Signage is seen outside of the law firm Mayer Brown LLP in Washington, D.C., U.S., August 30, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly


U.S. law firm Mayer Brown said on Thursday that it plans to separate from its current Hong Kong operations, as many international law firms rethink or reduce their presence in China.

Chicago-founded, 1,800-lawyer Mayer Brown said it plans to continue to operate in Hong Kong through a new partnership focused on corporate and other work.

Mayer Brown said its Hong Kong partners plan to reestablish their firm as Johnson Stokes & Master (JSM), which was the name of the Hong Kong-based entity that merged with Mayer Brown in 2008. If the move receives regulatory approval, JSM is expected to operate independently by next year.

Mayer Brown has roughly 170 lawyers in Hong Kong, Beijing, and Shanghai, with the majority in Hong Kong, according to its website.

Clients of Mayer Brown's China practice have included Chinese conglomerates CITIC, Fosun and Sinochem, and non-Chinese multinationals ConocoPhillips, Nestlé and Unilever, the firm's website said.

Its chair, Jon Van Gorp, said in a statement that the firm's new partnership will allow Mayer Brown "to continue its presence in Hong Kong with a practice that aligns with our strategic priorities."

A growing number of U.S. and international law firms have pulled back from the Chinese market amid growing pressures on foreign businesses and converging economic and geopolitical challenges.

New Chinese government rules on data privacy and cybersecurity were among the reasons cited by law firm Dentons last year when it ended its combination with China's Dacheng, an 8,000-lawyer firm that accounted for its entire presence in mainland China.

The major U.S. firms with a presence in China are all revisiting their footprint in the market, legal industry consultant Peter Zeughauser said.

In March, Weil, Gotshal & Manges said it may soon end its presence on the mainland, and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe said it will be consolidating its Chinese operations in a single Beijing office.



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