Mallesons to merge with ex-Andersen Legal firm

Aussie law firm teams up with Kwok & Yih in Hong Kong and China.

Mallesons Stephen Jaques is merging its Hong Kong office with local firm Kwok & Yih. The deal, which takes effect in October, doubles the headcount of Mallesons' China practice, adds an office in Shanghai and sees Larry Kwok emerge as managing partner of the merged entity.

Both partnerships voted to approve the merger after a two-year courtship that started when Kwok & Yih left the Andersen Legal network, which fell apart during the Enron scandal. Undaunted by that experience the 10-year-old firm has bounced back to try its hand at another novel legal alliance - the first cross-border merger with a top Australian law firm.

"Larry and Dieter [Yih] have gone out there and really developed the business in their boutique area of practice," says Robert Milliner, managing partner of Mallesons in Hong Kong. "They've very much achieved what they wanted to do. The question was, could they take it to the next level?"

With 15 partners, 31 fee-earners and offices in Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai the merged practice will be one of the biggest Greater China practices and is pushing itself as a "credible alternative to top US and UK firms". As an Aussie firm it reckons to have an edge thanks to a head office that is in the Asian timezone and which has costs that are generally lower than firms headquartered in London or New York.

Kwok & Yih, at the same time, has developed over the last 10 years into a respected corporate practice with a particularly strong franchise in the Hong Kong IPO market and a good network of contacts on the mainland. The fact that its practice is quite different to Mallesons' existing China practice is a bonus says Hong Kong managing partner Robert Milliner: "One of the strengths of this merger is that there's basically no overlap between the two practices," he says. "What we share is a clear vision for how we want to develop in the Hong Kong and China market and this gives us important critical mass without over-duplication."

Mallesons has had an office in Beijing since 1993 and recently picked up a team of three lawyers from Denton Wilde Sapte, which is withdrawing from Asia. Kwok & Yih brings a Shanghai office. In Hong Kong the two firms will move into offices in the city's newest and tallest skyscraper, IFC Two, by the end of the year and Kwok will become managing partner of the practice when the merger takes effect on October 1.

The Kwok & Yih name will remain on the letterhead during a transition period but will eventually be subsumed into the Mallesons brand.