Fieldfisher seals merger with Beijing law firm


Fieldfisher has merged with Beijing boutique JS Partners under a Swiss verein, making it the latest international law firm to gain Chinese law capability.

JS Partners, which will will adopt the Fieldfisher brand, has made several partner hires ahead of the tie-up, notably antitrust partner Zhaofeng Zhou, who joined as managing partner this July from Bird & Bird’s Beijing office. According to Zhou, the firm also has plans to open a Shanghai office soon.

In addition to antitrust and intellectual property, the 12-partner firm advises on cross-border commercial law including corporate, finance, tax and dispute resolution. It was founded in 2008 by partner Liu Jinshi, who specialises in Japan and Korea work.

Three years ago, Fieldfisher secured a presence in Shanghai through a Swiss verein combination with three-partner firm Ryser & Associates. However, that tie-up has since ended.

In a statement, Fieldfisher managing partner Michael Chissick said: “Our relationship with Ryser & Associates has, for the last three years, been of great value to the firm. However, as Fieldfisher continues to grow it became apparent that we need a larger partner in China. As such, we mutually agreed to end the relationship but retain a good working relationship with the firm.”

Under the verein structure, Fieldfisher will operate as a licensed Chinese law firm, with access to all aspects of Chinese legal practice. The setup was pioneered in 2012 by legacy King & Wood when it merged with Australian firm Mallesons Stephen Jaques. Last year, the same structure was used by Dentons when it merged with Beijing-based Dacheng.

The news comes after Hogan Lovells last month announced a joint venture with China’s Fidelity Law Firm in the Shanghai Free Trade Zone (FTZ). Baker & McKenzie and Holman Fenwick Willan have also entered similar arrangements with Chinese firms under the FTZ pilot programme.

Last year, US firm McGuireWoods launched a strategic partnership with Shanghai-based FuJae Partners, with both firms remaining independent while functioning as one unit. A similar structure was also used in 2007 by McDermott Will & Emery and Shanghai firm MWE China Law Offices; and in 2011 by Pinsent Masons and China’s Hesen Law Firm.

Earlier this year, Linklaters announced it will launch its own “captive” Chinese law firm with a group of its own lawyers.

Meanwhile, Stephenson Harwood, which has registered in China as a Hong Kong law firm, took advantage of the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA) – a free-trade agreement between mainland China and Hong Kong – to form an association with Guangzhou-based Wei Tu. CEPA allows Hong Kong law firms to operate in association with mainland firms under one license and give Chinese legal advice via the Chinese firm.

In 2013, Clyde & Co, which also registered as a Hong Kong firm in China, launched a similar tie-up with Chongqing’s West Link Partnership in southwestern China.