After collecting a wide range of market feedback, the editorial team of China Business Law Journal announces The Visionaries in China’s legal market. Winny Zhang reports.
While the world has regained its footing, social dynamics are still in the process of recovery. Against this backdrop, organisations have realised that having skilled commercial lawyers by their side is not merely a luxury but a necessity in today’s volatile business landscape. These legal professionals have played a pivotal role in helping businesses navigate legal minefields, mitigate risks, and make informed decisions to safeguard clients’ interests.
From 2016 to the present, the A-List awards of China Business Law Journal have witnessed an ever-changing Chinese legal market. This period should not be underestimated: the number of lawyers in China reached 677,000 in 2023 — double the number seven years earlier.
In addition to the increase in size, the legal market has become more intricate and diverse. A new generation of legal talent has emerged, and new areas of practice have been created in light of the evolving landscape.
In response to market feedback, we have extended the A-List categories to better reflect the nature of the legal profession. The categories are The Visionaries, The Growth Drivers, and Rising Stars. Together, they make up the A-List to accurately reflect the gradual maturity and development of the market, and to recognise elite lawyers who have assumed different functions and are at different stages of their careers.
The Visionaries acknowledges seasoned lawyers who hold key management positions in their firms and prominent public positions. They are lawyers – excellent ones at that – and they are much more. As founders, managing partners or leading partners of certain practice areas, they face difficulties that far exceed the common legal realm, including but not limited to plotting a course for their law firm’s future growth, enabling it to stand out amid increasingly fierce competition.
Outside the law firms, they take up key positions, legal or otherwise, at lawyers’ associations, trade associations, arbitration institutions and universities, among other platforms, or take part in the drafting or review of laws and regulations, contributing to the overall advancement of the legal sector.
This article focuses on The Visionaries, while the other two categories will be announced in the near future. Stay updated by visiting our website and following our social media channels.
In order to identify the most highly recommended lawyers in the market, we invited Chinese and global in-house counsel, executives, partners from Chinese and international law firms, and legal experts from various industries to nominate their most recognised lawyers of choice.
All lawyers engaged in private practice and involved in China-related matters were automatically eligible for the nomination process. As always, adhering to the principle of neutrality, lawyers were not allowed to nominate themselves or colleagues practising at the same firm.
After receiving thousands of nominations from the marketplace, we sent out invitations to nominated lawyers to submit further personal declarations. The declarations included basic information about the lawyer’s seniority, practice area and position, as well as major transactions and other groundbreaking achievements in the past 12 months.
The final list is the aggregate result of market nominations, candidates’ own submitted supportive information, and independent research conducted by the editorial team. As usual, there is no fee consideration anywhere between being nominated to being included in the A-List.
We would like to share our heartfelt appreciation to all who participated in our market survey, as well as earnest congratulations to all winners.
All of the selected lawyers have earned the trust of clients through their proven legal expertise and visionary insights. They have the strategic thinking and business acumen to present solutions that strike a harmonious balance between legal compliance and commercial viability. It is this track record and comprehensive skill set that earn them the trust and admiration of corporate executives and law firms.
Summit Chen, the Shanghai-based director and senior partner at Dacheng Law Offices, has gained recognition for his superb legal expertise and excellent skills in commercial dispute resolution. Shen Chao, Shanghai Electric High Voltage Industry’s general office director, praises Chen as a “top-tier lawyer” for his outstanding strength in handling cases.
In addition, Xu Qiqi, the director of the legal compliance department of Shanghai Electric Power, holds Chen in high regard, saying: “When our company faces complex challenging legal issues, entrusting them to Chen ensures a ‘clean up’ that is truly admirable.”
Chen’s remarkable legal skills and significant contributions have led to his appointment as a deputy to both the 15th and 16th Shanghai Municipal People’s Congresses. He is also a member of the legal experts pool of the city’s congresses, thus contributing to the local rule of law.
Euclid Vision’s CEO in China, Felix Zheng, nominates Chen Yimin, a Shanghai-based partner at Jingtian & Gongcheng Law Firm. Euclid Vision is an eye treatment devices company headquartered in the US. Zheng commends Chen for his exceptional professional expertise and holistic approach to problem solving for companies.
Chen’s active contribution to governmental agencies in promoting a favourable legal environment is also appreciated.
Yang Fengchun, the section chief of PetroChina Qinghai Oilfield, vividly recalls the dedication of Wei Yongpeng, an executive director at the Xi’an office of V&T Law Firm, during a dispute resolution case for the company.
Wei’s involvement not only protected the client’s immediate rights and interests, but “laid the foundation for the maintenance of PetroChina’s shortlisted bidding system, and provided jurisprudential references to improve such a system, particularly in terms of wind control”, says Yang. This groundbreaking case is the first bidding dispute case for PetroChina.
Taking a forward-looking approach to potential legal issues is also a key element of the senior attorney’s focus. Joy Group, a startup cosmetics company, sought an experienced lawyer to establish a comprehensive tax compliance system and pragmatic tax solutions.
