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October 14, 2009 6:10 PM

Honigman Miller, Faegre & Benson Form International Auto Team

Posted by Brian Baxter

CORRECTION: Oct. 15, 9:35 a.m. A previous version of this story juxtaposed the names of the Honigman and Faegre lawyers in the second-to-last paragraph. We regret the error.

Looking for a jump on a new world order in the automotive industry, Detroit's Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn and Minneapolis' Faegre & Benson have formed a joint legal practice group that will span the U.S., U.K., and China.

RobertWeiss

The idea is for Faegre to couple its Chinese corporate expertise with Honigman's traditional auto industry ties to jointly drum up additional business for both firms.

Talks of an auto alliance between the two firms had been in the works for about six to nine months, says Robert Weiss (at right), chair of Honigman's commercial law, bankruptcy, and reorganization practice.

"A lot of our clients are interested in doing business in China," Weiss says. "And we believe that the Chinese auto industry is becoming more interested in doing business in the U.S., particularly southeastern Michigan."

Weiss, who acts as Honigman's liaison partner with General Motors and advised the auto giant on its bankruptcy proceedings earlier this summer, hopes the alliance will help his firm's existing clients and will attract Chinese companies looking at auto opportunities stateside. (Honigman recently advised GM on the sale of its Hummer brand to a Chinese investment vehicle and in April represented a Chinese company purchasing assets of auto supplier Delphi.)

The opportunity to tap Faegre's resources in China--the firm has a well-established Shanghai office--was a major premise for the collaboration between the two firms, Weiss says. In return, Faegre gets access to Honigman's prized relationships in the auto industry.

"[Honigman's] auto expertise supplements the China expertise that we have," says Faegre's George Martin, head of the firm's corporate group and cochair of its China practice. "And together I think we have a compelling team that can support inbound and outbound acquisitions and joint ventures between the U.S., U.K., and China."

George Martin

Martin (at left) says Faegre didn't pursue a tie up with any other Michigan firms, calling Honigman a leader in the auto field and the best cultural fit. (507-lawyer Faegre had gross revenues of $312.5 million and profits per equity partner of $535,000 last year, while 213-lawyer Honigman's gross revenues were $145 million and profits per equity partner at $595,000.)

Both Martin and Weiss say that the collaboration agreement between the two firms doesn't call for referrals to be exclusive, but that close working relationships will hopefully be the end result.

Martin says that Faegre has represented some auto clients on the transactional side, but the work has been "more happenstance than intentional." Like Weiss, Martin feels that China is the future of the industry for manufacturers and supporting tiers of suppliers.

When it comes to the Chinese market, Martin should know. From 1995 to 1998 he worked in Faegre's nascent Shanghai office, trying his hand at China deals and witnessing the country's global ascension.

Lawyers from Honigman and Faegre will be able to work out of each other's offices in Shanghai and Detroit on a temporary basis when in town on business. If a client retains both firms on a matter, Martin says they'll each contribute to a potential transaction with their relevant areas of expertise so as not to duplicate work and costs to the client.

Other members of Honigman's inter-firm practice group will include firm chairman and CEO David Foltyn, corporate partner John Kanan, IP practice chair Jonathan O'Brien, and former GM chief of export compliance Artis Noel, who will join the firm next month. Faegre's team will include China practice cochair and Shanghai office managing partner John Grobowski, corporate partners Yiqiang Li and Melanie Wadsworth, IP partner William Weimer, and special counsel Wendy Yan.

"The belief is in the fullness of time we'll both benefit in equal measure and do more together than we would separately," Martin says. "We'll see how far we can carry this and grow it."

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