Hong Kong

Reed Smith Richards Butler has confirmed that a six-partner Hong Kong-based disputes team will leave for MinterEllison.

The group, which specializes in white-collar defense, is led by securities litigation partner David Morrison, and also includes partners William Barber, Nathan Dentice, Alex Kaung, Eddy So and Desmond Yu. They will start at MinterEllison on Jan. 1.

Three additional partners might also make the move, according to Reed Smith Asia-Pacific managing partner Denise Jong. Jong said in a statement that the exits were prompted by client conflicts.

“In any law firm as large and complex as Reed Smith, conflicts are a fact of life. It is inevitable that, over time, certain representations taken by the firm pose issues for litigators whose clients might need to be adverse to an industry focus of the firm,” she said.

The departing group will take away a significant part of Reed Smith Richards Butler’s dispute resolution capability in Hong Kong, which currently has 14 disputes partners.

“A strong group of partners remains with the Hong Kong office of Reed Smith, and we wish them well,” departing partner Morrison said in a statement.

After the departures, the Hong Kong office will have about 100 fee earners, including 20 partners, advising on transactions and litigation.

Pittsburgh-based Reed Smith inherited its Hong Kong office from its merger with British firm Richards Butler. The office, which didn’t combine with the U.S. firm until two years after the 2006 transatlantic merger, is the only outpost globally that has kept the Richards Butler brand.

In November 2011, in a mass exodus, a 20-lawyer team, led by former partners Chris Howse, Christopher Williams, and Kevin Bowers, broke off and launched their own firm, Howse Williams Bowers. Fifteen more ex-Reed Smith lawyers followed a few months later to join Howse Williams Bowers, which has since grown to be one of the largest independent local firms in Hong Kong.

At the beginning of 2018, Reed Smith appointed Jong as Asia-Pacific managing partner. She took over from Roger Parker, who oversaw Asia from his base in London for a decade.

For MinterEllison, the hires will add securities litigation capabilities to the firm’s Asia practice. The Australian firm’s Hong Kong office currently has about 30 lawyers, including seven partners, focusing on capital markets, mergers and acquisitions, and construction work. Corporate partner Fred Kinmonth leads the Asia practice from Hong Kong; the firm also has offices in Beijing, Shanghai, and Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia.

The Australian firm has been expanding its China practice in recent years. In November, MinterEllison recruited China-focused corporate partner Shaun McRobert in Perth from King & Wood Mallesons.

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