Here are the top private practice lawyers for China business, based on our careful research. Frankie wang reports
What qualities are needed to be an excellent business lawyer for China-related business? On the 40th anniversary of the resumption of China’s lawyer system, China Business Law Journal conducted an annual survey and received thousands of recommendations from corporate counsel, senior executives, and lawyers. Among them, we selected 200 elite lawyers for China practice (including 100 lawyers working in PRC law firms and 100 in foreign firms).
All the lawyers in our A-list have earned the trust of their clients on the basis of their successful long-term relationships and proven legal expertise.
Drawing an interesting analogy between a good lawyer and a doctor, Gray Zhang, HR director, China of Belden Asia (Hong Kong) says Isabelle Wan, senior partner of TransAsia Lawyers based in Beijing and Hong Kong, is like “a top doctor who prevents a disease before its onset”.
According to Zhang, the strong legal team led by Wan has helped the rapid expansion of the company in China over the past eight years. “Compared with previous years, we didn’t bother Isabelle too much in 2019. One of the key reasons is our company is gradually transferring from ‘cure’ to ‘prevention’ and treating ailments early with the help from Isabelle and her team, thus I would call her a ’top doctor‘ who helped us work more on prevention rather than handle tough cases (cure illness) only,” says Zhang. “Isabelle is the strongest labour practice lawyer I have ever worked with.”
In addition to their profound expertise and agile business thinking, lawyers impress their clients with their performance in negotiations or court hearings. In the eyes of clients, Michael Liu, senior partner at Dentons in Shanghai, is an “energetic and ambitious” person.
Recalling Liu’s excellent performance in a class action suit, Yang Wei, general manager of Business Development Department at Shanghai Donghao Asset Management, is all praises for him. “In the whole process, Liu had virtually become a leader of all attorneys. They often agreed with his opinions before the court due to his clear thought and wonderful defense. In doing so, he protected our legitimate rights and interests very well,” says Yang.
Rising up to challenges and always innovating are also key quality for elite lawyers. “Richard is excellent in problem solving and can provide clients with innovative solutions and arguments based on current legal framework,” says Chen Yan, vice president and general counsel of KE.com, about Richard Wang, a partner at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer based in Hong Kong.
“A good example is Richard working on the first transaction convincing the Hong Kong Stock Exchange to allow subsidiary-level connected persons to subscribe in an IPO as a cornerstone investor, which has been followed by a number of subsequent IPOs,” he says.
EXPERTS IN THE FIELD
This year, many capital markets lawyers have received recognition from their clients. Edwin Luk, a Hong Kong-based partner at Morgan Lewis & Bockius, was recommended as “an exceptional leader who excels at accomplishing business goals while building and motivating strong teams”.
“He is capable of bridging the deep divides between parties to complete projects and is respectful of others’ ideas in the process,” says Christine Au, managing director of investment banking department at China Securities (International) Finance Holding.
Bowie Fung, founding partner of CFN Lawyers in Hong Kong, was recommended by multiple chief financial officers and general counsel for her excellent performance in Hong Kong IPOs. “Her thoughtful and impressive work is strongly substantiated by the group’s successful business in Hong Kong, which include our group’s IPO on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange,” says Hiromichi Kimura, director of Nissin Foods (HK) Management.
In practice areas such as private funds, M&A, and listing, David Li, senior partner of Dentons in Beijing, is well recognized by corporate counsel of both state-owned and private enterprises.
“While fully understanding rules and requirements, Li led his team to devise comprehensive solutions that are compliant, convenient, operational and pragmatic for clients from multiple perspectives, such as regulatory trends, business choice, fund operation, and even business management, which reflects his outstanding personal competence and team work,” says Liu Hao, legal director at Legend Holdings Corporation.
Darren Liang, a Beijing-based partner at Shihui Partners, is recognized as “one of the lawyers who knows A-shares best”.
“Liang is extremely professional in capital market fields such as A-shares and has an admirable spirit of inquiry. He is like a walking A-share legal case library,” says Elaine Chen, senior legal manager at China Renaissance Holdings. “Liang almost provides 24-hour professional online services, giving his clients full ‘sense of security’. ”
At present, international compliance has become the focus of many enterprises at home and abroad. In the field of compliance, Gary Gao, partner at Zhong Lun Law Firm based in Shanghai, has been recommended by corporate counsel and senior executives from multiple enterprises.
“Gao has a comprehensive and in-depth professional understanding of compliance in various regions of the world, especially in Europe, North America, Australia and the countries and regions along the Belt and Road,” says Mike Duan, legal manager of International Business Department at China Resources Power Holdings. “He not only knows the details of compliance work very well, but also has a macro vision to understand and analyze the logic behind compliance and government regulations from the global geopolitical perspective.”
Corporate counsel of companies at home and abroad recommend Spring Chang, Beijing-based founding partner at Chang Tsi & Partners, for her expertise in the field of intellectual property. “Chang helped both China Grand Enterprises and me in an all-round way,” says Helen Zhang, senior director of the Department of Legal Security Management at China Grand Enterprises.
“She not only gave us professional guidance at the tactical level, but also guided us at the height of strategy. Thanks to Chang, we started to understand how we should make our layout in terms of trademark as such a large company,” says Zhang.
Danny Ye, partner of JunZeJun Law Offices in Guangzhou, is another lawyer rated as “wise, calm and meticulous, and experienced in the IP field”.
