Gibson Dunn to launch Beijing base as firm targets Asia litigation

Gibson Dunn & Crutcher is to open an office in Beijing in the first quarter of this year as the firm moves to expand its footprint across Asia.

The US firm, which already has offices in Singapore and Hong Kong, has received approval from the Chinese authorities to set up in the capital city, and is in the process of appointing an office head.

The firm plans to start with around three lawyers and build upwards, with a focus on M&A, compliance and infrastructure work. The firm’s China practice is currently based in Hong Kong, with partners travelling to the mainland on a regular basis.

“We are aiming for the office to open in the first quarter of 2013,” said Jai Pathak (pictured), the firm’s head of Asia and managing partner for Singapore.

“There are a lot of things that need to be done before an office can be opened, so we’re going through that process right now. It will be small to start with, and Hong Kong and Singapore will support it.”

He added: “To be credible in China you have to be on the ground. Having a Hong Kong office helps when you have Hong Kong [work], but where Chinese companies are looking to Europe or the US they need to have somebody on the ground in China with the presence in Europe and the US.”

As well as opening in China, Pathak said another important step for the firm would be to launch a litigation practice in Singapore and Hong Kong. He said this would be heavily dependent on obtaining the right calibre of staff.

“We do not do litigation currently but we’re looking at it in terms of international arbitration,” he told Legal Week.

“We do not have a timeline, but I would say before the end of this year. We’re certainly all working on it, but you’ve got to get the right person and the right fit. They need to have credibility locally and internationally. Building a practice in Asia doesn’t happen overnight, it’s based more on personal – as opposed to institutional – relationships.”

Gibson Dunn opened its first Asian office in 2008 in Singapore, in a bid to focus on work from India, Indonesia and Mongolia.

The Los Angeles head-quartered firm, which is among the 23 international outfits to have applied for a Qualifying Foreign Law Practice (QFLP) licence in the Asian city state towards the end of last year, also uses the base to service clients in Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines.

In 2010, it also launched a Hong Kong office, hiring compliance partner Kelly Austin from General Electric International and relocating Palo Alto commercial partner Joseph Barbeau.

The firm has since increased its Hong Kong partner headcount to four, with the hire of O’Melveny & Myers regional head Yi Zhang and Reed Smith corporate partner Graham Winter last year.

Its Asia team, which also includes three partners and two of counsel in Singapore, typically cooperates across the two offices on M&A, compliance, energy, infrastructure and project finance work.