Hong Kong

Australian firm MinterEllison has hired four more disputes partners from Reed Smith Richards Butler in Hong Kong, recruiting a total of 10 partners from the U.S. firm.

Employment head and partner Desmond Liaw, insurance partner David Harrington and intellectual property partner Steven Birt are set to join six white-collar partners and start at MinterEllison on Jan. 1. Senior litigation consultant Jonathan Green will also join as a partner. With these moves, a total of 42 people, including lawyers and support staff, are joining MinterEllison.

Reed Smith Asia-Pacific managing partner Denise Jong said the departing partners all worked in the same dispute resolution team and are leaving due to client conflicts. Following the departures, Reed Smith Richards Butler will have about 100 fee earners in Hong Kong, including 19 partners, advising on transactions and litigation.

The hires will more than double MinterEllison’s partner count in Hong Kong. The firm currently has about 30 lawyers in the city, including seven partners, focusing on capital markets, mergers and acquisitions, and construction work.

Fred Kinmonth, MinterEllison’s Asia managing partner, said the firm’s expanded expertise in the disputes, regulatory and intellectual property commercialization and enforcement areas will help clients better understand and manage complex transactions. He said the firm aims to help clients manage and minimize disputes and operate successfully in Hong Kong, a gateway between China and rest of the world.

Annette Kimmitt, MinterEllison’s Melbourne-based chief executive and managing partner, said there is strong demand for the advice of an independent Australian law firm in the Hong Kong and China markets, as trade conflicts complicate the regional geopolitical environment. Kimmitt also pointed to the recent conclusion of Hong Kong and Australia’s negotiations on free trade and investment agreements.

“Hong Kong is a significant trading partner for Australia,” said Kimmitt. “With heightened complexity in the geopolitical realm—and changing spheres of influence—we recognize the increasing demand for truly independent advice. This is particularly so in the areas of disputes and regulation.”

In November, the Australian government blocked Hong Kong-based CK Hutchison Group’s $9.5 billion proposal to acquire Sydney-based pipeline operator APA Group on grounds of national interest. The ban followed a similar veto in 2016, when the government prohibited CK Hutchison and China’s State Grid Corp. from acquiring a majority stake in electricity distributor Ausgrid.

MinterEllison has been expanding its China practice in recent years. In November, it recruited China-focused corporate partner Shaun McRobert in Perth from King & Wood Mallesons. In December 2016, the firm added chief representatives for its Beijing and Shanghai offices, Bi Chen and Christopher Carr, respectively. Chen is a former counsel at Chinese firm Fangda Partners and Carr was a Sydney-based associate at King & Wood Mallesons; both specialize in mergers and acquisitions.

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