“In dealing with cases, he could accurately understand the client’s demand and make valuable suggestions and strategies. It is really a good opportunity to cooperate with and learn from Ye by engaging him to deal with cases,” says Bonnie Wang, legal manager at Kingsignal Technology.
Dozens of corporate counsel and senior executives recommend James Chen, director and founding partner at Zhuoxin Law Firm, another Guangzhou-based lawyer, and many of them are his long-term clients. Zhang Gongquan, audit and legal manager at Jinling Electrical, says that Chen has acted as a long-term legal counsel for the company for nine years, during which time he provided the company with professional, comprehensive and considerable legal service and support.
“Chen helped the company resolve major legal risks several times and represented the company in significant cases, including legal rights protection, defending malicious claims and changes in shareholding. In all of these cases, he showcased superb professionalism and broad international vision. He is a rare top foreign lawyer in China,” he adds.
Beijing-based Zhu Xiaohui, managing partner of Tian Yuan Law Firm, is rated by clients as the “most authoritative investment lawyer”.
“In addition to his exquisite understanding of capital operation, state-owned assets management and fiscal and taxation practices, his insight into industrial trends, industrial cycles and changes in the capital market can help investors to better complete each transaction,” said Frank Liu, general manager of the Risk Management Department at Sino IC Capital. “Sometimes only when it’s really time to exit did we find that the investment timing in the past was such a delicate choice.”
In the field of labour law, Liang Feng, senior partner of Jincheng Tongda & Neal based in Beijing, is recommended by Bi Liyan, deputy general manager of the Legal Division at China Minmetals Corporation.
“With profound knowledge of law, high efficiency and quality, Liang is a calm lawyer and excels in negotiation and organization. He helped us in steadily implementing ‘democratic procedures’ in a major restructuring project, ensuring the rights and interests of employees and reaching the restructuring goal at the same time. He is a reliable labour lawyer good at solving complex problems,” she says.
The legal director of a financial services company says that Wu Libei, senior partner of Dentons in Beijing, has a unique understanding of finance. “He is good at quickly summarizing relevant legal issues in a complicated business arrangement, while ensuring the realization of the business objective by legal means or measures. He is an excellent finance and business lawyer,”
Li Yi, general manager of Sinosteel Epoch, says that he has worked with Wu for more than five years and was very impressed by his deep legal foundation, rich practical experience and comprehensive problem-solving ability. “Now, I will ask for his professional opinions when making major business decisions or major project investment decisions, and regard them as an important reference for my decision-making,” he says.
In addition to profound legal knowledge and practical experience, the dedication of “customer first” is essential to elite lawyers. Che Gan, deputy manager of sales and marketing company of Taishan Gypsum, says that Washington DC and Beijing-based Helen Su, partner of Alston & Bird, impresses him with her dedication
“She is always working and ready to communicate at any time. Her dedication improves my work attitude,” he adds. “As there are differences between Chinese law and American law, she tries to explain complicated legal issues in a simple and concise way from multiple perspectives using her professional knowledge. Therefore, we are kept updated about the progress of cases.”
“Down to earth, diligent, patience”, these are the words Victor Chong, vice president, Legal & Compliance at OUE Lippo Healthcare, uses to describe Linda Qiao, senior international counsel at Rajah & Tann, Singapore.
“Given the different rules and requirements imposed by authorities in various provinces in the PRC, Linda is also resourceful when it comes to retrieving information we require to facilitate our management in decision-making and planning,” he says.
Zeng Fanhong, assistant president at Shandong Ruiying Pioneer Pharmaceutical, recommends Chen Sheng, partner of Tian Yuan Law Firm in Beijing. “In addition to paying attention to preventing legal risks and realizing business objectives clearly stated by the company, Chen also pays attention to the financial and tax effects of the transactions, as well as the potential restrictions and impacts of such transactions on the company’s future business development and capital operations. He always gives us simple and effective optimization proposals,” he says.
Zhang Xingxiang, VP for Legal, Compliance and IP ChangXin Memory Technologies, recommends Angell Xi, partner at Jingtian & Gongcheng in Shanghai. “She is the kind of lawyer I know who has both legal skills and knowledge of risk management. She is good at transforming legal compliance into a competitive advantage for clients. In addition to preforming well in the conventional lawyer business, she explored the practice of Chinese art law and quickly became a pioneer in this field,” he says.
This time we also see that many young lawyers are highly recognized by their clients, including Ray Liu, managing partner of Dorsey & Whitney’s Beijing office. “Liu is more like an American native lawyer when providing legal services for Chinese clients. He is convincing and reliable in both languages and legal knowledge,” says Li Chaotian, deputy general manager of Compliance Department at Generali China Asset Management. “As a young lawyer, Liu is more like a veteran and his legal opinions are very accurate.”
Xia Yang, the partner of Tahota Law Firm in Chengdu, is nominated by many clients, especially those from western China. She is hailed as “bright, willing-to-learn, and professional”.
“She is diligent with solid legal knowledge and rich experience and good judgment and logical analysis,” says Lei Xiaobo, manager of Financial Department at Sichuan Hongling Corporation. “She could contribute her views and thoughts on different aspects to our different economic and legal affairs. She completed all tasks we handed her. She is an excellent and reliable lawyer.”