These young elite lawyers have already impressed their clients and peers with their precise legal expertise, acute business acumen, professionalism and strong sense of ethics. But their prosperous journey has only just begun. China Business Law Journal presents this year’s Rising Stars in China’s legal market. Kevin Cheng reports.

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ractising law is demanding. A successful lawyer must possess an extensive range of specialised knowledge, legal and otherwise, and exhibit the dependable personal qualities of diligence, openness and, not least, the will to continue broadening their knowledge. A legal or business field requiring legal counsel, be it time-honoured or novel, overcrowded or niche, is continually evolving.

It is especially impressive for a generation of future leading lawyers to have not just taken root, but are thriving in their respective areas of expertise. They have guided companies, funds, and other clients through their high-stake financial projects or legal disputes, often beset with difficulties, and have formed strong bonds with their in-house counterparts.

To accurately reflect market opinion, the rising stars were carefully selected from a pool of over 2,000 nominations for excellent lawyers in China Business Law Journal’s extensive market survey. Nominators included business leaders, corporate managers, in-house counsel, and lawyers whose recommendations were restricted to members of other firms. Their votes of confidence carry significant weight due to their unique, and optimum vantage points to observe these lawyers’ accomplishments.

The 80 private practice lawyers listed, consisting of 60 practitioners from PRC law firms and, for the first time in Rising Stars, 20 lawyers from international law firms engaged in China-related businesses, are aged 40 or under.

Resolution delivered

For companies caught in a tricky legal dispute, the value of timely and effective legal counsel cannot be overstated. In a recent survey conducted by our sister publication Asia Business Law Journal, in which 108 in-house counsel across Asia were asked which practice area was most in need of law firm support, dispute resolution, accounting for almost 30% of the answers, was by far the most common response. For details of the survey, please see Hard Talk in China Business Law Journal volume 13, issue 1.

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Alan Cai, a Beijing-based partner of Jincheng Tongda & Neal, has close to a decade of experience in cross-border dispute resolution. “Cai is adept at seeing through the nature of a transaction, and coming up with an all-round plan of resolution”, comments Wang Ying, the general counsel of Huachuang Tianyuan Industrial Developing, a manufacturer of steel-reinforced polyethylene pipes located in the Langfang Economic and Technological Development Area, Hebei province. “[He] and his team have secured for us optimum rulings in a number of major, difficult, and complex cross-border litigation or arbitration cases.”

Cai is a regular legal adviser to companies including China Aerospace Science & Industry Corporation, China Poly Group Corporation, Sinopec Marketing, and Sunac.

Likewise, He Yu, a partner at the Beijing office of AnJie Law Firm, is known as an experienced legal adviser to many large multinational or state-owned companies and financial institutions, for which she received praise from Guo Yonghui, head of the legal department of Ningxia Coal Industry under China Energy Investment (CEI). “He Yu is well-versed in law, but more importantly, she is highly motivated and diligent,” he says.

He Yu successfully represented a CEI subsidiary from 2019 to 2021 in its contract dispute with a trading company, concluding a decade-long case involving the abuse of position by the subsidiary’s own staff. This prevented the loss of substantial state-owned assets.

Jiang Mingze, a Shanghai-based partner of Shihui Partners, provided legal support to JD Group in its RMB300 million (USD47.4 million) investment dispute with a well-known listed company, and represented Maoyan Entertainment, operator of China’s largest movie ticketing platform, in an M&A dispute, with both cases submitted to the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (CIETAC). Jiang further aided Maoyan in a contract arbitration before the Beijing Arbitration Commission.

Yang Ling, the deputy secretary-general and chief representative of the Shanghai office at the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre, applauds Jiang for his tenacity in dispute resolution, and in particular his professionalism when representing clients from mainland China.

With China driving the development of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), expertise and experience in arbitration are highly valued. Eugene Weng, a partner at Wintell & Co, impressed Hu Huiji, senior legal director at iQiyi, with his successful track record in international commercial dispute resolution, sports arbitration, and cross-border investment and financing. “Weng is familiar with the rules and procedures of various international arbitration agencies, as well as advanced transaction structures and financial tools,” he says.

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Cindy Guo, a Shanghai-based partner of Zhong Lun Law Firm, also excels in ADR, especially where cross-border M&A is concerned. Bill Zhou, the chief risk officer of Fullshare Holdings, had the chance to observe Guo’s work as she provides legal services for the multinational conglomerate’s cross-border M&A transactions and multi-party debt disposals arising from terminations, remarking that “[Guo] is able to provide comprehensive solutions in line with the company’s commercial interests”.

