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PRC law firms reveal their hourly billing rates for the first time in this unique report on legal fees, Vandana Chatlani reports

Disclaimer: All Chinese law firms were eligible to submit their billing rates for publication, there were no fees or any other requirements for participating. The billing rates shown in this report were provided by the participating law firms, and have not been verified by the publisher.

How much should you be paying for legal advice in China? The answer to this question of course depends on who you engage and what kind of advice you are seeking. But one thing is certain navigating China’s complex and rapidly changing legal system requires diligence, intellect, creativity and a deep knowledge of national laws and the various ways they may be viewed by local governments, courts and businesses.

Partners at local Chinese law firms have said in the past that international lawyers would struggle to win assignments, particularly from state-owned companies, if they failed to offer more flexibility on legal fees. The situation is no different to India. In both jurisdictions, clients are exceptionally cost-conscious and firms quoting bargain prices often reign supreme.

In-house lawyers have become discerning, savvy buyers of legal services, with an increased awareness of how to secure value while also keeping costs low. They negotiate hard and demand fixed fees to keep a tight rein on their legal spending. The expansion and growing internationalization of Chinese firms through tie-ups with foreign partners also means that clients can enjoy domestic legal advice with a global outlook at attractive rates.


As law firms in China jostle for a slice of the meatiest deals, they are often forced to come up with attractive fee quotes, much to the satisfaction of their clients. As Ye Qiuye, an in-house lawyer at CADFund in Beijing, says confidently: “There is no law firm that cannot be replaced. If your price is high, I’ll certainly be looking for someone else.”

The legal service market in China is more open than ever, says Paul Zhou, a partner at Wintell & Co in Shanghai. “Clients also have better knowledge of their legal service demands,” he says. “Law firms may need to lower their rates to drive revenue growth, improve marketing effectiveness and successfully compete against their rivals.”

But as Karen Ng, general counsel at Shui On Development in Shanghai, points out, the danger with undercutting is that it may result in a “lower quality of service provided to us”.


An Jun, the Beijing-based associate general counsel at Amazon China, says foreign firms may feel greater pressure as a result of price wars because a number of partners at local law firms have trained overseas. “They deliver pretty much the same quality at a much discounted price,” says An. “But ‘value for money’ is not my first priority when selecting law firms. I always want the best advice, and price consideration is secondary. Cutting prices to win clients does not work for me.”

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What are the alternatives?


Since hourly billing is uncommon among PRC law firms, clients benefit from a variety of alternative fee structures for legal services.

For example, GoldenGate Lawyers use fixed fees for trademark, patent registration, company set-up, or drafting a search report. When providing litigation and arbitration services for local clients, the firm sometimes charges a down payment in addition to a success fee, which is usually a percentage against the collected money.

AllBright Law Offices uses fixed fees for general legal adviser contracts, and milestone-based billing plus hourly rates on a case-by-case basis.

In addition to fixed fees and milestone-based fees, IPO Pang Xingpu offers clients the option of lump sum billing and contingent fees.

Zhonglun W&D Law Firm charges a flat rate of RMB15,000 per case for civil litigation cases, though the rate applies to cases where no financial issues are involved. Clients can also choose to pay fees to be charged at progressive rates on the basis of the disputed amount. For a disputed amount of up to RMB100,000, the fee is RMB10,000. For a higher amount, the firm charges an additional 8% of the portion between RMB100,000 and RMB1 million, 6% of the portion between RMB1 million and RMB10 million, and 3% of the portion exceeding RMB10 million.

DHH Law Firm uses the hourly billing model. However, it also offers fixed fees, milestone-based billing, fixed fees based on complexity, and partially fixed fees together with partially proportional charges based on the subject amount.

Wintell & Co usually offers lump sum billing for non-property dispute cases, including ordinary civil, economic, administrative cases. Fixed fees are typically used for perennial legal services provided to enterprises, including legal letters, legal advice, etc. Milestone billing is generally used for criminal cases or tangled cases.

As each milestone is successfully reached, the client is billed either a percentage of the entire case cost or simply a pre-defined amount.

HongFangLaw charges its clients fixed fees for some standard procedures and legal matters such as clearance searches, filing and prosecution. However, for most matters, it provides clients with a tailored cost estimation. This is calculated using the hourly rate and the approximate time its lawyers expect to spend having taken into account the nature and background of a case.

Guantao Law Firm anticipates the approximate amount of work required and the size of the team to establish a fixed quotation for clients, usually in stages. This applies to matters where special legal counsel is involved and depends on the complexity of a case or project and the firm’s experience in undertaking similar cases.

Hourly billing rates of PRC law firms


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