The company’s legal director, Anthony Wang, recommends Bill Ye, a partner at King & Wood Mallesons in Shanghai, describing him as “a highly skilled tax lawyer with a deep understanding of complex transactional tax issues and the ability to provide constructive advice”.
Ye is engaged in the field of taxation and currently serves as a director of the finance and taxation committees of both the China Law Society and the Shanghai Law Society.
In the realm of capital markets, Ronny Chow, a partner and head of the corporate finance practice group at Deacons in Hong Kong, possesses extensive knowledge of Hong Kong’s financial landscape. Cecil Ng, co-head of corporate finance execution and equity capital markets in global banking APAC at BNP Paribas, remarks that Chow, as a member of the Listing Review Committee of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing, is both an expert in capital markets and a mentor to his team, guiding them to become ethical legal professionals and enabling them to uphold Deacons’ reputation as a top-quality player in a world-class financial centre.
“All in all, Chow has contributed not only to the legal profession, but also to the financial sector of our society in a sustainable manner. His impact is prominent to the past, present and future,” says Ng.
Zhou Zhaofeng, China managing partner at the Beijing office of Fieldfisher, is highly regarded by many in-house counsel and executives in the field of antitrust, with Zhang Yi, the legal manager of China Eastern Airlines, describing Zhou as “the number one competition lawyer in the Chinese aviation sector”.
In the constantly shifting form of the global landscape, companies embarking on both outbound and inbound strategies find themselves in need of a guiding hand from exceptional legal professionals.
Ulrike Glueck, the Shanghai-based managing partner at CMS China, has been practising in China for more than 25 years and has played an instrumental role in supporting foreign companies seeking to enter the Chinese market. Polly Zhang, the regional head of legal at German auto parts maker Mahle China, attests to Glueck’s expertise in handling restructuring and M&A for the company during more than a decade.
Richard Nie, general counsel at Schaeffler Greater China, a global automotive and industrial supplier, says: “Glueck’s foreign investment practice is one of uniqueness, and she and her team have extensive theoretical and practical experience, which has garnered widespread recognition and trust from our business and management teams throughout their perennial co-operation.”
Chen Xiangyong, director and managing partner at the Guangzhou and Shanghai offices of Wang Jing & Co, has impressed many maritime-focused in-house counsel. He has made contributions to formulating regulations and policies concerning the limitation of liability for maritime compensation, compensation for oil pollution damages, and the establishment of the civil liability insurance system for oil pollution during the 30th year of implementation of the Maritime Law.
This significant undertaking was spearheaded by the Supreme People’s Court and the Maritime Safety Administration. Additionally, he was a member of the working group responsible for revising the Maritime Law and the Special Maritime Procedure Law.
Charles Qiu, assistant vice president of Skuld, believes that of the handful of prominent legal professionals in shipping litigation in China, “Chen is the only one that actually practises on a daily basis, and certainly the most dedicated one among them”.
Huang Hui, the managing partner at Huang & Huang Co Law Firm headquartered in Guangzhou, also specialises in maritime law and receives praise from Vincent Yang, the claims manager of West P&I Club. “The team leader, Huang Hui, has profound legal expertise, extensive experience, and outstanding ability to analyse and solve problems. He can quickly and clearly articulate the complex legal relationships involved in a case, as well as capture the key issues of case handling,” says Yang.
Currently, Huang serves as the secretary general of the maritime law committee of the All China Lawyers Association, vice president of the Guangdong Transport Law Society, and director of the maritime and aviation law committee of the Guangzhou Lawyers Association.
Understanding the business context in which legal issues arise is crucial for a visionary lawyer. They should possess business acumen to grasp their clients’ goals, objectives and challenges. This allows them to provide legal advice and solutions that align with the clients’ overall business strategies.
Chongqing Development Investment’s chairman, He Zhiming, recommends Du Yuqiao, a partner and deputy director of Baijus Law Firm in Chongqing, praising her exceptional ability to strike the perfect balance between law and business.
He specifically highlights the company’s investment in a listed private enterprise, where Du skilfully designed an investment programme using a combination of private equity funds and securities companies. This innovative approach not only made the investment feasible, but also ensured a safer and more viable exit strategy.
“With a nearly 10-year career as a judge, [Du] understands China’s judicial environment and adjudication standards … She can well integrate judicial adjudication standards, financial innovation concepts, and clients’ business needs,” says He.
Source Code Capital’s legal counsel, Zhu Yanjun, has enlisted the help of Todd Zhao, the founding partner at Yenlex Partners in Beijing, to gain “the upper hand in games with counterparties”. Sun says: “[Zhao] is very strategic, has a clear understanding of the Chinese legal landscape with a commercial mindset, and is very solution-oriented.”
The capital market is a major area where many elite lawyers demonstrate the value of their services. Andrew Zhang, the Beijing-based managing partner at Commerce & Finance Law Offices, has gained the trust of Liang Min, the senior general legal counsel of Calorie Technology, by provision of pre-IPO financing services to the company on multiple occasions.
Calorie Technology, the operator of the online fitness platform Keep, sought Zhang’s guidance to facilitate a business transformation eight years after Keep’s establishment. With Zhang’s leadership, a legal team acted as PRC counsel to assist Keep in achieving its Hong Kong IPO.
