The Taiwan arm of US law firm Perkins Coie LLP quietly closed its Taipei office late last week after almost a decade in Taipei, citing a changing market climate and greener pastures across the Taiwan Strait.
"We decided to end the relationship [with Taiwan] and pullout ... primarily [due to] the general economic trend in Taiwan," said Douglas Thorpe, management liasion for Perkins Coie LLP in Asia.
The Perkins Coie Taiwan (博欽法律事務所) shutdown was scheduled back in April by the company's Seattle-based US affiliate, Perkins Coie LLP.
The 90-year-old US company has instead chosen to focus its efforts in China as "We have been granted a license to open an office in Beijing," which opened June 1, Thorpe said.
"We have substantially expanded in both HK and Beijing and are focusing our energies there and not here."
Taiwan's slowdown in the technology sector was a major factor in the shift.
"When we opened in Taipei we saw it as the centerpiece of our Asian business, but because of the downturn in the e-commerce and telecommunications market, we have [not been able to achieve that goal].
"While Taiwan does have a mature information technology system -- the PRC does not. So in the PRC there is still a lot of opportunity for us to develop the legal aspects of the business [in China].
A sagging market in combination with stiff competition was enough to convince the law firm to make its exodus.
"Since the slowdown hit Taipei, there are just too many lawyers competing for a reduced amount of legal work, where in the PRC there are fewer lawyers competing for an increase in legal work," Thorpe said. He added that due to the complexities for foreign firms to do legal work in Taiwan prior to the nation's WTO entry, China was a more practical choice as it offers "post WTO benefits prior to entry."
But according to one pundit, while the growing trend is for foreign law firms to open new offices in either Beijing or Shanghai, Perkins Coie's late entry into the Taiwan market may have made it difficult for the company to compete for a piece of the pie.
"Compared to other international law firms like Baker & Mckenzie (
The move to close up shop in Taipei came as a surprise to the head of the Taipei office and former president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei, Paul Cassingham.
"The decision to close was baffling as we had just relocated to a new office back in January," Cassingham said.
He expressed frustration at being kept in the dark on the companies plans to set up in Beijing as the alternative to the Taipei closure.
"I was not informed in advance and was not included in the decision to shutdown the Taipei office," Cassingham told the Taipei Times in a phone interview.
"I hadn't previously heard that the Taipei closure and the Beijing opening were tied together," he said.
Cassingham added that while the global e-commerce slowdown may have hurt "Perkins Coie LLP's significant Internet e-commerce practice in the US ... it was not a material part of our practice here in Taipei."
Cassingham and 11 of his staff members who lost their jobs in the shake-up are still waiting for the Taiwan and US branches to decide who will compensate them for severance and pension benefits.