Addleshaw Goddard’s Asia presence has, until recently, been small. But now the U.K. firm is primed to push ahead and accelerate growth in the region.
“We’ve done well here, so I just want to continue doing well on a bigger scale,” said Hong Kong partner Bob Charlton, who has been head of the firm’s Asia practice since May. “It’s not a revolutionary strategy. It’s more evolutionary.”
Charlton, who has held regional management positions at legacy Berwin Leighton Paisner and DLA Piper, was recruited as part of Addleshaws’ efforts to build up its Asia practice.
“Delivering the next phase of our plan for the Asia-Pacific region requires dedicated leadership in the region,” firm managing partner John Joyce said when Charlton was hired.
Charlton plans to more than double that number. He is looking to have more than 10 partners in the region by the end of 2021.
The firm has already expanded its head count at the junior lawyer and paralegal level. In 2017, Addleshaws more than doubled its fee-earner count to 38 from 17 the previous year. The firm made it to this year’s Asia 50 ranking as the 50th-largest global firm in the Asia-Pacific region.
And now Charlton has recruited his first partner—a sign of progress in his lateral hire plan.
Lance Jiang will join the firm’s Hong Kong office next month and will be a corporate partner after he qualifies in Hong Kong next spring. Jiang will work with Andrew Yang, who joined the firm’s Hong Kong office from Goodwin Procter last year and is currently the only corporate partner in Asia.
Charlton plans on recruiting transactional partners in Singapore as well. “We’re using Singapore as a hub for Southeast Asia, so we’re looking at people who’ve got strong regional transactional practice in infrastructure, energy, real estate and financial services,” he said.
The Singapore office currently only has one partner—international arbitration specialist Jamie Harrison. “We need to develop that,” Charlton said about the Singapore office. “We need to bring it up so it’s making a good contribution alongside Hong Kong.”
Charlton is also on the lookout for a disputes partner in Hong Kong to add to the two legal directors (equivalent to of counsel) he recruited recently: Eric Chan from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer earlier this month, and former Dechert counsel Janie Wong in July.
A disputes partner is also needed to replace Nigel Francis, who is currently the only disputes partner in Hong Kong but is leaving the firm at the end of the year.
The departure of Francis, who was the previous Asia head, follows that of corporate partner Brett Stewien, who left the Hong Kong office last November to launch his own independent firm with a pair of Baker Botts lawyers. Both Francis and Stewien helped set up Addleshaws’ Hong Kong office in 2013.
The only team that won’t see major changes is the firm’s Hong Kong capital markets practice. “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” Charlton said.
Led by partner Daniel Wan, who joined from Chinese firm JunHe in 2013, the capital markets team recently completed its 22nd Hong Kong listing in less than five years.
“I think that’s fantastic,” said Charlton, adding that the financial success of the Hong Kong capital markets practice has allowed the firm to be more deliberate in developing and recruiting for the corporate and disputes practices. “We’ve got the IPO team paying for our lights, paying the gas bills,” he said.
The firm has significantly expanded the Hong Kong initial public offering practice. All of the 21 fee-earners Addleshaws added in Asia last year were in Hong Kong and the majority were in the IPO practice. But on a more senior level, Charlton is instead looking to strengthen the capital markets team organically, pointing to the recent promotion of Alan Lee to legal director last month.
Besides laterals and promotions, Charlton hasn’t ruled out tie-ups with other firms to give Addleshaws an immediate boost in Asia, as long as it’s financially sensible.
He’s done it before and it worked well. During his time as Asia head at legacy Berwin Leighton Paisner, the firm merged with two boutiques in Hong Kong: construction and arbitration specialist Haley & Co in 2015 and asset financing firm William KK Ho & Co in 2016. All the partners from the two boutiques are still with the firm, now Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner.
“It’s always good to be working with teams, bringing in critical mass. It tends to have a more economic impact quicker than individuals,” Charlton explained. “We’re open-minded.”