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Zhou Jin, the head of vertical mobility of Volkswagen Group China, expressed her satisfaction with the professionalism and dedication of Ryan Fang, a partner of Jingtian & Gongcheng operating from its Hangzhou and Beijing offices. “With legal expertise, practical experience in resolving disputes and a results-driven mindset, [Fang] creates great value for clients at every step of the litigation or arbitration,” she says.

For Pan Wei, director of risk control and compliance at Industrial Wealth Asset Management, the success of Qian Qian, a partner at Zhenghan Law Firm, in handling bankruptcy litigation of a CIB Fund subsidiary came as a pleasant surprise. “[Qian] helped us recover a large number of non-performing assets within the time limit, something other law firms deemed unlikely,” says Pan. “She has admirable patience, keen communicative skills and a strong sense of responsibility, always giving it 100%.”

Industry leaders

From public offerings to data compliance, entertainment and pharmaceutical, legal advice often requires proficiency and an in-depth understanding of not only legal and regulatory intricacies but also of the business itself. The young lawyers, covering every sector in the legal landscape, have proven more than equal to the challenge

Initial public offerings often mean a lengthy, strenuous process that, on the bright side, can take the lawyer-client relationship to the next level.

Dong Yiping, a Shanghai-based partner at Grandway Law Offices, oversaw the Shanghai IPO of Sanwei Holding, a rubber product manufacturer based in Taizhou, Zhejiang province, as well as its subsequent substantial asset restructuring. This gained acclaim from Gu Chenhui, Sanwei’s chief financial officer. “[Dong] can balance our compliance and business interests, and provide us with tailor-made legal advice, with the goal of maximising our commercial value,” he says.

Dong’s fellow Grandway partner in Beijing, Xue Yuting, advised Cloudwalk Technology, a Guangzhou-headquartered AI startup, in its IPO on the Star Market. Tao Fuwu, the general manager of Cloudwalk’s legal department, praised Xue for offering “forward-looking and operable legal solutions” at every step of the process. Cloudwalk has passed its IPO hurdles, becoming the first of China’s “four AI dragons” to do so.

Describing Mark Hu, a partner at the Beijing office of Pinsent Masons, as an “excellent counsel at English law”, Wu Guang, general manager of the Pakistani subsidiary of China Machinery Engineering Corporation, adds: “[Hu] provided us with plenty of valuable advice and services for the investment and financing in Zone II of the Thar coal mine-power project in Pakistan, as well as the legal side of the EPC.”

In 2021, China spared no efforts in its across-the-board anti-monopoly endeavours, introducing the first draft amendment to the Anti-monopoly Law in October. Zhou Changlong, the legal director of Yili Group, trusts Song Ying, a partner at AnJie Law Firm, with the compliance of its Inner Mongolia-based dairy product maker. “Song has a unique background in antitrust matters,” he says. “[She] has demonstrated extraordinary legal specialty and a customer-oriented approach.”

The past year also witnessed China’s significant step-up in data security and personal information protection, requiring data controllers and processors to reform their data compliance practices in order to remain above a greatly-raised bar. This, in turn, allowed experts in these areas to stand out.

Hu Yan, head of the legal department of Canva China, the local branch of the popular Australian online graphic design platform, expressed her appreciation of the work of Maggie Meng, a partner operating from the Beijing headquarters of Global Law Office, in constructing the company’s data compliance structure in China. “[Meng] gives us timely and pertinent advice in our day-to-day data and privacy compliance,” she says.

Atom Wu, a senior joint partner at DHH Law Firm, received the endorsement of Du Ziran, vice president of the Greater Bay Region Big Data Research Centre. Wu gained a reputation as a taxation expert through her active participation in a number of highly technical tax-related disputes. “Aside from years of experience in taxation, Wu is well-learned in company and contract laws,” says Zhuang Yonglong, the president of Bioknow, a Beijing-based computer software company and provider of information solutions to the pharmaceutical and healthcare sectors.

Liu Yingzi, a Beijing-based partner of Hylands Law Firm, has established a reputation as an expert in entertainment, sports and copyright. Apart from her expertise and industry proficiency, Liu was described by Shao Bo, the chief strategic officer of Shanghai Mengyang Culture, a planner of cultural exchange and marketing events, as “capable of integrating legal practice and business operation, solving complex commercial and legal issues”.

The specialists

Tao Qun, general manager of Shanghai HanKun Biosciences, remarking on the daunting obstacles faced by lawyers practising in highly specialised and technical fields, observes: “The interdisciplinarity and speciality of complex intellectual property disputes pose a significant challenge to any lawyer.”

