Lawyers are obsessed with rankings and prestige, especially those that have to do with emerging markets in the eastern hemisphere. It’s a new year, so the folks at Asian Lawyer decided to start it off with a new rankings system for Biglaw firms, both American-based and those indigenous to the Asia-Pacific region.

Although Asian Lawyer evaluated firms using several different metrics (total attorney headcount of firms based in the Asia-Pacific region, biggest American firms with lawyers in the region, biggest European firms with lawyers in the region, and most attorneys by headcount of any firm in the region), we only really care about two of them.

The most some Americans know about the region is that they’re fans of the delectable cuisine, but can U.S. law firms hang with the Asiatic big boys? No matter how many firms tell you it’s the motion of the ocean that counts, size does matter for the purposes of these rankings….

When the Asian Lawyer sized up the competition in the region, due to modest attorney headcount at most U.S. firms, it appears that we still view the Asian market with caution; only global giants haven taken the lead:

[M]any U.S. firms have expanded enormously in the Asia-Pacific region in recent years. Wall Street firms such as Shearman & Sterling, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, Sullivan & Cromwell, and Davis Polk & Wardwell have all made big investments in Hong Kong law practices. Others have grown by merger: Mayer Brown combined with Hong Kong’s biggest firm, Johnson Stokes & Master, in 2007. Twelve U.S. firms report 100 or more lawyers in their Asia-Pacific offices….

Further down the list of American firms, though, the size of their Asia-Pacific cohorts drops off drastically. The Asian growth story is quite an uneven one. Baker & McKenzie may have over a thousand lawyers in Asia, but more than half of the U.S. firms we surveyed have fewer than 40 lawyers in the region. Almost a third have fewer than 20.

That said, here are the top ten U.S. firms with the most lawyers in the Asia-Pacific region:

If you recall, three of these firms placed in the top ten of the Global 100, the highest-grossing law firms in the world, with Baker & McKenzie taking the top slot for the third year in a row at $2.313 billion in gross revenue.

With that kind of cash to spread around, it’s no wonder that Baker & McKenzie was the only American Biglaw shop to rank within the 20 firms with the most lawyers in the region. Here are the top ten firms by headcount:

Note that Norton Rose makes an appearance here. The firm recently announced plans to merge with the U.S.-based firm Fulbright & Jaworski, but that combination won’t be complete until June 2013. With Fulbright’s Hong Kong and Beijing offices, you can expect Norton Rose Fulbright to rise in rank on this list next year.

You can check out the full lists for both sets of data over at Asian Lawyer (here and here, respectively). If you’re an American working at a firm in the Asia-Pacific region, feel free to weigh on in these rankings in the comments. We welcome your insights and observations on life working at a Biglaw firm in the Far East.

Sizing Them Up [Asian Lawyer]
The Asia 50: The American Presence [Asian Lawyer]
The Asia 50: Biggest Footprints [Asian Lawyer]


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