The global law firm Clyde & Co has enjoyed a quiet but steady few years in the Asia Pacific. But now it intends to break out of its comfort zone, with plans to increase its lawyer headcount in the region by 30 percent in the next three years.
The firm, says Asia managing partner Christopher Jobson, is “a sleeping giant” that is about to wake.
Clyde & Co plans to accelerate growth in the Asia Pacific because the world is pivoting to the East, says Jobson, who relocated to Hong Kong in October to spearhead the growth.
“The Asia Pacific has always been a powerful economic region. Look at the population … and the infrastructure that’s being developed,” Jobson said, referring specifically to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, an ambitious development project in which the Chinese government has invested hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure to help establish trade links across Asia, Africa and Europe.
Clyde & Co has in recent years already been in an expansion mode around the globe. And Jobson says the firm is in a good position to capitalize on China’s infrastructure push and Asia’s economic growth. He notes that Clyde & Co, which opened its first overseas office in Hong Kong in 1981, is no newcomer to Asia. “We’ve been in Asia for more than 30 years,” Jobson said. “And we’ve got the critical mass.”
Indeed, the U.K.-based firm is one of the larger and steadier global firms in the Asia Pacific. It has not seen any mass departures in recent years, and as of the end of last month, it had 245 lawyers across its nine Asia-Pacific offices: Beijing, Chongqing, Shanghai and Hong Kong in China; Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney in Australia; and Singapore. In this year’s Asia 50 rankings, Clyde & Co was the eleventh-largest global firm in the region, just below Hogan Lovells, with 215 lawyers in 2017.
Now, the firm aims to have about 320 lawyers by 2022. That headcount would have made Clyde & Co the ninth-largest global firm in the 2017 Asia 50 rankings—almost as large as Linklaters.
Jobson said the growth in the Asia Pacific will be fueled by lateral and team hires—a strategy Clyde & Co has used successfully in Australia as well as in the United States.
This year, the firm expanded its Washington, D.C., office with a nine-lawyer insurance team from Shipman & Goodwin. Last year, it recruited 10 partners from Troutman Sanders to open offices in Chicago and D.C. Also last year it picked up about 80 lawyers from now-defunct Sedgwick for its California offices in Los Angeles, Orange County and San Francisco. And in 2016, it launched in Miami by merging with 40-lawyer litigation firm Thornton Davis Fein, then bolstered the office with another eight-lawyer insurance team—this time from Hinshaw & Culbertson.
In Australia, too, the firm has expanded by acquiring small firms or teams of lawyers from Australian firms.
As it implements its expansion plan, Clyde & Co plans to focus on sectors rather than on specific markets. “We’re on the lookout for partners and teams that will complement the firm’s core sectors,” Jobson said—namely insurance, energy, trade and commodities, infrastructure and transport.
Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia will likely experience the most growth. Those markets are great hubs for doing work across the region, said David McElveney, Clyde & Co’s Sydney-based head of Australia projects and construction. “But ultimately, it isn’t about where our offices are. We want lawyers with a global outlook and global aspirations,” he said.
Clyde & Co will also continue to tie up with local firms around the region—a strategy it has embraced with success in recent years. Last year, for example, it entered into an association with Auckland, New Zealand-based insurance specialist firm Fee Langstone and with Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia-based disputes boutique Shaikh David & Co.
It also has had an association since 2012 with Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia-based MDS KhanLex, one of the largest firms in Mongolia, and an association in New Delhi since 2009, most recently with CSL Chambers, which it entered into earlier this year. And in Indonesia, it has had an association since 2013 with Jakarta-based Lubis Ganie Surowidjojo, one of the largest firms in Indonesia.
Jobson said the firm is even looking to add another association in Indonesia. “Indonesia is an enormous market with economic growth and lots of infrastructure,” he said.
Indonesia’s economy—the largest among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries—is expected to grow up to 5.4 percent next year and its state-owned companies recently committed to more than 20 infrastructure project deals worth about $13.6 billion. “We don’t have to be pinned down to one city,” he said.
Establishing more than one association in Indonesia, including one outside the capital and largest city of Jakarta, however, is an unconventional move for a global firm. But this is not the first time Clyde & Co has broken with convention—or taken risks.
It was the first international firm, for example, to launch in Libya with an office in Tripoli back in 2012, after the civil war against former dictator Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi ended. Four years later, the firm shut down the office amid mounting political instability, as the Islamic State expanded in the North African country.
But Clyde & Co was also the first international firm to open an office in the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing via a joint venture with Westlink Partnership. The office opened in 2013 and the joint venture has been growing ever since. Last year, Clyde & Co Westlink expanded by recruiting a team of five lawyers from intellectual property specialist firm Rouse to the joint venture’s Shanghai office. And just last month, another team of six joined the firm from a Chinese IP specialty firm—this time in Beijing.
Change of Pace
When Jobson stated that Clyde & Co is a “sleeping giant” about to wake, he was borrowing from a quote attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte, who more than two centuries ago used the metaphor to refer to China. “China is a sleeping giant,” Napoleon said. “Let her sleep, for when she wakes she will shake the world.”
Clyde & Co’s expansion in the Asia Pacific will not, of course, shake the world—not even the legal world. But the firm still intends to aggressively push forward.
“We have been steady in the region,” Jobson said. “But sometimes you need more than that.”