Orrick plants Singapore flag following 2020 Hong Kong exit

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Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe offices in Washington, D.C.. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

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  • Former Watson Farley & Williams partner to lead Singapore launch
  • Singapore has become a more important legal market in recent years, Orrick leader says

(Reuters) - After shuttering its Hong Kong office last year, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe on Friday announced its launch in another major East Asian financial hub with a new Singapore office.

Spearheading the firm's push into Singapore is Jon Thursby, a former Watson Farley & Williams partner who is joining Orrick as a partner in its energy & infrastructure practice.

Orrick has been eyeing the move for a while, according to Blake Winburne, the firm's energy and infrastructure sector leader, who said it was "investigating and looking for the right opportunity in Singapore for over two years."

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In Singapore, the firm has a chance to build an operation that's much more integrated into Orrick on a worldwide basis than its Hong Kong office was, Winburne said. Orrick's Hong Kong office was focused on servicing clients there, and not much else, he added.

"We do think that, over the last 15 years, that Singapore has become a much more significant player in the region in terms of legal services, where Hong Kong is less of a legal hub for the region than it was 15-20 years ago," Winburne said. "Markets change. Smart businesses look for those opportunities and change with the market."

Orrick announced in March 2020 it was closing its Hong Kong office. Sook Young Yeu, who served as the administrative partner of Orrick's Hong Kong office for 15 years, joined K&L Gates in August 2020.

Orrick's expansion into Singapore comes as other businesses have been considering moving out of Hong Kong in light of the challenging climate for U.S. companies in the former British colony.

The Biden administration last month warned U.S. businesses that they are subject to the 2020 national security law China imposed in Hong Kong, saying businesses face risks associated with electronic surveillance without warrants and the surrender of corporate and customer data to authorities.

But not everyone is leaving. Goldman Sachs Group Inc, Citigroup Inc, UBS AG and other banks are each hiring hundreds of people in Hong Kong this year, a sign of the city's unique position as a financial gateway to China.

Before joining Orrick, Thursby was on an eight-month secondment to Blueleaf Energy, a Singapore-based solar panel manufacturer. Blueleaf Energy is a subsidiary of Orrick's client Macquarie Capital, the investment arm of the Australian financial conglomerate Macquarie Group Ltd. Macquarie last month raised $6.9 billion for its latest fund dedicated to investing in North American infrastructure, well over its $5 billion target.

Orrick noted that Thursby will be reuniting at the firm with a group of former Watson Farley partners who are based out of London.

Thursby's practice centers around the development and construction of large-scale renewables projects in Asia, including offshore wind projects like the $3 billion Changfang and Xidao project in Taiwan.

"I’m excited to join Orrick’s market-leading global energy and infrastructure platform and to rejoin my colleagues," Thursby said in a statement released by the firm.

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David Thomas reports on the business of law, including law firm strategy, hiring, mergers and litigation. He is based out of Chicago. He can be reached at d.thomas@thomsonreuters.com and on Twitter @DaveThomas5150.