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Asia: US firms chase disputes work as Kobre & Kim and Alston & Bird launch new offices and Reed Smith builds in Singapore

The past week has continued to see law firms invest in Asia with US litigation outfit Kobre & Kim chasing litigation work with a new office in Seoul, Alston & Bird targeting intellectual property (IP) mandates with its first Asian office and Reed Smith building its projects practice with a focus on disputes.

Following in the footsteps of Allen & Overy and White & Case – just two from a pack of firms that have marched into South Korea – US litigation outfit Kobre & Kim will also open its doors in Seoul and become the only foreign law firm in Korea to focus solely on disputes and investigations.

With its conflict-free model, the firm plans to continue to work with others as ‘conflict/special litigation or investigative counsel’, as well as establishing a local team that focuses on Western government investigations, and offshore litigation.

Co-founder and partner Michael Kim, who is a former US Department of Justice prosecutor fluent in Korean, will head the team that so far includes a US-qualified lawyer and a financial analyst. The firm will work closely with its US government enforcement practice, which is active in Korea-related cases.

‘In Korea, we are offering two products not available in the current market: a Seoul-based Korean fluent team focusing on US government investigations, as well as Hong Kong and offshore litigation capabilities,’ said Kim.

Also expanding is Alston & Bird – a firm that has not been deterred by China’s slowing economy from launching an office in Beijing. The new base will focus on advising Chinese companies on US IP law in federal and state courts across a range of patent, licensing and other disputes.

The new office is located in the Hanwei Office Building in Beijing’s central business district. Alston & Bird partner Yitai Hu will serve as chief representative of the new office, and work alongside IP partner Helen Su.

‘For many years, we have assisted a number of Chinese clients in the US across a broad range of services, including IP disputes, products liability litigation, cross-border M&A and international tax matters,’ said Alston & Bird managing partner Richard Hays. ‘The launch of our Beijing office recognises the importance and success of these practices by formalising a presence around practices that Alston & Bird has had for many years.’

Hu added: ‘Although IP law will be a primary focus, we will also represent Chinese companies in the US in foreign direct investment, complex litigation, international trade and other areas where Alston & Bird has marquee practices.’

Meanwhile, Reed Smith is expanding in Singapore with the hire of partners Calvin Chan and Kohe Hasan who join the firm’s energy and natural resources group, from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and Oon & Bazul respectively.

Both Chan and Hasan are international commercial arbitration and disputes lawyers, with Chan having experience in Foreign Corrupt‎ Practices Act (FCPA) matters and investigations, while Hasan primarily advises clients on the acquisition and financing aspects of energy and infrastructure projects including mine acquisition, concession agreements and power generation assets. The duo’s arrival brings team headcount to 19 lawyers, including seven partners.

The firm first launched in Singapore in 2012, to support its clients in the energy and natural resources sector and has since invested in hiring talent to bulk up its offering, which included the hire of former counsel at Herbert Smith Freehills Charles Ball who joined in 2013 to head the firm’s Indonesia Group.

Gautam Bhattacharyya, Reed Smith’s Singapore office managing partner, said: ‘We have established a strong foundation in Singapore, ensuring a team with deep sector and local as well as regional market knowledge. Our‎ focus is to build upon that further and enhance our geographical reach and resources across Indonesia, the Indochina region and China. With Calvin and Kohe on board, we have an even stronger platform to do that.’