This article first appeared on February 13, 2018 in ALB Insights, a weekly, ad-free newsletter that is sent to subscribers.
Watson Farley & Williams recently moved to a bigger office in Hong Kong as the shipping specialist firm looks to grow in the maritime, energy and infrastructure sectors, as well as in the aviation space. John Kang speaks to office head Madeline Leong about the office’s expansion plans, where they’re looking to grow and how big they plan to be in the city.
ALB: How has WFW’s Hong Kong office grown since it was opened in 2012?
Leong: Over the years, we have grown not just in headcount and office size but also in market share and footprint in the region – we are now one of the leading maritime advisors in China with Band One rankings for ship finance. Furthermore, we have an association with LVN & Associates in Vietnam (established in 2015) to support energy projects in the country and the rest of the Southeast Asia region.
The firm recently moved to a new office to support the firm’s growth in Hong Kong. Where in particular is the firm planning on expanding?
The firm’s vision is to expand our line of services for all sectors we service in Hong Kong in order to continue capturing market share of legal work for North and Southeast Asia. In particular, we are actively growing our dispute resolution, corporate and finance practice for maritime, aviation, energy and infrastructure sectors.
Dispute resolution partner Marcus Gordon joined us recently to provide added service to our clients across sectors, while Linh Doan, our of counsel specialising in energy, and corporate partner Rosa Ng joined us in 2015, thereby growing our energy and corporate practices significantly. These practices are core to our firm strategy and we will continue to strengthen our brand for these areas in Asia through our Hong Kong office.
We are also keen to expand our aviation practice through the Hong Kong office as we see the potential of this East-meets-West city as being the future hub for aviation transactions, especially with the direct access to the massive and growing China market.
In addition, we strive to keep developing our established maritime practice. There are plans to expand the Hong Kong office further in this space as it services a large maritime client base located in Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan.
How big does the firm hope to be by next year?
We have recently recruited more lawyers to join us and, currently, the Hong Kong office has 28 fee-earners, including four partners. Our growth and expansion rate is progressing quickly and we are continuously looking to recruit talent to join our Hong Kong office as the firm’s outlook for Asia is positive. We target to have 40 to 45 fee-earners in the next couple of years.
Our move to Jardine House ensures we have the capacity to accommodate approximately 55 fee-earners, which is about double of our present size. We aim to maintain our existing ratio between the number of fee-earners to partners, which we believe is a key element to successful growth.
On a transactional basis, however, we will adjust our ratio of partners, senior associates and associates according to market and client needs so that we can ensure quality service will be upheld and not compromised. We will reassess our growth against our market share at the end of two years to evaluate whether further growth is warranted and if it makes economic sense.
What is the firm’s strategy in Hong Kong?
The firm’s strategy in Hong Kong is aligned with our global strategy which is core to our business. We are a sector specialist law firm providing the full range of legal services in certain industries broadly encompassed by the five categories: energy, infrastructure, natural resources, real estate and transport (including maritime, aviation, rail and roads). We are not adopting the strategy to be a full-service law firm advising on all sectors which many of our peers in the city are. This positioning allows us to provide outstanding services to our clients due to our possession of specific, in-depth knowledge and expertise required for these highly specialised and regulated sectors.
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