Leung Cho Pan

U.K. private client specialist firm Withers has hired a three-partner corporate team in Hong Kong in a bid to expand its Asia corporate offering.

Former Winston & Strawn Hong Kong partners Mabel Lui, Polly Chu and Daniel Tang, and three associates, one trainee and three paralegals, have defected to Withers. Lui’s team handles cross-border mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures and real estate transactions.

In February, Lui advised local developer Shun Ho Property Investments Ltd. on a $129 million acquisition of the Newton Inn hotel on the east side of Hong Kong Island. In 2015, Both Lui and Tang represented Hong Kong developer Shui On Group on a $210 million sale of the Four Seasons Hotel in Shanghai. Chu advises clients on land acquisitions, leasing and retail space negotiations.

Lui joined Winston & Strawn in 2014 from DLA Piper, along with Tang and Chu, who joined as of counsel. At DLA Piper, Lui was Asia head of corporate. She joined DLA Piper in 1997. Tang joined DLA Piper in 2008 from Baker & McKenzie, and Chu started at the firm in 2005.

The Winston & Strawn departures follow those of former partners Giovanni Marino, Matthew Durham, Laura Luo and Bertrand Theaud from the firm’s remaining Asian offices in Hong Kong and Shanghai. The Chicago-based firm decided to close its offices in Beijing and Taipei in late 2016.

Withers launched in Hong Kong in 2008 and has mostly focused on wealth planning and family law matters. In 2015, Withers entered into a Formal Law Alliance with Singaporean law firm KhattarWong and has since expanded beyond private clients work in the region. Late last year, the firm hired M&A partner Farhana Siddiqui from Drew & Napier. Former K&L Gates corporate partner Lawrence Altman also joined the firm as special counsel in Singapore. Altman is now part of a team led by Singapore partner Tahirah Ara, advising Indonesian mining company PT Bumi Resources Tbk. on a $4.2 billion debt restructuring.

To oversee the corporate expansion in Asia, Withers earlier this year relocated corporate partner and former firm chairman Anthony Indaimo to Singapore from London. Indaimo now heads up the firm’s Asia commercial and corporate practice.

Withers’ corporate ambition in Hong Kong comes at a time when other firms are reassessing their corporate position in Hong Kong as the practice becomes more commoditized and fee-sensitive. Indaimo said Withers’ corporate practice will provide core clients with business advice that complements its wealth planning advice. “Our strategy was to build around the wealth planning practice and leverage our reputation in that area,” he said.

According to Withers, the firm has represented 46 percent of the Sunday Times’s 2016 Rich List in the U.K., 25 percent of Forbes’ U.S. rich list in 2015 and 30 percent of the top 20 Hong Kong billionaires on Forbes’ list in 2016.

Indaimo said that in addition to helping these clients structure their personal wealth, the firm has been increasingly called upon for business and investment advice. He said the client list of Lui’s team resonated with Withers’ core clients and key industries, such as the luxury and hospitality sectors. Polly Chu, for example, shares the firm’s longtime client Italian fashion house Valentino SpA.

Indaimo acknowledged the stiff competition in Hong Kong but said he believes there is room to grow Withers’ corporate offering. “We have seen the rise of family businesses and the deployment of private capital really becoming a substitute for banks or financial institutions,” he said.

In the equity capital markets space, Indaimo said, the firm is not looking to compete to be issuers’ counsel—work that tends to have a capped fee. Instead, “we want to be stakeholders’ counsel, we want to be at the table when the family decides to IPO, and when the family needs independent advice from corporate and wealth planning lawyers,” he said.
 

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