U.S. law firm Vinson & Elkins has announced that it will close its Beijing office by the end of 2020, making it the latest international firm to cut back on its offering in the Greater China region.

V&E’s announcement came less than one week after UK law firm Stephenson Harwood’s decision to close its Beijing office

The past few weeks have also seen two other international firms streamlining their China operations: both Osborne Clarke and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe announced that they would be closing their Hong Kong offices.

While V&E maintains a presence in Hong Kong, there are no partners at that office. At present, the firm has only one Asia-based partner – Jennifer Chen – in Tokyo.

Mark Kelly, chairman of Vinson & Elkins, said in a statement that the decision was made after “carefully manage our offices and practices to ensure their alignment to client needs and the firm’s overall strategic goals.”

One of the earliest US firms to have a presence in mainland China, V&E first established its Beijing office in 1997, with Shanghai and Hong Kong offices following in 2005 and 2006, respectively.

V&E had previously stated on its website that its China practice focused “primarily on the energy sector,” including advising on acquisitions and joint ventures on projects of oil and gas, cross-border pipeline, coal and gas-fired power generation, as well as clean energy.

Its clients included Chinese energy giants like CNPC, Sinopec and CNOOC. It has advised Sinopec on more than $15 billion worth of transactions, including a joint venture with Saudi Aramco and acquisition of Brazil’s Repsol Brasil.

However, the firm’s practice in Greater China has gone through a series of changes since 2013. It first closed its Shanghai office that year to “consolidate China practice into Beijing and Hong Kong offices and concentrate more of the firm’s mainland China resources in Beijing, where many of its energy clients are based.”

It then launched a Taipei office in 2016, focusing on intellectual property, but that closed in October 2018.

V&E also moved a couple of partners in China to other offices and saw longtime Beijing-based partner Nicholas Song leaving for Dechert, along with four other members of the firm’s China practice, in 2017.

The firm says its Hong Kong office “remains open and we are evaluating our plans there going forward.” 

The Tokyo office, which was launched in 2014, focuses on intellectual property and technology.

“We continue to work for clients in a variety of industries in Asia. Our firm’s long-term strategic plans include having a strong footprint in Asia and we intend to grow our presence there at the appropriate time.” Mark Kelly tells ALB.


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