When legal professionals look for inspiration or diversion, where do they turn? Winny Zhang reports

Most of us gravitate to the arts and media for inspiration, guidance, insight, or just plain old entertainment. At China Business Law Journal, this deduction led us to wonder what films, or books, or pieces of music were preferred by our elite lawyers. So, in a survey of our annual A-List selection of top legal talent for China-related business, we endeavoured to find out.

The results from among 150 lawyers working in PRC law firms, and 120 from international firms, were often unexpected and always interesting. Many of those surveyed recommended their favourite book, film or music as a way to expand knowledge and appreciate different cultures, perspectives and experiences; also, sometimes, it was just for fun.

Recommending the South Korean TV series Extraordinary Attorney Woo (2022) and the film Enola Holmes (2020), Yang Yuhua, a partner at Llinks Law Offices in Beijing and London, explains: “I recommend them only because they are entertaining and with some good spirit or intention; also some little, if not big, wisdom.”

Space constraints prevent us from including all the recommendations, but a common conviction among them is that exploring literature and cinema offers diverse experiences and viewpoints that can broaden horizons, foster empathy and enhance creative problem-solving in legal matters.

Such cultural exposure also promotes greater sensitivity and understanding when working with clients who come from diverse backgrounds.


In contrast to countless and varied book recommendations, several films and television series received unanimous praise. Favourites among legal elites were Forrest Gump (1994), Boston Legal (2004), 12 Angry Men (1957), and The Shawshank Redemption (1994).

Bill Gao, Landing Law Offices Shanghai

The iconic Forrest Gump quote, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get” was serendipitously cited by two senior partners as a source of motivation. Bill Gao, a Shanghai-based senior partner at Landing Law Offices, interprets the quote as: “If you don’t make a choice, you will never know what your future holds.” This principle guides his work with clients, exploring every possible solution to achieve the best outcome.

Lin Xiaochun, a Shenzhen-based senior partner at Sundial Law Firm (formerly carrying the name Shu Jin Law Firm in English), sees another connotation: “It is the uncertainty, the expectation of surprises and the belief in living with effort that pulls me forward without distraction.”

Summit Chen, director and senior partner at Dentons China in Shanghai, is among many recommending 12 Angry Men as a must-see for legal professionals.

Particularly notable for its clever use of a single setting, the jury room, the film provides a dramatic introduction to the American jury system; vividly showcasing its features and intricacies through conflicts between the 12 jurors.

A good film or TV series can even influence life decisions. Case in point was Feng Yao, a special counsel at Sunland Law Firm in Beijing, crediting The Paper Chase (1973) for sparking her interest in law. She pursued a Master’s degree at Columbia Law School a few years after watching the film depicting the life of a Harvard Law School student.

Fan Xiangyu, a partner at Tahota Law Firm’s Beijing office, tells a similar story. He was formerly a patent examiner at the China National Intellectual Property Administration when Boston Legal kindled his aspiration to transition from working at a state agency to practising law.

Wei Yongpeng, V&T Law Firm

“Although the plot is exaggerated, it showed me an interesting side of lawyers’ work and life,” he says.

While the US judicial system provides ample fodder for legal drama, other regions also have their gems. Wei Yongpeng, a partner in the Xi’an office of V&T Law Firm, recommends the Indian film Section 375 (2019) for its gripping courtroom arguments.

“The courtroom argument takes up about a third of the entire film, providing valuable lessons for legal professionals looking to hone their courtroom presentation skills,” says Wei.

Hatty Cui, Rouse Beijing

Hatty Cui, general manager of China at Rouse in Beijing, particularly appreciates Hong Kong dramas. Without mentioning any specific title, she notes: “[Hong Kong] legal dramas are notable for their professional accuracy, from courtroom arguments to closing arguments, and the social issues and reflections from cases remain relevant to this day.”

She is also impressed by their portrayal of lawyers’ private lives: “They dress fashionably, play tennis, travel the world, and exude confidence and panache. It turns out that lawyers can be ‘cool’ while maintaining their dedication to justice.”


It may come as a surprise, but the most highly recommended genre of books was in the sensible fields of economics and business, as Li Yanhong, a director at Zhong Lv Law Firm in Taiyuan, explains: “As a lawyer, we need to have a deep understanding of the economic development environment in order to anticipate the future direction of our business.”

Li recommends Chinese Economy in Dual Transition, which provides a comprehensive summary of the transformation of China’s economic system since its reform and opening-up more than four decades ago.

Li Yanhong, Zhong Lv Law Firm

This book covers wide-ranging topics such as the reform of state-owned companies, protection of property rights for private enterprises, reform of the income distribution system, and China’s self-innovation and industrial upgrading, providing readers with a robust understanding of China’s past economic environment.

Stressing the value of learning from practical business cases, Richard Chang, a partner at Gunderson Dettmer in its Beijing and Shanghai offices, recommends Barbarian at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco. It recounts the story of the 1988 leveraged buyout between industrial investment house Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) and RJR Nabisco – the largest M&A in the US at the time, valued at USD25 billion – providing detailed insight into the thinking of each key stakeholder, including lawyers involved in the transaction.

According to Chang, the insight underlines how “commercial awareness” has become a critical attribute that separates exceptional lawyers from competent ones. While mastering contracts and briefings is crucial, he says: “As you grow, you need to be able to see the whole picture, to understand and think like a business executive, in order to provide solutions for your clients.”

Owen Wang, an international partner at the Beijing and Shenzhen offices of King & Wood Mallesons (KWM), focuses on learning from history. He recommends The Courage to Act, an autobiography by former US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, which chronicles his response to the 2008 financial crisis.

The book delves into the transformation of traditional home mortgages into complex financial instruments, the fragmented and loophole-ridden regulatory landscape of financial markets, the Federal Reserve’s inability to identify and resolve the issue promptly, and how the US increased regulation after the crisis.

Wang believes that China’s financial market has encountered similar issues in recent years, prompting the central bank to request public comments on a proposed financial stability law. Reading this book can provide valuable insights and a deeper understanding of China’s present financial environment, says Wang.

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