Miguel Zaldivar of Hogan Lovells

Miguel Zaldivar, Hogan Lovells’ new regional head for the Asia Pacific and the Middle East, plans to shake things up a bit in the region.

His first order of business is to change the way the firm is perceived in Hong Kong.

Zaldivar, who arrived in Hong Kong earlier this month to assume his new role, has noticed that the perception of Hogan Lovells in Hong Kong does not jibe with the current reality. For one thing, the legal community in the former British colony still refers to the firm as “legacy Lovells”—a term he says he does not hear elsewhere.

“People here [in Hong Kong] still don’t see us as a Washington, D.C., firm. They see us as a London firm,” he said. “But they have to realize that we’re not a London firm, and we’re not a Washington firm—we’re a global firm with two huge engines.”

Hogan Lovells was established in 2010 when Washington, D.C.-based Hogan & Hartson merged with London-based Lovells—a merger that has been called “arguably the most successful trans-Atlantic law firm combination of all time.”

Zaldivar also subscribes to that view, but in Hong Kong, where legacy Lovells was a much stronger brand, the Hogan half of the firm seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle. It was Lovells’ Asia regional managing partner, Crispin Rapinet, who became Asia and Middle East regional head of the newly combined Hogan Lovells. Then came Patrick Sherrington, a Lovells lifer who spent five years in the role and 40 years at the firm before retiring this year.

Zaldivar, however, is the first American regional head of the firm in Asia and the first to have come from Hogan & Hartson, which he joined in 2002. And he wants Hong Kong to realize that legacy Hogan, which was one of the largest and oldest law firms in Washington, D.C., and had one of the largest regulatory practices in the world, added its fair share to the merger.

Hong Kong and Beyond 

But Hong Kong is just one of the firm’s 10 offices—plus four associations—that Zaldivar will oversee in the region. In an increasingly interconnected world, his big-picture plan is to improve the interconnection between the firm’s practices in the Asia Pacific and Middle East, with their 224 lawyers, and the practices in the U.S. and Europe, where the rest of the firm’s 2,685 lawyers are based.

It’s a big plan, but Zaldivar can tap into his relevant experience. Previously, he was a member of the firm’s global board of directors and represented all the firm’s 13 U.S. offices. He also co-led the global infrastructure, energy, resources, and projects practice, as well as the Latin American practice group. Plus, he’s familiar with Asia, having done cross-border work with China and Japan since 2005.

He also knows just how interconnected the world can be. In 2010, he represented the Ecuador government in securing a $1.7 billion loan from the Export-Import Bank of China to finance the development of the Coca Codo Sinclair hydropower plant in the country built by Chinese contractor Sinohydro. At the time, it was Ecuador’s largest-ever infrastructure project.

A top priority for Zaldivar is Australia, where Hogan Lovells has two offices—Perth and Sydney. The offices were opened in 2015 by a husband and wife team—Tim and Nicky Lester—both finance partners who came from the Australian firm Allens. Now, Hogan Lovells has 18 fee earners in Australia, including seven partners.

“We got the strategy right,” Zaldivar said. “Our strategy was not to merge with an Australian firm. Other global firms pursued that strategy and are not getting the results that they would have wanted.”

Norton Rose Fulbright, for example, saw a string of partner departures before, during and after its merger with the Australian firm Henry Davis York last year. The Australian Financial Review reported in February that 21 former Henry Davis partners departed during that period.

The 2012 merger between U.K.-based Herbert Smith and Australia’s Freehills, touted at the time as “a merger of equals,” also had troubles. The Australian Financial Review reported in May that the U.K. side and the Australian side had disputes regarding profit shares.

With Hogan Lovells’ Australia office relatively stable, Zaldivar said it’s due for growth. All of the new partners hired after Tim and Nicky Lester launched the Australian offices joined back in 2016.

Greater China, Japan and Singapore round out the other mature markets in which Hogan Lovells operates in the region—markets Zaldivar calls engines for the firm’s growth. He’s particularly pleased with the firm’s operation in Singapore. “It’s one of our crown jewels,” he said.

It didn’t always look that way, however. In 2016, a trio of energy and project finance partners led by James Harris, who had led the Singapore office for more than a decade before being named head of the Asia infrastructure, energy, resources and projects practice and global head of infrastructure, departed for Jones Day.

The outlook was grim, but Stephanie Keen, who had taken over as Singapore managing partner from Harris in 2014. “stepped up to the plate and took the bull by the horns,” Zaldivar said. “We had a crisis, but when there’s a crisis, it’s when heroes are made.”

Keen recently represented Walmart Inc., together with colleagues in Silicon Valley, on the $16 billion deal for a majority stake in Indian e-commerce giant Flipkart Internet Private Ltd.

From Asia to the Middle East

Zaldivar plans to focus on emerging markets as well as mature ones. He is especially excited about Saudi Arabia, where he was heavily involved in the formation of the firm’s alliance in Riyadh last month.

Zaldivar expects Hogan Lovells to play a big role in Saudi Arabia’s “Vision 2030″—an ambitious plan created by Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman to wean the country from its dependence on oil and overhaul the economy.

“Even if only half of the 2030 Vision is implemented, we are going to be extremely successful as a firm,” Zaldivar said. “The needs are in the regulatory sector, such as transportation, water, and energy … and what other firm is so well positioned to capture that?”