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British and US law firms 'shifting Russian business to Asia'

Posted by: Laurence Simons 18/09/14

The Ukraine crisis has had a wide-ranging effect which is now affecting the legal industry. Some lawyers seem to be looking at the Far East, reports Legal Week.

It listed Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, Linklaters and Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom are a few of the firms that have made changes to their Eastern Europe practice, which has usually meant bringing them back home or sending them out east.

For instance, five associates from the Linklaters Moscow have returned to London and others have relocated to other foreign destinations. Much of this is linked to a shift of global trade to Asia as sanctions against Moscow start to bite. One Moscow-based partner told the publication that the likes of Sberbank and VTB are sending their "top people" to places like China.

This observation was seconded by a merger and acquisitions partner from the Russian capital, who said: "When you go to Hong Kong and Beijing now you see a lot more bankers and lawyers on the flights."

However, the reasons for this are not due to British and US legal firms joining in economic boycotts. Allen & Overy's Moscow head Edwin Tham noted that the real reason is that the Russians are finding it easier to raise funds and make deals in Asia.

The geopolitical concerns of western countries are not necessarily the same as others. This is particularly so for China, which has so often continued to side with Russia at the UN in vetoing the actions of the US and its European allies, as if the Cold War had never ended.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of that situation - and let's remember it is not the Russian companies who annexed the Crimea - it means that there are many more opportunities for lawyers involved in business deals in Hong Kong to help Russian clients.