China’s legal services market is navigating a tumultuous period of change. Our annual survey looks at how firms are performing, and what strategies they have in place to see them through the storm, while Frankie Wang asks industry leaders for their predictions for the future of the economy and the legal market

In the past year, leading law firms have continued scale-up by setting up branches, or through mergers and alliances, while boutiques established by partners who left the big names are beginning to take root.

No matter which development model a law firm chooses in these troubled times, revenue growth is of overriding importance. According to the annual legal market survey of first-tier law firms conducted by China Business Law Journal, in 2019, the total annual revenue of Chinese law firms registered overall growth year-on-year, with a median revenue of RMB250 million (US$36.8 million), which was up by 15.7% compared with 2018 (please refer to “Crunching the numbers” for details of the survey).

The outbreak of covid-19 has become a watershed moment in the development of the legal industry, and while overall growth figures are encouraging, the difficulty the industry is facing is evident from the smaller and medium-sized law firms. In April, the Beijing Chaoyang Lawyers Association conducted a survey of 466 law firms, each with under 50 employees, in Beijing, Baoding and Hangzhou, and produced its Investigation Report on the Survival Status and Development Suggestions of Small and Medium-Sized Law Firms under the Pandemic. According to the report, in the first quarter, 77% of the law firms surveyed recorded a year-on-year decrease in contract value, and 75.9% recorded a year-on-year decrease in business revenue.

The results of the survey, combined with statistics on law firms across the country compiled by the Ministry of Justice, highlight the severity of the situation. As of the end of 2019, there were more than 32,000 law firms nationwide, of which 97.11% had 50 or fewer lawyers. Undoubtedly, small and medium-sized law firms account for a large chunk of the industry, and face great challenges this year.

Yang Qiang, executive director of Lantai Partners in Beijing, says: “In the foreseeable future, competent and professional law firms will sustain development, [while] small and non-professional law firms will struggle to survive, and large but not competent ones will stagnate.”

Nevertheless, top-tier law firms also need to confront the so-called new normal, and many are either expanding scale or forging alliances. Fostering large-scale development has proven popular, while some large established law firms are preferring moderate-scale development as their goal.

AllBright Law Offices, headquartered in Shanghai, is a practitioner of a large-scale development strategy. According to Shanghai Lawyers Association data, the number of lawyers of AllBright in the firm’s Shanghai headquarters reached 1,100 in 2019, ranking first among Shanghai law firms, and the number of its lawyers in the country exceeded 3,000. “In general, we are no longer focusing on scale,” says James Guo, a senior partner at AllBright in Shanghai. “Our next step is to increase per capita revenue.”

James-Guo-Senior-Partner-AlllBright-Law-Offices-Shanghai

Longan Law Firm, with more than 1,600 employees and 26 offices across the country, will also continue its national expansion. “We will not build Longan into a giant and set up 70 or 80 offices,” says Wang Dan, a director at the firm. “Instead, we will complete our last steps of large-scale development in regions and provinces without our offices or critical areas.”

The other choice for law firms is to forge alliances. In May, Chance Bridge Partners joined Alliott Group, an international alliance consisting of accounting firms, tax firms and law firms, with more than 170 member organizations in 70 countries. “[Joining the alliance] helped us build a wider international co-operation network and expand our foreign-related needs and business areas,” says Luo Sha, a partner at Chance Bridge in Beijing.

JunHe has joined two alliances to meet the diverse needs of clients. Hua Xiaojun, a member of the firm’s management committee in Beijing, points out that in order to compete with some domestic top-tier law firms that perform well in foreign-related business, it is imperative to rely on some external forces. “We have joined two lawyer alliances – Lex Mundi and Multilaw,” he says. “Lex Mundi’s members are mainly large local law firms, while Multilaw’s are small and medium-sized boutique law firms, which provides more choices for our clients when seeking legal services for overseas business.”

