring’s is to build out its global international trade compliance capabilities in Asia as a whole. The firm also has West Coast offices in San Francisco and Irvine, California, and Stepp said that both of these offices could also pursue international trade lawyers to expand the practice on the Pacific Rim.

Meanwhile, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner hired its first post-merger partner in Singapore earlier this summer from Rajah & Tann, a leading local firm.