UK and US firms ponder future of Asian outposts

A growing number of UK and US firms are pulling out of, or scaling down, their presence in the Asian market in an attempt to bolster their overall profitability.

In April, Denton Wilde Sapte announced plans to axe offices in Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo in a decision that will affect 12 partners, approximately 50 lawyers and around 100 staff in total.

Chairman James Dallas said the move came following the firms decision to focus on its four main sectors:
energy, infrastructure and transport; financial services; real estate; and technology, media and telecoms.
A week later, The Lawyer revealed that Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer was set to pull out of Bangkok, shedding staff and possibly partners as part of a major review of Asia.

Sources in Asia claim that all Freshfields non-UK-qualified Bangkok staff will now leave the firm. The three-partner office has 22 associates and a total staff of 81, which is expected to be made redundant under Thai law.

In the past 18 months, firms including City outfit CMS Cameron McKenna and US firms Bryan Cave, Dewey Ballantine, Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett have either scaled back their presence in Asia or withdrawn completely.

Asia has yet to be completely written off, however.
Lovells has chosen to buck the trend and is planning a series of strategic alliances in South East Asia, which the firm believes will open up the local market without the financial risk of opening offices in jurisdictions such as Thailand.