“With his excellent commercial sense, Zhang is always able to help us clarify the commercial substance behind complex legal issues, and is our preferred external legal adviser and a valued partner along the way,” says Liang.
Wu Gang, another partner at Commerce & Finance in Beijing, has impressed Zhang Yinyao, the securities representative of Inmyshow Digital, with his exceptional negotiation skills and extensive cross-border experience.
Nicolas Qi, the executive vice president and director of Bona Film Group, further comments: “Most importantly, Wu demonstrates an ability to understand our needs promptly, rigorously and appropriately in a well-balanced manner when it comes to addressing the company’s significant and vital matters.”
Qi adds: “It strikes a balance between regulatory requirements and safeguarding the company’s commercial interests.”
Lawyers well versed in the laws of different jurisdictions can deliver business outcomes aligned with the demands of globalisation. Mike Margolis, the Asia practice chair at Blank Rome in Shanghai, has received unanimous praise from more than a dozen lawyers for his role in bridging the gap between US and Chinese companies investing in each other’s countries.
Wang Zili, the project manager at Great Wall Motor, describes Margolis’ US legal advice as “a confidence booster for more Chinese companies doing business in the US, while also providing a pathway for US companies to invest in China”.
He points out that Margolis’ facilitation of business exchanges between both countries is particularly valuable in today’s business climate.
CONTRIBUTIONS TO LEGAL PROGRESS
One of the most important characteristics of The Visionaries is that, with their innovative thinking and a deep understanding of the law, they push the boundaries of legal interpretation, and participate in and influence precedent cases to address emerging societal needs.
In recent years, there has been an increase in infringement lawsuits filed by long-video platforms against short-form video platforms, specifically over derivative works. Short-form video platform Kuaishou Technology faced this dilemma.
Liu Qian, the company’s general counsel, expresses gratitude for the assistance provided by Zhu Xiaoyu, the Beijing-based managing partner at Be Wu & Associates. Liu highlights the importance of clarifying relationships between stakeholders in such cases, establishing a foundation for the legal profession to handle similar situations in the future.
Zhang Lili, the litigation head at Baidu Online Network Technology, cites Zhu’s involvement in a high-compensation navigation electronic map case’s second trial, commending “his contributions in both winning the case and advancing the legal field”.
Dealing with an initial case is another difficulty.
The lack of an established legal framework and involvement in novel or complex legal issues can make it hard to develop effective legal strategies, as was the case in Wuhan with the first local land-use rights dispute between a commune and a land bidder arising from the renovation of a Chinese-style shantytown.
Tang Xiaomin, the legal manager of Hubei Poly Investments, expresses appreciation for Zhang Dongjing, a senior partner and director at the Wuhan headquarters of Zhongsan Law Firm, for conducting extensive investigations over several months and successfully winning the case for the company.
“The case introduced new ideas to the legal landscape, driving changes and innovation in Wuhan’s ‘urban village’ renovation programme and urban renewal policies,” says Tang.
Steven Yu, the senior partner at Hiways Law Firm in Shanghai, is widely recognised by many in-house counsel for his foreign law, anti-monopoly and anti-dumping practice. Pi Qingfeng, the general manager of the legal department at 3Nod Group, a smart-home product provider, says Yu is an expert in lowering costs and eliminating risk.
Zhou Yukan, the finance manager of the hardwood and flooring mills manufacturer Riverside Plywood, notes Yu’s focus on the cultivation of young lawyers, which has provided a valuable crop of talent for China’s legal industry.
When it comes to foreign law, a visionary lawyer is equipped to effectively compare the legal frameworks between foreign and domestic jurisdictions. This enables them to identify potential gaps, inefficiencies or improvement areas within the legal system.
Eunice Gao, general counsel and chief compliance officer at Volvo Automotive Finance (China), praises He Fang, a partner at JunHe in Beijing, for embodying these qualities.
According to Gao, in addition to providing impeccable legal solutions: “She exhibits an international outlook and leads a team that imparts advanced compliance concepts and foreign expertise to clients in China. This combination of leadership and professional competence sets her apart as a rare lawyer in the field.”
Ye Hanjing, the commercial director of Jiangsu Baoli Aviation Equipment Investment, recommends Jordan Yang, a Beijing-based senior partner at AllBright Law Offices. “He is familiar with the aviation laws and dispute resolution mechanisms of different countries and is able to provide strong support in international aviation matters,” says Ye.
“His outstanding performance and excellent achievements have made significant contributions to the development of our country’s aviation industry. We are confident that his efforts and contributions will propel aviation forward.”
Despite being based in Singapore, Mark Cheng, co-head of Chinese-related investment dispute resolution at Rajah & Tann, has a deep understanding of the Chinese judicial system and cultural background. This allows him to effectively collaborate with local regulators, as affirmed by Yet Kum Meng, the CEO of OUE Healthcare.
“Mark has done a lot in promoting interaction of the legal professions between Singapore, Thailand and China,” says Meng.
“He has been expanding and training his team of lawyers specialising on China files as head of China at Rajah & Tann, and as a result helps to build a China legal talent pool in Singapore.”