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Seattle's Davis Wright Tremaine Closes Shanghai Office as Partner Joins Chinese Firm

Shanghai skyline

Seattle-based Am Law 100 firm Davis Wright Tremaine is closing its Shanghai outpost after 24 years, as its former office head joins China's Zhong Lun Law Firm.

The firm, which was one of the first U.S. firms to open in the Chinese city, confirmed that the Executive Committee had voted earlier this year to close its Shanghai office by the end of the year. "We concluded that focusing on the core strengths of our U.S.-based practices will allow us to better build on our success over the past several years," the firm said in an emailed statement.

"Our U.S.-based lawyers who do work in China and who represent Chinese clients in the U.S. will continue to do so, and we will continue to support their practices," the firm said, noting that it will maintain referral relationships with former lawyers.

Former Shanghai office head Ron Cai is now an equity partner at Zhong Lun's Shanghai office. Cai, who advises on U.S.-China cross-border transactions and arbitration, has been head of Davis Wright's Shanghai office since 2000 when he joined from the now-defunct Graham & James. Earlier in his career, he practiced at legacy Kaye Scholer in New York and Portland, Oregon-based Tonkon Torp.

Cai was among the early batch of Chinese students to study law in the United States. He received an LL.M. in law from Columbia Law School in 1987 and went on to earn a J.D. from Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon, three years later.

He is the latest among a string of Chinese lawyers who have been moving from global firms to domestic firms. Last year, Li Xiaoming, a contemporary of Cai's, left his role as White & Case's China practice head and joined Beijing-based Han Kun Law Offices. Han Kun, alongside Shanghai-based Fangda Partners, has made several senior hires from international firms.

In a similar move last year, Sharon Shi, former Shanghai chief representative for Minneapolis-based Fredrikson & Byron, left to join AllBright Law Offices as a partner. But Fredrikson & Byron has kept its Shanghai office, which now has three Chinese lawyers. Minneapolis-based Robert Oberlies has taken over as chief representative.

Davis Wright launched its Shanghai office in 1994. The firm has advised multinationals such as The Boeing Co., Starbucks Corp. and Microsoft Corp. on businesses and operations in China. The office, which had about five lawyers, was the firm's only outpost outside the U.S. In addition to Cai, partner Norman Page, who chairs the firm's China practice, was also based in Shanghai. Page has since relocated back to Seattle.

Others at the firm who do work in China are Los Angeles partner James Zhang, who is active in China-related transactions. Also, in 2015, Davis Wright hired back former partner Gary Locke as a senior adviser and consultant, tapping his experiences in U.S.-China relations. Locke held several public offices, including as ambassador to China between 2011 and 2014. He was governor of Washington state and was a partner at Davis Wright, co-leading its China practice, before becoming commerce secretary in 2009.

Davis Wright is the latest U.S. firm to exit China. In May, Atlanta-based Troutman Sanders closed offices in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong, citing lack of sufficient overlap between its China practice and the rest of the firm's focuses. Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft and Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson pulled out of China in 2016 and 2015, respectively.

The Seattle-based firm made its way back to the Am Law 100 this year, ranking 97th, with $357.5 million in revenue in 2017. The firm was last in the top 100 of the Am Law rankings in 2010, ranking No. 100.

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