Ropes & Gray has appointed a new Hong Kong managing partner.
Asset management lawyer, Vince Ip, will succeed Daniel Anderson on April 1, 2022, the firm said.
Ip will be leading a 36-lawyer Hong Kong office, which opened in 2008 with him as part of the launch-team. Anderson, who has held the Hong Kong head role for the past five years, will continue at Ropes & Gray, and focus on building the firm’s restructuring and special situations practice in the region.
Ip’s clients include Hong Kong private equity fund HarbourVest Partners, U.S.-based AlpInvest Partners, Canadian insurance firm Manulife Financial Corporation, Chinese holding company Ping An Insurance, and American venture capital firm Sequoia Capital.
In Asia, Ropes & Gray also has offices in Seoul, Tokyo and Shanghai with a collective headcount of 72 lawyers including 16 partners. The firm’s regional offering focuses on life sciences, asset management and private equity work.
“We are the outlier in that we’ve got a single industry focus, there really isn’t any other international law firm that has our strategy and it’s all in for life sciences,” said Arthur Mok, Ropes & Gray’s Asia managing partner. “China is an ultra-competitive market, so we’ve decided to pick our battles and that is to focus on life sciences. It’s proven to be pretty rewarding to us,” he added.
In November, Ropes & Gray represented Shanghai-based biotechnology firm LianBio on a collaboration with Pfizer to develop and commercialise therapeutic products in Greater China. It also assisted LianBio on its US$325 million U.S. initial public offering last year.
According to Mok, who is a life sciences sector advisor himself, Ropes & Gray has advised American biotech and pharmaceuticals deals in Asia.
Much of the firm’s work in Asia derives from its institutional relationships with private equity giants in the U.S. The firm’s focus on the life sciences sector though, particularly in Greater China, hasn’t necessarily trickled through its other Asian offices.
In recent months, Ropes & Gray has represented Baring Private Equity on several of its Asian investments including a US$1.2 billion acquisition of the healthcare business of India’s Hinduja Global Solutions Limited, and a US$2.7 billion acquisition of Hong Kong-based business expansion consultancy, Tricor Group.
“A very healthy majority of our client relationships are global and institutional in nature,” said Mok. “A number of the client relationships that are based in Asia originated from sponsor clients that may have had these companies as portfolio companies and we have the unique opportunity to become company counsel as a result of that.”
The firm is also long-term legal advisor to Bain Capital and recently advised the investor on two of its tender offers in Japan: US$1.1 billion for Nichiigakkan, a Japanese company that operates nursing homes and provides hospital services; and US$830 million for shares in Japanese aircraft parts manufacturer, Showa Aircraft.
“One of the things we sell to our global institutional clients is to be able to serve them and in the three regions that are most important to them, North America, Europe, and Asia. A success story to me is if we are being used by clients like Bain, TPG, KKR or Morgan Stanley in all these regions,” said Ropes & Gray managing partner, David Djaha. “But our approach is always going to be two-pronged because it’s just as important to also be doing local work to stay relevant in the market.”
Last year, Ropes & Gray represented South Korea’s largest retailer E-mart Inc on the US$3 billion acquisition of a majority stake interest in eBay’s business in South Korea. One other of its largest Asia deals was that of Singapore’s Grab Holdings’ US$40 billion special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) deal with Altimeter Growth Capital, in which the firm advised Nasdaq-listed Altimeter, though, none of their lead partners on the deal was based in Asia.
Unlike their larger full-service competitors, private equity-focused law firms like Ropes & Gray, Kirkland & Ellis, Weil Gotshal & Manges, Debevoise & Plimpton and Goodwin Procter have so far not felt the urgency to launch presences in Singapore.
“For Southeast Asia and South Asia, we view them as very important markets as well, but we’ve been able to serve those markets through a combination of folks within Tokyo, Hong Kong, London and United States,” said Mok.
Over the past few years, though, Ropes & Gray has suffered some significant headcount trims. In 2017 through to 2018, the firm saw a string of eight senior departures to Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher to Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, White & Case and Davis Polk & Wardwell.
Last year, the firm also lost high profile capital markets partner Victoria Lloyd to Baker McKenzie and restructuring partner Kathleen Aka to Weil Gotshal & Manges, both based in Hong Kong.
Unlike its close competitors, Ropes & Gray has not hastened to replenish its departures. Over the past 12 months, Kirkland laterally hired several partners to cover the departures from its Hong Kong office. Goodwin also brought on three new partners last year, and Weil Gotshal’s hire of Aka marked the firm’s first lateral partner hire in six years.
In contrast, Ropes & Gray’s latest lateral partner hire was back in 2018 when the firm took on Jackie Kahng from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in Hong Kong. It was in the same year that it also hired Johnson & Johnson Asia Pacific legal counsel Eric Wu as Shanghai partner.
“We do have a plan to continue to hire opportunistically and I am always looking for talent in that market,” said Djaha. “But I’d much rather train an associate the Ropes & Gray way, make them partner, have them have client relationships from day one, and have them embedded in a client.”