Nationwide layout

In the past two years, a number of top-tier law firms have chosen the large-scale development strategy with their footprints across China. According to China Business Law Journal’s annual legal market research, 42 frontier law firms out of 77 opened a total of 160 branches in China in the past two years, mainly in the central and southeast coastal areas. The most favoured cities are: Haikou (10 branches), Shenzhen (nine), Xi’an (seven), Zhengzhou (seven), Jinan (six), Chengdu (six) and Guangzhou (six). By region, those with more than 10 new branches and the most sought after are: West (37 branches), Yangtze River Delta, including Anhui province (33), Bohai Rim (28), Pearl River Delta (25), Central (19) and Hainan Island (13).

The number of law firms in a region is closely related to local economic development and policy support. In this list, Haikou ranks first, and Sanya city, in Hainan province, is also preferred by many law firms. The year 2018 marks the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the Province and Special Economic Zone of Hainan.

Ye Chen, a senior partner at Co-effort Law Firm in Shanghai, says an increasing number of Japanese-funded enterprises in China are enquiring about the Hainan Free Trade Port plan, and the liberalization and facilitation of trade, investment and cross-border capital flow in the plan is receiving widespread attention.

“Some of them also ask about specific measures such as: exemption from import duties, import value-added tax and consumption tax on imported production equipment for enterprises; own use tax exemption on imports and sales for overseas exhibits during the exhibition; and implementation of the negative list of cross-border trade in services for Hainan Free Trade Port,” Ye says.

Apart from business growth potential, the policy on lawyering in Hainan is also attracting major law firms here. Last September saw the promulgation of the Regulations on Lawyers in the Hainan Special Economic Zone. The regulations relax requirements for the admission of partners in special general partnership law firms, allow other professionals such as certified public accountants and certified tax agents to become partners of law firms, encourage qualified law firms to implement corporate management, and allow the establishment of company-type law firms (firms with a corporation management model).

Guo, from AllBright, says: “For our development, the next step is to establish a branch office in Hainan, where we are already conducting a substantive investigation.”

In addition, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, two core cities in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area (GBA), are on the list, and so are three central and western cities – Xi’an, Zhengzhou and Chengdu – which is not surprising given the GDP and population growth in these areas.

When it comes to the reasons for establishing a branch in Chengdu, Hylands Law Firm explains that as a key city in the central and western regions, Chengdu deeply integrates national strategies such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Yangtze River Economic Belt, and will play a leading role in the future.

Nanjing (five branches), Urumqi (five), Hangzhou (five) and Qingdao (five) have also attracted new firms. In July 2019, Hylands set up a branch in Qingdao. The branch is aimed at deploying legal services in coastal cities, getting involved in the development of the marine economy, and facilitating the construction of Qingdao International Shipping Trade and Financial Innovation Centre, according to the firm.

As the capital of Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, Urumqi is indispensable in the strategy of some law firms. In January 2019, Duan & Duan Law Firm set up a branch in Urumqi, and says provincial capital cities are its first choice for deployment.

Although many of the top-tier law firms surveyed are headquartered in Beijing and Shanghai, there were just four law firms that set up branches in these two cities in the past two years, as local firms begin to reach beyond their regions and move towards the centre of the country.

Recently, Beijing-based Shihui Partners officially established its Shanghai office, representing the first step in its nationwide expansion. According to Shihui, it is mainly engaged in private equity investment, finance and capital markets, with most clients in cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, where major investment institutions and start-ups gather. To better serve clients in the Yangtze River Delta region, and to benefit from various policies and opportunities brought about by the free trade zone policy and the registration-based capital market reform, Shihui chose Shanghai as the first city to open a branch office.

As an integrated law firm in southern China, ETR Law Firm opened its Beijing branch in May last year, and its Shanghai branch in February this year. Guangzhou-based ETR says that setting up in the political and economic centres of the country has further expanded the firm’s domestic market.

Many large-scale and well-known law firms in China have basically completed their domestic layout strategies, and Hui Ye Law Firm is one of them. The firm says its 23 domestic offices form a service network along the “two belts” – the Yangtze River economic belt and the coastal economic belt. The former extends from east to west, covering Shanghai, Suzhou, Changzhou, Nanjing, Hefei, Wuhan and Chongqing, while the latter connects Dalian, Qingdao, Shanghai, Ningbo, Zhoushan, Lianyungang, Haikou and Shenzhen from north to south, thus forming a comprehensive services network.


