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Belt and road: HSF secures China projects team from Pinsent Masons for huge infra push

China remains one of the most challenging markets to operate in profitably but the lure of its huge economy continues to lure investment from leading law firms with Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) this week announcing the recruitment of three projects partners from Pinsent Masons.

The move – touted as positioning HSF for the Asian giant’s huge infra plans – sees the firm recruit Pinsents head of China Hew Kian Heong, who leaves Pinsents after 22 years. The Beijing-based construction and engineering specialist has advised China’s National Development and Reform Commission and is also an experienced arbitrator.

He is joined by fellow partner Ellen Zhang, who joins HSF after 14 years at Pinsents. She worked in the UK law firm’s London, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Beijing offices, before becoming leading partner of the project and finance Asia-Pacific team. Construction law expert Michelle Li also transfers with all three joining as partners. She spent 15 years at Pinsents and has been based in China since 2005, mainly advising Chinese state-owned enterprises.

HSF now has 27 partners and over 170 lawyers across its Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai offices. The Anglo Australian law firm is seeking to take advantage of projects generated by China’s so-called ‘Belt and Road’ initiative to boost trade by improving connections and infrastructure through Europe and Asia.

‘Our firm has already captured a healthy amount of Chinese project and investment work generated by China’s $900bn “Belt and Road” initiative,’ said HSF chief executive Mark Rigotti (pictured). ‘Adding the transactional and disputes experience on complex projects offered by Hew, Ellen and Michelle will complement our existing team perfectly.’

The announcement that HSF is hiring in China comes one day after the news that it has lost a 12-lawyer real estate team in Paris to CMS.

A spokesperson for Pinsents confirmed that three partners will be leaving the firm, adding: ‘While we’re always sorry to see colleagues move on, our platform in Asia-Pacific and strategic focus on Chinese outbound investment has never been stronger. That gives us significant scope for further investment in what remains a key market.’ The top 25 UK law firm also pointed to the fact that its revenue in Asia-Pacific has grown by around 87% in the past three years, and it retains a team of 55 staff in China.