UK firms turn attention to Asian market

The US is just so last year. Law firms are now obsessed with Asia and that means India and China.

Take silver circle firm Ashurst. Just before Christmas (11 December 2006) The Lawyer reported that it has decided to reposition itself as a global, rather than a European, firm. As part of this Ashurst has now decided to go for growth in Asia namely China, India, Japan and Singapore, plus Dubai. So far Ashurst has been absent from mainland China and Hong Kong, but it plans to launch there within three years.

It is not just about China, but India as well. In fact, with the Chinese market overheating (a recent study in the Financial Times suggested that a stock market bubble was about to appear, with recent public share offerings being way overpriced) India offers another point of entry into Asia. India has a huge domestic market, lots of tech companies and a highly skilled workforce what is not to like?

To underline how seriously the UK authorities are taking this, in January the UK Joint Economic and Trade Committee travelled to India to try to progress talks about the liberalisation of the Indian legal services market. Some firms have a head-start. Linklaters has an informal alliance with an Indian firm, while Clifford Chance has made job offers to a dozen or so Indian students.

Clifford Chance managing partner David Childs spent part of his holiday out there last year and the firm outsourced most of its administrative functions to India. Of the mid-size firms, Travers Smith is interested (managing partner Chris Carroll is also spending part of his sabbatical chatting up Indian firms), as is Olswang.