Where did PRC law firms set up their domestic offices in the past two years?

PRC-law-firm-domestic-offices-in-the-past-two-years
Darker colour means more offices have been set up in the city

International strategy

In addition to the domestic layout, more Chinese law firms are setting up branches abroad, or operate in association with local law firms overseas as the “going global” initiative and BRI for Chinese enterprises push forward. The China Business Law Journal survey shows that 19 of the firms polled have established 40 overseas branches or associations in the past two years. The top four preferred jurisdictions are: Hong Kong (seven branches), the US (six), South Korea (three) and Kazakhstan (three).

With its unique advantages as an international financial hub supported by the mainland, Hong Kong has always served as a bridge connecting mainland China, and is also the world’s largest offshore RMB business centre. According to statistics compiled by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, two-thirds of China’s domestic and foreign direct investment, as well as most financial investment, are carried out through Hong Kong. Given that Chinese enterprises pour into Hong Kong for listing, and Hong Kong is widely chosen as the place of international arbitration, the special administrative region is a first step for many Chinese law firms looking to go global.

Jingtian & Gongcheng set up a Hong Kong branch in 2019. According to the firm, since many clients of this branch are Chinese enterprises, the law firm can seize the opportunity and leverage Hong Kong’s pivotal role in the BRI and GBA strategy to develop more clients while serving existing ones.

Following Hong Kong, the US ranks second on the list. Despite wide speculation about the political and economic decoupling between China and the US, according to the Wall Street Journal, US-China trade volume increased to US$39.7 billion in April, a rise of nearly 43% from March, making China the largest trading partner to the US.

South Korea, an important country in the Asia-Pacific region, also plays a significant role in the layout of law firms. In early 2020, Chang Tsi & Partners says it set up the Seoul office in the hope that it will give full play to the regional advantages as a foreign institution to expand the local market of South Korea and enhance the comprehensive global competitiveness of Chang Tsi.

Notably, Kazakhstan made it to the list, demonstrating that the BRI has driven demand for legal services by Chinese enterprises in the region. In December 2018, DeHeng Law Offices established a branch in the Astana International Financial Centre in the Kazakh capital, Nur-Sultan. The firm says it mobilized nearly 300 lawyers to actively participate in BRI construction projects, taking the lead to set up institutions and providing quality and customized services for Chinese clients with its multinational licensing advantage.


PRC-law-firm-setup-overseas-new-offices


The overseas offices of Chinese law firms serve both overseas Chinese clients and local clients who have the need for investment in China. The survey showed that foreign clients of Chinese law firms mainly come from the US (54), Japan (27), the UK (21), South Korea (19), Hong Kong (18), Germany (17), Australia (16), France (13) and Singapore (13).

While Chinese law firms seek expansion, international law firms have seen a decline in business in China, and since 2020, many have adjusted their business accordingly. Stephenson Harwood and Vinson & Elkins have shut down their Beijing offices, while Orrick and Osborne Clarke have announced their withdrawals from Hong Kong.

Guo, from AllBright, believes that the shrinking Chinese business of international law firms can be attributed to multiple factors. “In the past, China needed foreign investment, so they had an enormous volume of business to deal with,” he says. “But now is the time for China to export capital, and the import of foreign capital is relatively less, so this is a prevailing trend that causes the gradual decline in business of international law firms.”

Guo says another reason is that international law firms are gradually being replaced by Chinese ones with advantages in talent and fees. Many of the professionals in Chinese law firms are overseas returnees who can compete with those in international firms, and Chinese law firms may charge less fees than international ones.

Fee adjustment

Since the beginning of the year, many law firms have adopted large-scale development strategies, and the resulting diversified business may mitigate the impact of the pandemic on overall business volume. However, law firms also face the uncertainty of the ability of their clients to pay.

