Withers ramps up Hong Kong base with three-partner Winston & Strawn team

Withers has hired a three-partner corporate team from Winston & Strawn in Hong Kong, in a bid to expand its Asia corporate offering.

Winston Hong Kong partners Mabel Lui, Polly Chu and Daniel Tang are joining Withers along with three associates, one trainee and three paralegals. The team handles cross-border M&A, joint ventures and real estate transactions.

In February, Lui advised local developer Shun Ho Property Investments on a $129m acquisition of the Newton Inn hotel on the east side of Hong Kong Island. In 2015, Both Lui and Tang represented Hong Kong developer Shui On Group on a $210m sale of the Four Seasons Hotel in Shanghai. Chu advises clients on land acquisitions, leasing and retail space negotiations.

Lui joined Winston in 2014 from DLA Piper, along with Tang and Chu, who joined as of counsel. At DLA Piper, Lui was Asia head of corporate. She joined DLA Piper in 1997. Tang joined DLA Piper in 2008 from Baker McKenzie, and Chu started at the firm in 2005.

The Winston departures follow those of former partners Giovanni Marino, Matthew Durham, Laura Luo and Bertrand Theaud from the firm’s remaining Asian offices in Hong Kong and Shanghai. The Chicago-based firm decided to close its offices in Beijing and Taipei in late 2016.

Withers launched in Hong Kong in 2008 and has mostly focused on wealth planning and family law matters. In 2015, it entered into a formal law alliance with Singaporean law firm KhattarWong and has since expanded beyond private client work in the region. Late last year, the firm hired M&A partner Farhana Siddiqui from Drew & Napier. Former K&L Gates corporate partner Lawrence Altman also joined the firm as special counsel in Singapore. Altman is now part of a team led by Singapore partner Tahirah Ara, advising Indonesian mining company PT Bumi Resources on a $4.2bn debt restructuring.

To oversee the corporate expansion in Asia, Withers earlier this year relocated corporate partner and former firm chairman Anthony Indaimo to Singapore from London. Indaimo now heads up the firm’s Asia commercial and corporate practice.

Withers’ corporate ambition in Hong Kong comes at a time when other firms are reassessing their corporate position in Hong Kong, as the practice becomes more commoditised and fee-sensitive. Indaimo said Withers’ corporate practice will provide core clients with business advice that complements its wealth planning advice. “Our strategy was to build around the wealth planning practice and leverage our reputation in that area,” he said.

Indaimo said that in addition to helping clients structure their personal wealth, the firm has been increasingly called upon for business and investment advice. He said the client list of Lui’s team resonated with Withers’ core clients and key industries, such as the luxury and hospitality sectors. Polly Chu, for example, shares the firm’s longtime client – Italian fashion house Valentino.

Indaimo acknowledged the stiff competition in Hong Kong but said he believes there is room to grow Withers’ corporate offering. “We have seen the rise of family businesses and the deployment of private capital really becoming a substitute for banks or financial institutions,” he said.

In the equity capital markets space, Indaimo said, the firm is not looking to compete to be issuers’ counsel – work that tends to have a capped fee. Instead, he said: “We want to be stakeholders’ counsel, we want to be at the table when the family decides to IPO, and when the family needs independent advice from corporate and wealth planning lawyers.”