Milbank to give up Hong Kong local law practice as corporate partner eyes exit

Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy is planning to wind up its local Hong Kong practice and revert to being a registered foreign law firm in the city.

The proposed model would replicate that adopted in Singapore, where Milbank does not have a local licence but partners with top tier local firms to act jointly on cross border and regional mandates.

The firm declined to comment, but it is understood that the move is the result of the Hong Kong practice growing at a slower rate than the international business.

Milbank began advising on Hong Kong law in 2010 with the hire of Dieter Yih from Australian firm Mallesons Stephen Jaques. However, it is now looking to focus instead on its international practice, which is thought to be performing well in Asia.

The US-headquartered firm currently numbers Yih as its only Hong Kong-qualified corporate partner. Yih is expected to leave the firm, which would lead to the surrender of its local licence in line with rules which obligate firms practising Hong Kong law to employ an equal number of locally qualified and foreign lawyers.

However, it is understood that the firm is still interested in advising on Hong Kong litigation in the future, reflecting its burgeoning disputes practice elsewhere in the world. Last month in the US, the firm re-hired former partner George Canellos from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to head the litigation department.

Outside of the Hong Kong corporate group, Milbank has significantly ramped up in Asia in the last year with the hire of two senior Allen & Overy (A&O) partners in Japan and Hong Kong.

In May it recruited the magic circle firm’s Tokyo managing partner and top-ranked project finance expert Aled Davies, and in October it recruited A&O’s head of international capital markets for Asia and Philippines group leader, James Grandolfo.

The hires were strategic for Milbank, which had previously seen the exit of two senior lawyers in the region, Asia corporate head and Greater China managing partner Anthony Root and Beijing chief representative Ed Sun. It also lost project finance partner Mark Plenderleith to magic circle firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in April 2012.