Shanghai, China. Credit: lightrain/Shutterstock.com

Am Law 100 firm Crowell & Moring has hired a 10-lawyer international trade and regulatory team from Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner and has applied to open its first Asian office in Shanghai.

Los Angeles partners Nicole Simonian and Evan Chuck join Crowell & Moring, leading a team that also includes Washington, D.C.-based senior counsel Robert Clifton Burns and Los Angeles-based counsel Jackson Pai.

In addition, all seven professionals in Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner’s Shanghai office will move along with the U.S.-based lawyers. Crowell & Moring is in the process of applying for a foreign law firm license in Shanghai; in the meantime, the seven-member team, led by partner Zhongdong Zhang, will join Crowell & Moring International (C&M International), the law firm’s affiliated policy and regulatory affairs consulting business.

It is unclear whether Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner plans to restaff its Shanghai office now that the entire team has resigned. The firm did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.

Simonian, who was most recently co-leader of Bryan Cave’s international trade practice, will hold a similar role at Crowell, alongside Washington, D.C.-based John Brew. An employment law specialist, Simonian will also lead an international employment and global mobility group for Crowell.

Chuck, who was most recently the head of Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner’s China practice and chief representative in Shanghai, will head up Crowell’s Asia practice. He represents multinationals on market entry, supply chain structuring, and other cross-border transactions and regulatory issues in China. Before relocating back to Los Angeles, Chuck spent seven years as legacy Bryan Cave’s Shanghai managing partner between 2007 and 2014.

Burns specializes in export controls, U.S. sanctions laws and national security matters. Pai, born in Taiwan, advises on customs and other trade compliance matters.

The hires come six months after Crowell recruited former Bryan Cave international trade partner David Stepp in Los Angeles. Stepp, who was Bryan Cave’s Singapore managing partner between 2014 and 2017, had worked alongside Chuck and Simonian for more than two decades.

In Shanghai, in addition to partner Zhongdong Zhang, the team includes four additional lawyers and one tax consultant.

Chuck said that between the Shanghai and U.S. teams, the group provides a suite of transactions, tax and regulatory advice on trade and supply chain structuring that resembles the offerings of professional services firms such as PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Crowell’s strength in international trade and regulatory practice was attractive to his team, he said, especially in light of the ongoing trade negotiations between China and the United States. He said the group was also drawn to the experience of Washington, D.C., partner and C&M International chief executive Robert Holleyman. Holleyman served as deputy U.S. trade representative under President Barack Obama from 2014 to 2017. He was responsible for U.S. trade and investment relations with Asia and specializes in intellectual property and digital trade.

Representatives of the Chinese and the U.S. governments are continuing a round of intense trade negotiations that both sides hope will end a year-long tariff war between the world’s two largest economies. In late February, President Donald Trump held off on implementing a plan to raise tariffs to 25 percent on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods beginning March 1, citing important progress in trade talks.

Shanghai will be Washington, D.C.-based Crowell’s first-ever office in Asia. “Our Shanghai office, in conjunction with our Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.-based international trade teams, will provide a valuable platform to help clients access and navigate the growing market,” Holleyman said in a statement. The firm currently has two offices outside the U.S.—in London and Brussels.

The Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner departures are the latest for the firm since the transatlantic merger took place nearly a year ago. In Asia, the Shanghai exits mean that neither of legacy Bryan Cave’s Asian offices, located in Hong Kong and Shanghai, was successfully integrated into the merged firm. In December, legacy Hong Kong partners Kristi Swartz and Nigel Binnersley left to start their own firm.

Bryan Cave closed its Singapore office in 2017 prior to the merger.

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