“In the early stage of the pandemic, administrative bodies and judicial authorities were nearly all shut down,” says Zhu Zhigang, a partner at the Shanghai office of Wanhuida Intellectual Property. “With the initial curb of the pandemic in China, the sudden outbreak in Europe and the US has led to a substantial reduction in the budgets of clients, due to the impact of the pandemic and the uncertainty of business development.”

Zhu-Zhigang-Partner-Wanhuida-Intellectual-Property-Shanghai

In response, some law firms have begun to explore flexible charging methods in an effort to tide over difficulties with enterprises. “Affected by the pandemic, some of our clients are facing problems of cashflow this year,” says Wen Dapeng, manager of the legal department at China Patent Agent (HK). “In this regard, we have adopted customized strategies such as flexible payment, extended payment and delayed review to protect the rights and interests of clients, and alleviate their difficulties.”

In all surveyed law firms, the number with better year-on-year business performance is equal to those with declines in revenue, and those with little impact, respectively. In terms of business sectors, this year has so far witnessed significant growth in bankruptcy and debt restructuring, capital market, domestic M&A, labour law and dispute resolution.

On the other hand, the deteriorating international investment environment for Chinese enterprises, together with pandemic prevention and control measures across the world, has greatly hit foreign-related businesses, including foreign-related litigation and cross-border M&A.

Lang Yuanpeng, a partner at the Beijing office of Jingtian & Gongcheng, says the IPO markets of A shares, Hong Kong stocks and US stocks were particularly active in the first half of this year.“Due to the development of the Star Market, and the launch of the registration-based IPO system on ChiNext, there is a large number of projects that have been passed, registered and listed in the A-share market,” he says. “About 20 Chinese-funded enterprises have been successfully listed in the US stock market, and many enterprises are still waiting.”

Lang adds that the Hong Kong capital market remains the first choice for Chinese enterprises to go public overseas. Driven by the second listing of US stock enterprises such as JD Group and NetEase in Hong Kong, the market is buoyant.

Lang-Yuanpeng-Partner-Jingtian-&-Gongcheng-Beijing

Zhang Zhi, director of the management committee at V&T Law Firm in Shenzhen, says that “bankruptcy reorganization, regulatory compliance and labour law may become the ‘troika’ driving the business growth of law firms in the future”.

Additionally, dispute resolution is often mentioned as a business growth driver by many law firms. Peng Qing, the founding partner of TianTong Law Firm in Beijing, explains that the global political and economic landscape has undergone drastic changes, and that China-US relations and trade frictions have created a lasting impact on various industries. “Under the circumstances where foreign-related business and non-litigation business slows down growth, or even turns negative, many domestic established law firms have begun to shift their business focus to dispute resolution, and TianTong also faces fiercer competition,” he says.

Peng-Qing-Founding-Partner-TianTong-Law-Firm-Beijing

Economic outlook

After the first half of 2020’s struggle with the pandemic and other external challenges, law firm leaders are predicting economic situations that will closely relate to the development of their firms. For many, the pandemic, the US elections, and the global economy are inseparable topics.

During the two sessions of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference this year, President Xi Jinping proposed to gradually form a new development pattern where domestic and foreign markets can boost each other, with the domestic market as the mainstay. Thus, “domestic and international dual circulation” has become a hot term.

George Lu, the chief partner of Lanbai Law Firm in Shanghai, says domestic circulation makes domestic enterprises more important, with promising prospects. In terms of foreign investment, low-end industrial chain will be partially moved out of mainland China, and high-end industries that serve the local needs will attract more foreign investment into China. Lu predicts that the structural contradictions of talent will be more prominent, and relations between employer and employee are expected to be turbulent in the future.

Liu Wei, the managing partner of Grandall Law Firm in Shanghai, says that domestic circulation and consumption growth will bring new market opportunities for enterprises. At the same time, relatively loose capital will give industrial enterprises financial relief on development.


foreign-clients-of-PRC-law-firms-come-from


For many law firm leaders, the pandemic, the US economy and its China policy are the two variables that will affect China’s economy.

Lin Wei, the managing partner of Dare & Sure Law Firm in Beijing, says the economic situation is uncertain before the US election and the fifth plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. Yang, of Lantai, says a long-term recession in the US economy is inevitable, and if the US is in recession, it will be difficult for the world economy to maintain growth.