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On the flip side, lawyers that manage to break into these fields are especially valued, as was the case with Shanghai-based Horace Ye at Han Kun Law Offices. “In a short time, Ye managed to transform himself from a layman to a semi-professional,” says Tao, “combining his new-found insight with his legal speciality and analytical ability, he soon found a point of breakthrough in the case.”

Colin Liang, chairman of Chengdu-based Boaovax Biotechnology, praised the extensive biotech experience demonstrated by Xiao Lei, a partner at the local Sichuan Junhe Law Firm, whose team aided the vaccine developer in completing its pre-A and A series of financing, with proceeds exceeding RMB130 million.

Xiao’s portfolio, as it turns out, is a more complex brew than just medicine. “With his vast experience in the hard liquor and imported wine businesses, coupled with profound legal philosophy and proficiency, Xiao is able to provide the most efficient, professional legal feedback and services to clients in the hard liquor sector,” comments Cao Jianguo, head of the legal department of Sichuan Langjiu.

Cao Peng, a senior partner of Jiaxuan Law Firm, formed a strong relationship with the Xi’an Casstar Science and Technology Incubator, with its chairman, Li Hao, commenting: “Cao has been there for us since our establishment, and together we have witnessed the birth of our hard technology, as well as its subsequent improvement and dissemination.” Ren Xiaoguang, the executive dean of Yulin China Sciences Institute of Clean Energy and Innovation, names Cao as “one of the few lawyers in China focused on the commercialisation of scientific and technological achievements”.

Along for the ride

Remarkable as it is that successful lawyers must possess proficiency in both legal detail and industry-specific knowledge, it is sometimes that extra non-legal business acumen, communication skills or other positive personality trait allows them to win not only cases, but also hearts.

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Mark Wang, a partner at the Beijing office of East & Concord Partners, embodies that golden combination. Ally Li, the general counsel of Estee Lauder China, lauds Wang’s communication skills and knowledge of retail operation. “[Wang] has a good business sense, always provides productive legal solutions to clients and helps them achieve business goals,” she says.

In assisting ALS in a number of acquisition and divestment transactions, Cindy Guo, of Zhong Lun Law Firm, impressed Michael Pearson, its general counsel and company secretary, with the quality of her legal advice. “I have found [Guo] to be an extraordinarily organised and diligent lawyer, providing accurate and very practical advice,” says Pearson. ALS is a 160-year-old laboratory analysis service provider based in Brisbane, Australia.

Due to the nature of their profession, lawyers sometimes meet their clients in a state of vulnerability, making it an important part of the job to be the voice of calm and dependability. Jay Li, a Beijing-based senior partner at Hylands Law Firm, fulfilled that role for Jiang Qinyuan, the director and financial controller of Sunsea Parking. “[Li] radiated composure and self-control in emergencies, which thoroughly impressed me,” says Jiang.

Qian Xin, a senior partner at Joint-Win Partners, successfully recovered a substantial amount of a non-performing loan for the Postal Savings Bank of China. Zhang Yingshu, the head of the asset preservation department of the Shanghai branch, was grateful for more than the result. “[Qian] provided legal counsel and analysis for the bank from an impartial, objective position,” he says, “and he never exaggerates when predicting results.”

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To outsiders, laws and regulations can seem intimidating and esoteric. Di Qing, a partner at JunHe’s Shanghai office, took it upon himself to unravel the mystery. “Logical and quick-witted, Di is able to give clarity to the ins and outs of complex cases, and enumerate the pros and cons of evidence on both sides, which allows clients to make informed judgments and decisions,” says Ophelia Wei, the general counsel of Huibo Car Park Management, a subsidiary of a fiduciary private equity investment manager, Limetree Capital.

On a similar note, Zheng Tiehan, the associate director of Nio Capital, praised Zhao Xiao, a partner at the Beijing head office of Jingtian & Gongcheng, for “never stiffly citing legal terms, but being able to interpret the jargon into language that makes sense to clients, while providing scenario or case-based explanations”.

Practising law is demanding, but sometimes it is just like any other interpersonal profession. Sometimes, the most valuable service a lawyer can provide is simply to be there, consistently, for the client.

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Wang Qing, a senior partner at Lantai Partners, was there at the establishment of Shenzhen Qianhai Yuanming Investment Management in 2016, and has since acted as its regular legal adviser. “Wang has been there for our company from its birth to becoming a leading investor in the healthcare sector,” says Gong Yueyun, a founding partner. “This, without a doubt, has been the best journey that a lawyer and client could undertake together.”

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