In an ambitious move, US law firm Kirkland & Ellis has hired eight partners from rival firms to help it build a Hong Kong office that can compete for mandates in the world’s busiest IPO market.
Partners Nick Norris, Dominic Tsun and Li-Chien Wong are joining from Skadden Arps to lead the new Hong Kong capital markets and M&A practice. Skadden had only just promoted Wong to its global partnership in May this year. Partners John Otoshi, Benjamin Su and David Zhang are switching from Latham & Watkins to advise on US securities and M&A, while partners Ashley Young and Douglas Murning have come from Allen & Overy to provide support on debt finance.
Kirkland is the latest in a string of US firms that have built Hong Kong-law practices recently. Traditionally, providing top-end Hong Kong advice has been the preserve of English firms, but the growth in local IPO activity in particular has encouraged some of the biggest Wall Street firms such as Sullivan & Cromwell and Simpson Thacher to break tradition and build local capabilities here. Davis Polk, Milbank Tweed and Cleary Gottlieb have also hired Hong Kong lawyers.
Before this new push, Chicago-based Kirkland operated a small office in Hong Kong with a focus on private equity. Even so, building a Hong Kong practice is nothing new for Tsun and Norris, who already have a track record at Skadden, which they joined as co-heads in 2005. Norris ran the corporate and capital markets practice, while Tsun helped build the corporate finance and M&A practice.
Norris came to Hong Kong with Simmons & Simmons in 1992 and was head of the China corporate practice by the time he left. He is a member of Hong Kong’s takeovers and mergers panel, and has advised on more than 20 public takeover and take-private transactions in Hong Kong during the past five years.
“Leveraging Kirkland’s preeminent private equity and expanding global M&A practices, we plan to build a first-rate Asian deal platform,” said Norris.
Tsun has been based in Hong Kong since 1994 and joined Skadden from Linklaters. He has assisted a significant number of international issuers with their plans to list in Hong Kong. Wong is also a securities specialist, who has worked with Tsun on more than 30 Hong Kong listings during the past five years — and nine in 2011 alone.
“Combining efforts with such an extraordinarily talented and focused group of deal lawyers is a unique opportunity in this market. This will create a premier advisory platform that adds value for clients,” said Tsun.
The Latham team will bring US expertise. Zhang specialises in US capital market transactions and is also known for counselling Chinese companies on M&A activities as well as governance, disclosure and reporting matters. At Latham, he was vice-global chair of the corporate department and a co-chair of its Greater China practice. He has been in Hong Kong since 1993.
Otoshi advises financial sponsors and corporations on a wide range of transformative transactions, with a focus on high-yield debt and other complex securities transactions, while Su advises Chinese issuers and international underwriters on capital markets transactions. Together, they have led more than 35 US IPOs by Chinese companies, mostly as issuer’s counsel, since 2003. They are completing a notice and transition period with their current firm.
The two lawyers from Allen & Overy will bring expertise in debt finance. Young was a member of the firm’s leveraged acquisition finance practice in London and Paris, and, more recently, led the firm’s leveraged acquisition finance practice in Asia-Pacific from its Tokyo and Hong Kong offices. They are completing a notice and transition period with their current firm.
These hires follow other recently announced senior additions to Kirkland’s Asia team, including Sam Williamson, an FCPA, securities enforcement and white collar litigation partner relocating to Kirkland’s Shanghai office, and Angela Russo, a transactional tax attorney who has relocated to Kirkland’s Hong Kong office.
“We intend to be the leading adviser to sponsors of complex deals in Asia,” said Kirkland Hong Kong private equity partner David Patrick Eich. “Kirkland will be one of the few global firms delivering the full spectrum of transactional advice in Asia, including in private equity, public M&A, equity and debt capital markets and debt finance.”
Kirkland is in the process of completing the necessary regulatory processes to convert its Hong Kong office into a Hong Kong law practice.