Arbitration seems set to be a growth practice in Asia.
But where are the Americans?
By Ben Lewis
Three years ago, Paul Mitchard QC’s firm, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, put
him in charge of international dis-
pute resolution for Europe and Asia.
He’d spent the last seven years building a European disputes practice in
Skadden’s London office—but Asia
was a whole new challenge. After
trying—and failing—to find a suitable lawyer to head up an arbitration-focused team in the region, Mitchard
decided to go to Hong Kong, where he
had qualified in 1984, and do it himself. He moved to Hong Kong in 2009,
and the following year was joined by
litigation partner Frances Kao, who
relocated there from Chicago.
Mitchard and Kao are part of a very
small club. American arbitration law-
yers are scarce on the ground in Asia.
Many of Skadden’s U.S. competitors
have no arbitration partners in Asia at
all. Of the ten firms that handled the
most large arbitrations in 2009–10,
according to The American Lawyer’s
2011 Arbitration Scorecard, four—
Shearman & Sterling; Debevoise &
Plimpton; Cleary Gottlieb Steen &
Hamilton; and Curtis, Mallet-Prevost,
Colt & Mosle—have no arbitration
partners at all based in Asia-Pacific
countries. Other top-ranked firms have
just a few arbitration partners in Asia:
White & Case has two arbitration part-
ners in each of its Tokyo and Singapore
offices; King & Spalding has one in
Singapore. Latham & Watkins has one
in Hong Kong and one in Tokyo, while
Sidley Austin has three in Hong Kong.
(Baker & McKenzie is an exception:
Besides Hong Kong–based arbitration
partner James Kwan, many of the
firm’s partners in Bangkok, Manila,
Jakarta, and Taipei practice arbitra-
tion alongside their other practices.)