Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati opened its third China office in Beijing on Thursday.
The new office is led by partner Kefei Li, who came to the firm last year from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. A few IP and licensing attorneys joined Li in Beijing to work with clients in technology and life sciences, said Douglas Clark, co-managing partner of the firm.
Wilson Sonsini opened the Beijing office in part to further Li’s capital markets practice, which is key to the firm’s strategy in China, Clark said in an interview. Beijing is a hot spot for capital markets as well as private equity, venture capital and international M&A transactions, co-managing partner John “Jack” Sheridan said in a statement.
“Our three offices are very tightly integrated and work almost as one,” Clark said. “We are focusing more on capital markets and transactional work than we have in the past.”
Partner Weiheng Chen, leader of the firm’s China practice, has assembled a team to concentrate on that work along with private equity, Clark said. Chen, who heads up the firm’s Shanghai and Hong Kong offices, came to Wilson Sonsini in 2010 from Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy.
Chen took the reins of the China practice after partner Carmen Chang left Wilson Sonsini in February to split her time between venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates and the Silicon Valley office of Covington & Burling. Partners Eva Wang and Michelle Edwards followed her to Covington. Chang’s practice centered on companies founded in China with Chinese-American, Taiwanese and mainland roots.
Wilson Sonsini first staked out its presence in China by opening a Shanghai office in 2007, its first international office, followed by an outpost in Hong Kong in 2010. New York firms have handled the lion’s share of U.S. IPOs by Chinese companies so far, but Silicon Valley firms are jostling to land a larger share of the work when the market bounces back, according to The Asian Lawyer, a Recorder affiliate. Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian also plans to open an office in Beijing.
“It’s an important time for firms who see China in their future to be building there,” said Peter Zeughauser, a legal consultant.
But competition in the market is stiff, with a number of up-and-coming Chinese law firms seizing business once handled by American lawyers, Zeughauser noted. And the downturn in Chinese capital markets has limited the amount of work to be done.
“We have long-term faith in global capital markets and a belief that they will remain robust,” Clark said.
Wilson Sonsini has added lawyers in China since Chang’s departure. Partner Zhan Chen came from Davis Polk & Wardwell in April, and partner Khoon Jin Tan came to the Hong Kong office in September from the China investment banking group of Macquarie Capital. Clark said he does not expect the firm to hire any more lawyers in China in the immediate future.
“We are going to focus on building the practice with the existing team,” he said.
Wilson Sonsini has about 15 lawyers in China, four of whom are partners, a spokeswoman said. Zeughauser said the firm seems to have opened “rep offices” in China, where the aim is to build relationships rather than handle a large volume of work.
“Like everyone else, they are still building their status in China,” he said.