Moving East

Law firms are ramping up their Asia operations

Private equity in Asia is hot, and law firms seem to be taking notice. Recent months have seen several firms open offices in and move attorneys to Asia, all citing increased client interest in the region.

This summer Covington & Burling opened its first Asian office in Beijing, and assigned no less a person than the former chair of its management committee, Stuart Stock, to lead it. Senior counsel Ellen Eliasoph, a former Warner Bros. executive, and counsel Cao Yu, from the local Beijing law firm of Haiwen & Partners, are also based there.

Dechert said it had received a license to open an office in Beijing as well. The firm hired Henry Wang, the former general counsel of joint venture Shanghai General Motors, as a managing partner to head the office. Dechert opened its first office in Asia earlier this year, in Hong Kong. Dechert's Beijing office will work on domestic and cross-border mergers and acquisitions, public and private financings, joint ventures and wholly foreign-owned entities, licensing arrangements and commercial contracts, and compliance and corporate governance issues. The Hong Kong office focuses on fund formation for funds investing in China; private equity and venture capital investments, exits and financings via capital markets offerings; outward strategic and financial investments by Chinese entities;and financing transactions.

Clifford Chance recently appointed Peter Charlton, previously the global head of the firm's corporate practice, as its regional head of Asia. The firm also relocated private equity specialist and counsel Terence Foo to Beijing from Hong Kong, so that he could strengthen the firm's mainland practice. Foo has advised CVC Asia Pacific and Affinity Equity Partners, among others, on their investments in China. At the same time, Clifford Chance relocated counsel Yemi Tèpè, a banking and private equity specialist, from London to Tokyo.

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, meanwhile, recently relocated a private equity specialist, Heiner Braun, to Shanghai from Frankfurt. “Heiner's move reflects the firm's commitment to serving clients in China's private equity sector, where activity levels have recently seen a significant increase,” the firm said in a statement.

Paul Hastings hires Skadden Tokyo pro
Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker has hired away a Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom private equity partner in Tokyo: Kenju Watanabe will join the corporate group at Paul Hastings. His practice focuses on high profile cross-border M&A, private equity and joint venture transactions, and he has represented industrial corporations, financial institutions, and investment funds in the US, Japan, Asia and Europe. He also provides advice regarding US securities law aspects of domestic Japanese transactions. “Kenju's focus on providing corporate, securities, and tax advice in the context of complex cross-border M&A transactions aligns perfectly with our clients' needs, especially given that Japanese corporations are increasingly active in strategic global acquisitions,” Tokyo office chairman Ted Johnson said in a statement. Paul Hastings' Japanese base also has both US and local law capability, having secured a merger with Tokyo firm Taiyo Law Office six years ago.

Norton Rose hires head of Italian PE
DLA Piper has lost the head of its Italian private equity practice to Norton Rose. Davide Proverbio will join Norton Rose's Milan corporate finance practice, becoming the firm's ninth partner in Italy. Before joining DLA Piper in 2004, Proverbio worked at local M&A and private equity boutique Pedersoli. Proverbio's practice focuses on M&A, in particular domestic and cross-border private equity transactions. He joins a team of three previous corporate finance partners, including Norton Rose Italy managing partner Paolo Daviddi, who also heads the corporate finance team. Norton Rose global head of corporate finance, Tim Marsden, commented: “It has been a strong past few years for our international corporate finance practice. This has been evident in the work we have undertaken, the growth of our international practice and the quality of lawyers who are attracted to joining us. Italy is a market where I anticipate further growth.” Norton Rose launched its Rome office in 2004 after hiring Gianni Origoni Grippo & Partners M&A and tax partner Antonello Lupo. The firm's 40-lawyer Milan office opened in 2000.

Clifford Chance re-hires Macquarie director
Clifford Chance has hired Amy Mahon, formerly of Macquarie Group, as a partner in its London corporate practice. At Macquarie, an international provider of banking, financial, advisory and investment services, Mahon was a division director, and was instrumental in a number of major transactions across Europe and the US. Prior to joining Macquarie in 2006 she spent eight years with Clifford Chance, first joining the firm as a trainee and then becoming an associate within the private equity team. Upon her return to Clifford Chance, Mahon will focus on corporate finance and M&A, particularly infrastructure and the private equity sector. As Macquarie is also a client of the firm she will continue to provide the bank with legal advice.

King & Spalding strengthens Islamic PE practice
King & Spalding has added three counsel and three associates in its Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Riyadh offices. The firm said the appointments would strengthen its Islamic finance and investment funds, private equity, energy and, infrastructure transactions capabilities. The three new counsel in the Dubai office are Matthew Dallimore and Marc Parrott, who join the Islamic finance and investment practice group, and Amelia Jalleh, who joins the global transactions practice. The three associates are Roderick Mackenzie, Salah Mostafa, and Lee-Anne D'Aoust. The new hires bring the total number of the firm's lawyers and paralegals in the Middle East to 24.

Sheppard Mullin hires three from Duane Morris
Three corporate attorneys from Duane Morris –Robert Copeland, James Mercer and Michael Umansky–have joined Los Angelesbased Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton as partners in the San Diego area. Copeland, who focuses on corporate finance, securities, real estate and mergers and acquisitions, has joined Sheppard Mullin's downtown San Diego office. He represents startups and companies in offshore manufacturing, construction and services, as well as venture capital and private equity firms and real estate developers. Mercer and Umansky have joined Sheppard Mullin's office in Del Mar, California. Mercer specializes in emerging-growth companies and in securities and mergers and acquisitions. He assists in financings, such as venture capital, initial public offerings and reverse mergers. Umansky also represents emerging-growth companies, as well as technology and life sciences companies, venture capital and private equity investors and entrepreneurs.

Abraaj hires Simpson Thacher duo
Middle East private equity firm Abraaj Capital has bolstered its team with the hire of two lawyers from the New York office of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. Andrew Chvatal has already joined the private equity house, while Darius Jannat will move to Dubai later this month. They both join in non-legal, deal execution roles. Abraaj said the hires are the result of its rapidly growing assets under management. The latest additions follow the hire of Pervez Akhtar, former Allen & Overy Dubai head of corporate, who has been appointed an executive director at Abraaj.

Bridgepoint hires first-ever GC
European private equity firm Bridgepoint Capital has appointed Travers Smith private equity partner Charlie Barter as its first-ever general counsel. Barter will join the firm in October. Barter has been at Travers smith since 1985, and helped to establish its private equity arm in 1996. He headed the division for five years before stepping down this May. Barter managed Travers's relationship with Bridgepoint while at the law firm. In February, he played a key role in Bridgepoint's £350m buyout of sandwich chain Pret a Manger.

DLA Piper promotes seven to partnership in the Middle East
DLA Piper has promoted seven lawyers to partner in response to the rapid growth of its offices in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The promotions have been made ahead of DLA Piper's normal promotions timetable in order to reward the huge contribution being made to the development of both offices by “high caliber lawyers,” the firm said in a statement. Among them is Simon Davidson, whose key practice areas include private equity, M&A, joint ventures and equity capital markets. David Harley, Diane Jungmann, Gurmeet Kaur, Bruce Linke, Hinal Patel and Joycia Young were also promoted, and take the total number of partners in DLA Piper's Middle East offices to 31. The promotions were made across all key practice areas including finance and projects, corporate, IT and IP.