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February 14, 2012 6:00 PM

New Office Update: DLA, McDermott, Sidley Add Outposts as Singapore Weighs Opening Its Doors

Posted by Brian Baxter

A trio of Am Law 100 firms chose Valentine's Day to announce office openings in new locales.

DLA Piper has hired four partners from Thompson & Knight to establish an outpost in Mexico City, according to U.K. publication Legal Week. Joining the firm are tax partner Manual Rajunov-Tawil, projects and infrastructure partner Miguel de Erice, capital markets partner Guillermo Uribe, and corporate partner Carlos Valencia.

The losses leave Thompson & Knight, which opened its Mexico City office in 2005, with no partners and little presence in the country's capital city. The departures also come the same day Thompson & Knight confirmed that it has hired the former chair of Crowell & Moring's financial services practice in New York.

Legal Week reports that Thompson & Knight corporate associate Tatiana Escribano will also join DLA as a partner, with real estate counsel Dania Duncan coming aboard in an of counsel role. Duncan and Rajunov-Tawil will be based in DLA's Dallas office, but will spend a significant amount of time in Mexico on client matters, according to Legal Week.

McDermott Will & Emery, meanwhile, has formally unveiled plans to open an office in Seoul. In making the announcement, McDermott became the latest Western law firm to state its intentions to establish a South Korea presence following the country's passage of a free trade agreement with the U.S. last year. (Legal Week has more on McDermott's Seoul office plans.)

McDermott's comanaging partners told The Am Law Daily in October that the firm planned to make a major push into the country with its team of Korean-born and Korean-speaking lawyers. The firm advised Fila Korea and Seoul-based Mirae Asset Private Equity last year on their $1.2 billion acquisition of golf gear maker Acushnet.

As The Am Law Daily has previously reported, foreign firms have been eyeing South Korea for several years. With the passage of the free trade agreement, the pace picked up late last year, with such Am Law 100 stalwarts as Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, Paul Hastings, Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett announcing their Seoul ambitions.

Sheppard Mullin chairman Guy Halgren spoke to The Korea Herald this week about his firm's plan to set up shop in Seoul sometime in the next few months to be in closer proximity to such top local clients as Samsung Electronics and Hyundai Motors. Magic Circle firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer announced earlier this month that it would also reopen an office in Singapore later this year.

While foreign firms queue up to move into South Korea, another legal market in Asia could also be welcoming international suitors. Bloomberg reports that Singapore's law minister has proposed legislative changes that would let foreign firms own stakes in local legal practices, making it possible for global giants to pool profits with some of the city-state's top attorneys.

Singapore last opened up its legal market by granting six local law licenses to foreign firms in 2008. At that time, the country allowed a select group—Latham & Watkins and White & Case were the only U.S. firms chosen—to open local offices, in part because large global financial institutions were eager to tap the country's vast sovereign wealth fund for investments as the international credit crisis tightened.

The move to potentially loosen regulations further comes on the heels of Magic Circle firm Allen & Overy's ongoing merger talks with leading Singaporean shop Allen & Gledhill, a union that would require regulatory approval. Other leading Singapore firms include Drew & Napier, Shook Lin & Bok, and the WongPartnership. The Asian Lawyer, a sibling publication, has more on potential mergers between Singapore shops and foreign firms, as well as new rules that will make it easier for foreign lawyers to appear in local courts on high-end commercial and financial disputes.

Closer to home, Sidley Austin announced Tuesday that it is opening a Houston office by snapping up seven partners from seven rival firms. The new office will focus on litigation, regulatory, and transactional work tied to the energy industry, according to sibling publication Texas Lawyer.

The firm's new hires in Texas include Locke Lord banking and finance partner Kenneth Anderson, Baker Botts litigation partner Mark Glasser, Jones Day securities and corporate governance partner J. Mark Metts, Vinson & Elkins M&A and project finance partner Glenn Pinkerton, McDermott M&A and project finance partner Sergio Pozzerle, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld energy transactions partner James Rice III, and Mayer Brown litigation partner Steven Selsberg.

The Houston office is Sidley's second in the Lone Star State. The firm also has a base in Dallas.

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