Partners at Linklaters are betting on China to drive the firm's growth in Asia during the next few years, having chosen Zili Shao, currently head of the firm's China practice, to replace Giles White as its regional managing partner.
Shao is not the obvious choice, according to a rival lawyer, but his China practice is clearly seen as a driver of the improved profitability that the firm wants to nurture. "Links are smart and know where to put their resources for future growth," says the rival. "China will have its own problems, but it will be a top economic powerhouse for a long time to come. It's unthinkable that China will not generate first-class business and command first-class legal services."
The race to take over the firm's Asia practice pitched Shao, a corporate and M&A specialist who grew up in China during the cultural revolution, against Marc Harvey, a litigator and head of the Hong Kong office. Shao joined the firm in 1998 as a lateral partner poached from an Australian firm -- Allen, Allen & Hemsley -- while Harvey has been with Linklaters since he joined the firm as a trainee in London in 1991.
Both lawyers are well-known to Simon Davies, the firm's global managing partner, and he knows the job requirements better than anyone else in the firm, having worked alongside both during a 12-year stint in Asia, in the firm's Hong Kong and Tokyo offices, and having been Asia managing partner himself from 2003 to 2007.
In opting for Shao, the partnership has clearly spoken in favour of taking the firm in a new direction -- and one that echoes the firm-wide shake-up that Davies has recently launched. His spookily named Project New World is focused on slashing headcount and making the firm more profitable, starting with 270 cuts in London, including some senior and influential partners.
Shao will move to Hong Kong in his new role but will continue to focus on China clients.
White is leaving the firm after 21 years at the end of April to join Jardine Matheson as group general counsel.