After extensive research, China Business Law Journal presents a list of the country’s top up-and-coming legal talent. Luna Jin reports

This year, many of China’s post-’80s lawyers are officially entering middle age. With the rapid growth in China’s legal market, this second generation of legal professionals, who grew up in tandem with the country’s reform and opening-up, are now gradually taking up the banner of succession.

At this moment, young Chinese lawyers are making remarkable achievements. Some, as lead partners, have helped Chinese companies to go public in the US against a backdrop of tense international relations. Other have grown with emerging industries and worked hard to become the go-to lawyer for business compliance in areas such as artificial intelligence (AI) and big data. Still others are already founding partners, with law firms that are thriving and competing strongly in their respective areas of expertise.

Recognising this evolution, China Business Law Journal continues with its Rising Stars awards this year, based on our years of observation and experience in covering the China legal market. From more than 1,000 nominations from business leaders, senior in-house counsel and the wider legal community, we have selected 40 young elite lawyers under the age of 40 to create our latest list, which recognises their outstanding contributions in China-related practice. The pioneers on the list all have more than 10 years of experience from a wide range of industries including mergers and acquisitions (M&A), asset management, intellectual property (IP), antitrust and dispute resolution.

Given space constraints, it is difficult to showcase the achievements of all the lawyers on our list, so we have indiscriminately highlighted a few. We are convinced that these young legal elites represent the vanguard of the future of the legal sector.

Top of practice

Young lawyers who are highly skilled in specific practice areas are not only trusted by in-house counsel, but are also appreciated by corporate management.

Mia Wang 王佳音, Maia Active

Collin Shi, a Shanghai-based partner at Llinks Law Offices, is an eminent respected adviser in the private equity/venture capital (PE/VC) sector. Mia Wang, CEO and co-founder of Chinese sportswear brand Maia Active, says that Shi has surprised her with his professionalism, communication skills and diligence for clients. During the series B financing of Maia Active, as the company’s legal adviser, Shi not only sorted out and negotiated many complex terms with the legal team of the investors, but also reorganised the corporate structure for the company.

“Shi and his team also provide day-to-day legal advice to us, and have successfully handled a number of disputes, which over the past two years have greatly reduced costs for us in terms of fines and other costs from the compliance side,” says Wang.

In the areas of investment, M&A and securities, Qin Jiaren, a Beijing-based partner of Anli Partners, was recommended by the legal director of one of China’s leading real estate trading platforms for his broad experience. “Qin is able to precisely understand the business objectives and legal service needs of clients, is adept at proposing pragmatic, innovative and flexible solutions to the problems encountered in projects, and can provide quality legal services for complex projects involving legal issues in multiple arenas, such as state capital regulation, regulation of listed companies and industry regulation.”

In the same field, Shen Jun, a partner in the Shanghai office of Commerce & Finance Law Offices, was also widely recognised. “As an emerging internet company, Bilibili can have nearly 10 investment and M&A projects every year,” says Zhang Ziling, senior director of investment and M&A at the leading Chinese video platform. “On these projects, Shen and his team have demonstrated steady process control, superb communication skills and exceptional professionalism.

“We are delighted to have lawyers like him assisting us and providing professional services that will enable the company to continue to grow at a rapid pace.”

Previously, Shen acted as lead counsel for Bilibili’s IPO in the US, and the acquisition of the Hong Kong company that owns China’s first virtual singer, Luo Tianyi.

Hua Feng 花鹏, China Merchants Expressway Network & Technology Holdings 招商局公路网路科技控股

In the primary market, Zhang Meina, a senior partner at JiaYuan Law Offices in Beijing, has a solid track record in advising on private equity investments. In June last year, China Merchants & Pingan Infrastructure Fund, for which Zhang assisted in the setup process, completed its filing with the Asset Management Association of China, making it the first PE fund in the country’s highway industry to achieve “a combination between industry and finance” after the new Guiding Opinions on Regulating the Asset Management Business of Financial Institutions were issued in 2018.

“Zhang is professional, experienced, responsible and highly capable of solving problems,” says Hua Peng, deputy general manager of the investment and development department of China Merchants Expressway Network and Technology Holdings.

In another highly competitive practice area of commercial dispute resolution, 360 Group’s director of litigation and legal affairs, Chen Dai, recommends Wan Li, a Beijing-based partner at Tiger & Partners.