As for the pandemic, many experts interviewed believe outbreaks will continue. “The optimistic expectation is that the [world] economy will hit bottom at the end of 2021 and the first half of 2022, and then it will begin to recover with the application of a vaccine,” says Yang. “The pessimistic expectation is that it will repeat within three to five years, and the world economy will regress for 20 years or even more.”

So, how will these economic trends affect the legal industry specifically? Gao Shu, the chief partner of China Commercial Law Firm in Shenzhen, says the legal industry is in a period of rapid development, with an inertia that is impossible to stop all of a sudden. But if the economic downturn becomes a new norm, the legal industry’s stable development will not be maintained.

“2020 is an unsettled year. In addition to the pandemic, there are international controversies caused by ideology and values, and now it is true that there are many obstacles and difficulties that have impacted the economy,” he says. “I think that the inertia of development and the adverse effects of these impacts are battling with each other now … I’m cautiously optimistic that inertia of development will continue to play a dominant role and we can make new arrangements based on this.”

Guo, of AllBright, says that in the long run China’s export of capital, industry and products, China becoming the largest investor and trading country, as well as the freer use of the RMB internationally, are all inevitable trends. “Chinese lawyers need to keep up with the knowledge structure needed for China’s economic development, and prepare ourselves well,” he says.

Models for survival

In the face of this year’s challenges, the initiatives of some law firms may prove to be inspiring to their peers.

Optimize the service model

The “middle office” strategy in China originated from large internet companies such as Alibaba and Huawei, with the goal of streamlining the common service capabilities into a middle office to achieve resource utilization and rapid adaptation to changes in the front office business.

Xu Guojian, director of Boss & Young in Shanghai, says that his firm created a middle office service model this year, aiming to provide customized services to the firm’s growing young partners and lawyers, to reduce the burden of their work. “It is still in the pilot phase this year, and a mature middle office mechanism will help the firm attract the best talent to join in the future,” he says.

Customize office automation system

In September 2019, Chang Tsi & Partners launched its office automation (OA) system developed by Great Wall Computer Software & Systems. According to Simon Tsi, the managing partner of Chang Tsi in Beijing, the new OA system realizes firm-wide online collaboration, data sharing and process control, as well as integrated application of information entry, processing, circulation and encryption.

In addition, Tsi says the firm will co-operate with the top tech companies to develop a robotic process automation (RPA) system customized for Chang Tsi. In the future, the firm will use RPA in the patent uploading system, trademark registration application and the management of the daily affairs of the firm.

Increase external talent acquisition and internal talent development

“Normally it is difficult to recruit competent lawyers, but the pandemic has increased the possibility of lawyer turnover, presenting an opportunity for the firm,” says Yang Qiang, executive director of Lantai Partners in Beijing, “because the biggest asset for a law firm is its talent pool.”

Just as Yang observes, some law firms have introduced favourable policies to attract partners to join, and DOCVIT Law Firm is one of them. Shi Guanghu, the director of the executive committee of DOCVIT, says that, in addition to its regular joining policies, the firm has proposed a series of favourable policies for partners to join during the pandemic. For example, for partners who joined DOCVIT before the preventive measures are lifted in Beijing, special policies are given such as no business targets set in 2020, and a reduction in the assessment criteria for performance and office cost accounting.

Many law firms say they are also strengthening the training of internal talent. Gao Shu, chief partner of China Commercial Law Firm in Shenzhen, says the firm focuses on internal training and has made some adjustments this year to speed up the training of young lawyers. “My view is that each law firm should bring out their own talent, not just introducing external talent from others,” he says.

The pandemic has brought significant changes to lifestyle and work, and psychological counselling for employees is also on the agenda at some firms. Wang Weiguo, a Beijing-based partner at Jingtian & Gongcheng, says the firm is offering timely online mental health counselling and business training to employees to improve their serving capability.

