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6,600 lawyers: Dentons set to combine with China’s largest law firm Dacheng

Dentons is set to create the biggest law firm in the world by lawyer headcount through a combination with leading Chinese firm Dacheng, a move that will establish a 6,600-lawyer giant operating under a Swiss verein structure.

The deal is understood to have been approved by partners at both firms but approval is still to be attained from Chinese regulators. The combined firm will have a presence across 50 countries and will be known as Dentons in English and Dacheng in Chinese.

The new firm also has an altered logo that begins with the two Chinese characters for Dacheng and ends with the name ‘Dentons.’

The only other combination between a Chinese and a Western firm is the 2012 deal between King & Wood, based in Beijing, and Australia’s Mallesons Stephen Jaques, and which was also structured as a verein. On lawyer headcount alone, the union with Dentons and China’s largest mainland law firm Dacheng will push Baker & McKenzie into second place which currently has around 4,200 lawyers.

It follows Dentons $1bn tripartite merger between Salans, SNR Denton, and Canadian firm Fraser Milner Casgrain in 2013.

The latest deal reignites an ongoing debate in the global legal market, with some arguing it provides a compelling strategic position in the touted Asia Pacific region while detractors focus on the lack of top tier coverage in the US and Europe and the operational challenge of integrating Western and Chinese law firms.

The move comes in the wake of the Chinese Communist Party taking steps to prioritise legal reform in the next few years, particularly to its commercial laws.

Notably, the news also follows that of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson which on Monday confirmed it has decided to close its Hong Kong and Shanghai offices, leaving the US firm without an outpost in Asia. The decision to exit the regions will affect 33 employees in total, of which all but one sit in the Hong Kong office.