“When dealing with complex commercial disputes that span multiple jurisdictions, Wan is able to give a detailed analysis of the causes of the dilemma, then form a comprehensive solution and a more accurate judgment,” says Chen. “Wan is a trusted partner who market players can rely on when dealing with commercial disputes.”

Li Yao 李峣, Vanke Group 万科集团

Industry pioneers

In-house counsel place great importance on lawyers’ proficient application of their legal knowledge, along with their deep understanding of business logic.

A good example of this is Zhang Yi, a partner in the Chengdu office of Tahota Law Firm, who focuses on the real estate sector and has chosen a career path that transitioned from in-house counsel to lawyer. Prior to joining Tahota, Zhang had experience with the model of “development and sale”, and was very familiar with specific businesses.

“It is [Zhang’s] previous perspective of working with A-parties and owners that enables him to more accurately understand the basic demands of the relevant parties in his work at the law firm, and to promote better and faster work,” observes Li Yao, a partner at the headquarters of Vanke Group in Shenzhen.

In the hot internet sector, Yang Jie, a Guangzhou-based senior partner at Wang Jing & GH Law Firm, is described as a “leading figure in the legal community of internet sector” by WeChat’s legal director, Vivi Huang.

“With his familiarity with the business model of the internet industry, Yang is able to quickly and accurately pinpoint the problem at its core, and offer advice from the perspective of internet products, with unique ideas and suggestions on compliance and operation,” says Huang.

Vivi Huang 黄嘉慧, WeChat 微信

When it comes to compliance matters, especially for data-driven businesses such as the internet and AI, Li Qian, a legal counsel at Hillhouse Capital, puts her faith in Fu Peng, a partner in the Beijing office of Haiwen & Partners.

“Fu has provided legal services in a number of our investment projects, and was able to provide advice and solutions that are realistic and practical to implement,” says Li.

She adds that Fu is also a good communicator with the target companies and founders, and has helped investors reduce the cost on communication, thus advancing projects more smoothly and effectively.

With a strong track record in the pan-entertainment industry, IP and telecoms, media and technology (TMT), TA Law Firm founding partner Wang Liyan, based in Beijing, received several recommendations from top-tier companies in China’s internet industry.

“Wang is always able to provide our company with the most comprehensive and professional support in the areas of film, television, culture and copyright disputes, in which she specialises,” say Gu Haiyan, general manager of Sina Group’s legal department. “Her service involving new types of issues, such as unfair competition of internet data, is also satisfactory, or even beyond expectation.”

Gu Haiyan 谷海燕, Sina Group 新浪集团

Gu says that in dispute resolution and litigation cases, Wang always strives not only to maximise the interests of clients, but also to explore the specialties of individual cases, promoting a deeper understanding on the industry with the judiciary, and facilitating the issuance of judgments of typical significance through the process of independent case argumentation.
“During our co-operation with Wang, we can feel her pursuit of jurisprudential ideals. She has won the unanimous recognition of her peers, clients, judges and scholars for her professional and efficient legal services,” says Gu.

In the TMT field, the founder and producer of a leading film and media company in Shanghai gives high praise to Gao Qiang, a Shanghai-based senior partner at Landing Law Offices. “He knows the film and television industry very well, and also has professional experience in IP practice, which has created great value for my company.”

Women achievers

In East Asian countries, successful women are expected to “have it all”, achieving success both in career and family. In the absence of appropriate institutional support, this is far from a level playing field. Putting aside prejudice and looking only at performance in the workplace, it is evident that many women lawyers are leading the way with their dedication and abilities.

In the areas of cross-borders transactions and foreign-related legal services, Beijing-based attorney Ye Shuli, at JunZeJun Law Offices, has won the trust of her clients with a strong and dedicated practice, and firm but patient attitude. Zhou Mi, former director of copyright compliance at Xunlei Networking Technologies, describes her as “the steel rose among lawyers specialised in handling foreign-related matters”.

“[Ye] often went out of her way, travelling long distances just to offer training to her clients,” says Zhou. “During the pandemic, Ye was very brave to have helped her clients face-to-face.”

Sun Rui, a Beijing-based partner at Jincheng Tongda & Neal, is recommended by Cao Jingqi, a legal adviser at Shanghai Electric Power, for her keen insight into both legal risks and the industry.

“Her work was instrumental in finalising the acquisition and locking in key development terms for the company’s key Belt and Road project in Europe, the Montenegrin wind farm acquisition and development project,” says Cao.