Ashurst’s strong global financials for the past year were driven by Asia, in particular China, said the firm’s Asia practice head, Nigel Pridmore.
The firm recently announced a 7% increase in global revenue for 2016-2017 on the back of Asia-Pacific revenue growth of 15% for the same period.
“A lot of that growth came from China, and all that growth came specifically from the finance practice in China, where we have a very strong project business and a very strong structured finance business,” Pridmore told Asia Business Law Journal as he laid out the firm’s strategy for the region.
“Asia is clearly a growth driver globally, and that’s clearly true for us,” he said. “It’s also a difficult place sometimes for people to make money doing business. And you have seen some of the competition has already started to pull out of Asia in the past year or two.
“The important thing for us is to work on doing the things we do well, and do more of them. So, in Asia, we drive our China practice, our global projects practice, our arbitration practice and our structured finance work. And of course [there’s] the quality of the people we’ve got. As the markets become more sophisticated that quality shows through, and that’s what drives the profitability of the business.
“Initially the important point though is to build on those stakes we have [in greater China, Singapore, Tokyo, and Australia]. We clearly have a major presence in Australia, we have built out a presence in Asia. The important thing is to build on that strength to drive the profitability of the practice in Asia.”
China offers multiple benefits to the firm’s regional strategy, said Pridmore.
“For us, China does two things. First of all, there is the growth in China itself. And as I’ve said our finance practices in China have had significant growth over the past year, driving a lot of our growth in the region.
“But [the practices in China] are also key places for driving growth in our practices in Australia, the UK and Europe, with significant outbound investment from China going into those regions. You’ve seen we worked heavily on the Hinkley Point power project in the UK, a major Chinese investment into the UK, and similarly with a number of big project financing transactions into Southeast Asia, where CDB [China development Bank] has been a large client for us on that work.
“So you can see Chinese clients coming to us for outbound work on really major transactions, and that’s particularly going to be the case around the One Belt One Road work, with the project financing work.”
The firm recently entered into a FLA with boutique firm ADT Law in Singapore, and also renewed its alliance with Guantao Law Firm in China, which has more than 500 lawyers, for a further six years.
“They are different creatures,” said Pridmore. “The FLA is a very close arrangement with a targeted boutique law firm that does the sorts of things we do well, largely around the structured banking and structured finance derivative space. And that allows us to offer that very high-quality targeted advice to clients across the region.
“We’re in a position where we can do a big project finance deal that might be an English law deal. We may have Singaporean banks who want to hedge their risk using Singaporean law derivatives, and given the nature of the FLA we’ve put together, we’ve got a very compelling proposition for that.
“Guantao gives us scale in China that our competitors simply just don’t have. It’s a national firm, and while it remains a separate firm, we’re able to work very closely with the people we’ve developed relationships with within the firm across the across the entire Chinese landscape.”