Under the impact of the pandemic, some firms have adopted a “no layoffs, no salary cuts” policy, while others have even increased salaries for their teams. Andy Xiang, a partner at Twelve Tables Law Firm in Beijing, says: “Despite the impact of the epidemic, we have raised salaries for our team so that the team can feel the growth and stability of the firm and hopefully the firm can develop better.”

Gao-Shu-Chief-Partner-China-Commercial-Law-Firm-Shenzhen

Crunching the numbers

Revenue figures reflect a law firm’s growth, and revenue per lawyer or equity partner can show a firm’s actual strength behind the growth, and beyond the scale. In order to learn how much PRC law firms earned in 2018-2019, China Business Law Journal conducted an annual legal market survey for top-tier firms active in the market, in which nearly 80 firms participated:

In 2019, the annual revenue generally showed growth among Chinese law firms. The median revenue of law firms, at RMB250 million, was a 15.7% increase compared with RMB216 million in 2018.

The survey shows that law firms with annual revenue of less than RMB200 million and RMB200-400 million are the two largest groups, accounting for more than 40% and 25% of the surveyed firms, respectively.

In particular, the number of law firms with revenue less than RMB200 million fell by about 7.5% year-on-year in 2019, to account for 40.7% of the firms surveyed. Considering the growth in medians, this decrease may indicate that the revenue of some law firms increased to more than RMB200 million.


Annual revenue distribution of PRC law firms


Meanwhile, law firms with between RMB800 million to RMB1 billion in annual revenue account for 8.5%, recording a year-on-year increase of 3.1%. With the increasing scale of national firms and the continuing trend of mergers among law firms, this increase may point to a rise of mega law firms. There are four firms each with annual revenue of RMB400-600 million and RMB600-800 million, each accounting for 6.8% of the firms surveyed.

Law firms with annual revenue more than RMB1 billion account for 11.9%, all of which are nationwide firms with comprehensive serving capabilities. Although RMB1 billion is a value hard for a boutique firm to achieve, it is not an impossible goal for strong ones. In the survey, the 2019 revenue of one boutique firm was close to RMB1 billion.

In terms of the growth in annual revenue, the survey shows that 2019 was a year of strong growth for most firms. While 41.1% of the firms grew at a rate of 0-20%, a robust 26.8% of the firms saw a growth of 20%-40% and 10.7% saw growth at 40%-60% in 2019.

One firm reported growth of 79.7%. Three firms achieved a growth rate of more than 100%, accounting for 5.4%, among which two of them are firms established in the past two to three years, and the remaining one is a national firm that has expanded its presence considerably recently.

Although 14.2% of the responding firms reported negative growth, it doesn’t necessarily mean those firms are on the slide. A partner of a Chinese firm told China Business Law Journal that in some scenarios the closure of a high-value case may pull up the revenue figures, followed by a slight decline in the next year.

“To evaluate whether a project is profitable or not, we may consider the total time we invested in the project and its different subsectors,” he says. “If the number of working hours is high, but the final result is not very satisfying, or the revenue is relatively low, this kind of business is something we need to reflect on and adjust in our daily work.”

In addition, he mentions that the clients’ willingness and enthusiasm to pay will also affect the law firm’s returns. While total revenue may reflect the growth of a firm, average revenue per lawyer or equity partner may reveal their actual strength, especially with the boutique firms. According to the survey, the median of average revenue per lawyer among Chinese law firms increased slightly to RMB928,600 in 2019 from RMB916,700 in 2018.

In terms of distribution, the majority of law firms’ average revenue in 2019 shows a fall of RMB0.5 million to RMB1 million, and RMB1-1.5 million, accounting for 43.4% and 22.6% of the firms surveyed, respectively. It is worth noting that the percentage of law firms in the RMB1-1.5 million group increases by 5.6%, while the RMB1.5-2 million group accounts for 9.4%, recording a year-on-year decrease of 3.8%.

Firms with less than RMB500,000 in average revenue per lawyer account for 11.3%, while 3.8% of the surveyed firms are in the RMB2-2.5 million group, and 5.7% have an average revenue per lawyer of more than RMB3 million. The number of law firms with RMB2.5-3 million reduced from 5.7% in 2018 to 3.8% in 2019.

