Los Angeles-based Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton has closed its Beijing office, consolidating its China practice in Shanghai and joining a series of Am Law 100 firms scaling back in China.
The firm said it closed the Beijing office in late March following the 2018 departure of two former partners. In May of last year, former Beijing office managing partner James Zimmerman and intellectual property partner Scott Palmer joined Perkins Coie alongside other lawyers and staff members of the Beijing office. Following the departures, Sheppard Mullin initially appointed Shanghai partner Tony Mou to be its chief representative in Beijing.
Sheppard Mullin continues its China practice in Shanghai with nine lawyers, including five partners. Corporate and private equity partner Don Williams is managing partner in Shanghai, where the firm opened its first China office in 2007. Partner Harris Gao specializes in intellectual property and technology-related litigation.
“We chose to focus our China resources in Shanghai, as that is the most logical center for our thriving cross-border M&A and IP practices,” Williams said in a statement.
The firm has named three new partners in Shanghai over the past 18 months, including Gao, according to Williams, who described the China practice as “busy and vibrant.” It has served such clients as Alibaba and Southeast Asian ride-hailing app Grab.
In 2017, Williams led a Shanghai-based team advising Grab on a $2.5 billion financing round led by Chinese peer DiDi Chuxing Technology Co. and SoftBank Group Corp. Williams was a veteran Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati partner before moving over to Sheppard Mullin in 2010.
Sheppard Mullin opened in Beijing in 2011 when it hired Zimmerman from legacy Squire Sanders & Dempsey, where he also led the Beijing office. “The decision to open in Beijing was driven by the needs of existing clients and the importance of being near the country’s seat of government,” the firm said in a statement at the time of the Beijing opening.
A 30-year China veteran, Zimmerman typically advises multinational clients on regulatory and transactions in China.
Sheppard Mullin is the latest in a wave of U.S. firms that have scaled back in China over the past few years. Just last year, two Am Law 100 firms—Troutman Sanders and Davis Wright Tremaine—closed their China offices and pulled out of Asia. In 2016, Winston & Strawn shuttered its Beijing office; in the same year, Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft also closed Beijing and Hong Kong offices after re-evaluating its Asia practice. In 2015, Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson closed its Hong Kong and Shanghai offices, while legacy Chadbourne & Parke shut down its only Asia outpost in Beijing.