Sometime later this month, China will open the world’s longest sea bridge, giving it the ability to finally start reaping the benefits of one of its massive economic initiatives—a bridge that creates a trade link by physically connecting the three vibrant cities of Hong Kong, Macau, and Zhuhai in southern China.
Waiting in the wings for the bridge opening is the global law firm King & Wood Mallesons, which also has positioned itself to profit from the project.
Known as the Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai Bridge, the mega-bridge is 55 kilometers (34 miles) long and took nine years and $20 billion to build and crosses a region called the Pearl River Delta, now promoted as the Greater Bay Area. Its purpose is to integrate nine cities in southern China with the country’s two prosperous special administrative regions: Hong Kong and Macau.
And it’s not surprising that KWM wants to be ready when the bridge opens. The economy of the Greater Bay Area region is expected to nearly double to $2.8 trillion by 2025, according to HSBC estimates.
“That’s a massive growth agenda,” said Sue Kench, KWM’s global managing partner. “Naturally, we will be leading that growth so we can serve clients as they come into and out of the Greater Bay Area.”
In May, KWM announced that it is setting up an international center in the Greater Bay Area to provide integrated legal services for clients in the region, as well as show its commitment to the Beijing-backed grand plan.
KWM is a global legal giant with 27 offices in 11 countries. But its primary focus is on opportunities presented by China’s large-scale economic initiatives and strategic plans. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), for example, a Chinese government-led major economic project that aims to build infrastructure across Asia, Europe and Africa, is another top priority for the firm.
In fact, KWM’s China offices have worked on more than 900 projects related to the BRI over the last five years, mostly related to financing matters, according to KWM China chairman Zhang Yi.
“As Asia grows, and as Asian companies go out to the world and the rest of the world comes into Asia, that’s fundamentally where we seek our growth,” Kench said.
But KWM has not always looked solely to Asia. Growing globally has long been a top priority for the firm, which is the product of a 2012 merger between China’s King & Wood and Australia’s Mallesons Stephen Jacques. Both firms had ambitions for growth overseas, and by joining forces they created the largest law firm based in the Asia-Pacific region.
“This sense of growth and going beyond the home region is something which is in our DNA,” Kench said.
The firm has been noticeably bolstering its hiring in London, where it has worked to rebuild since the collapse of its European arm in 2016. Shortly after KWM’s European operations filed for administration in January 2017, the firm relaunched its European arm with a group of remaining partners.
Soon after, it sent mergers and acquisitions partner Wang Rongkang from Shenzhen to London to lead the rebuilding of operations in the region. It then sent a few more partners to London and made several lateral hires. Today, the London office has 15 partners, including five who split their time with other offices. The firm also has a new London managing partner—in August it appointed litigation partner Darren Roiser to lead the London team. And last month they all moved into a new office space.
Other key overseas offices have also expanded with lateral hires, including New York, which now has five partners, and Tokyo, which grew to eight partners.
But KWM is also boosting its growth organically, noted Kench. Earlier this year, it promoted 24 to the partnership in China, 11 in Australia and four in Hong Kong.
No Plans to Launch New Offices—For Now
KWM’s 27 offices in 11 countries make it one of the few China-based global firms. But even with its global reach, the firm’s focus remains Asia. The last office to open was in Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu province in eastern China, back in November 2017. And while it plans to keep growing in head count, the firm has no immediate plans to open more offices, Zhang said.
“We’re certainly not shy, but we have been very conservative and very careful in opening up new offices,” he said.
For now, KWM is convinced it is well-situated globally. It is particularly well-positioned to take advantage of the BRI, Zhang said, noting that KWM has offices in London, Dubai, Singapore, and Hong Kong, plus 11 office locations in China.
Still, he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of eventually opening more outposts in China.
“China is huge,” he said. “And there are opportunities.”