Compared with a slight increase in median average revenue per lawyer, the median per equity partner fell from RMB6.15 million to RMB6.05 million in the past two years. In terms of distribution, most of the firms recorded average revenue per equity partner at RMB3-6 million, accounting for 32.7%, a year-on-year increase of 5.8%.

Law firms in the RMB9-12 million group account for 17.3%, a year-on-year increase of 5.8%. Law firms with average revenue per equity partner larger than RMB15 million account for 7.7%, a year-on-year increase of 3.9%. These two increases may indicate a rise of a growing club of mega law firms.

Law firms with less than RMB3 million in average revenue per equity partner account for 17.3%, recording a year-on-year decrease of 3.9%; the RMB6-9 million group also accounts for 17.3%, a year-on-year decrease of 9.6%. The RMB12-15 million group accounts for 7.7%, a fall of 1.9%.

Longan Law Firm saw a modest increase in average revenue per lawyer, but a decline in average revenue per equity partner. “Longan promoted quite a few lawyers to partnership last year, with additions from outside, that is to say, we have more partners,” says Wang Dan, Beijing-based director of Longan. “Our average revenue per equity partner slightly reduced by 0.5%, which is insignificant.”

Wang Dan adds that the growth of the firm’s average revenue per lawyer is below 20% compared with the annual revenue growth of 28%, which is due to a significant increase in the number of lawyers as well. “The quality of a law firm’s growth depends on the average revenue per lawyer,” he says. “If [you] only look at the total revenue figure, and rely on recruiting more staff too much without considering the average, the number is just … made up.”

Due to the difference of partner level, promotions, equity standards and external publicity, average revenue per lawyer may represent a firm’s strength better than revenue per equity partner.


Distribution of growth in annual revenue of PRC law firms (2019)average revenue per lawyer_newaverage revenue per equity partner_new



The following firms participated in the survey (in alphabetical order): AllBright Law Offices, An Tian Zhang & Partners, AnJie Law Firm, Anli Partners, Baohua Law Firm, Boss & Young Attorneys-At-Law, Broad & Bright, CCPIT Patent & Trademark Law Office, Chance Bridge Partners, Chang Tsi & Partners, Chen & Co Law Firm, China Commercial Law Firm, China Patent Agent (HK), City Development Law Firm, CM Law Firm, Co-effort Law Firm, Commerce & Finance Law Offices, Corner Stone & Partners, Dare & Sure Law Firm, DeHeng Law Offices, Dentons, DHH Law Firm, DOCVIT Law Firm, Duan & Duan Law Firm, East & Concord Partners, ETR Law Firm, Fangda Partners, Gaowo IP Law Firm, Global Law Office, GoldenGate Lawyers, Grandall Law Firm, Grandway Law Offices, Guantao Law Firm, Haiwen & Partners, Han Kun Law Offices, Hansheng Law Offices, Hengdu Law Firm, HHP Attorneys-at-Law, Hightac PRC Lawyers, Huang & Huang Co Law Firm, Hui Ye Law Firm, Hylands Law Firm, Jia Yuan Law Offices, Jiaxuan Law Firm, Jin Mao Law Firm, Jincheng Tongda & Neal, Jingtian & Gongcheng, JunHe, JunZeJun Law Offices, King & Wood Mallesons, Lanbai Law Firm, Landing Law Offices, Lantai Partners, Llinks Law Offices, Longan Law Firm, Merits & Tree Law Offices, PacGate Law Group, PW & Partners, Saelink Law, Sanyou Intellectual Property Agency, Shihui Partners, Silkroad Law Firm, Tian Yuan Law Firm, Tiantai Law Firm, TianTong Law Firm, TransAsia Lawyers, TTL Law Firm, V&T Law Firm, Wang Jing & Co, Wang Jing & GH Law Firm, Wanhuida Intellectual Property, Watson & Band, Yingke Law Firm, Young-Ben Law Firm, Zhenghan Law Firm, Zhong Lun Law Firm, Zhonghao Law Firm.