The A-List 2017: China’s top 100 lawyers

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Based on extensive editorial research, China Business Law Journal has compiled a list of top private practice lawyers for China-related business. Richard Li reports

As more quality law firms are springing up, the legal services market for China’s domestic and cross-border business is seeing more competition than ever. At the same time, clients are now paying more attention to their expenditures on external legal services, and expect more from the service providers.

As with last year, to understand the clients’ ideas about what it takes to become an outstanding lawyer in China-related business we sought answers from a large number of professionals, mainly experienced in-house counsel and corporate managers.

Hundreds of nominations were filed for the A-List and we received many comments. Based on this feedback and the editorial team’s own extensive research we made the choices, as difficult as always, to select our 100 elite and compile them into China Business Law Journal’s A-List this year, a list of top private practice lawyers for China-related business. From the list you will find many already notable practitioners who have handled significant or complex deals for their clients.

From the comments of clients we found that, for them to view a lawyer as outstanding, specialized legal expertise is a must, but still not enough. Companies prefer a legal expert with a businessperson’s mindset and the ability to formulate commercially workable solutions. A lawyer with strong interpersonal and negotiating skills can provide the added value that most clients relish.

COMMUNICATION SKILLS

For example, Lü Mengyu, a partner at Sidley Austin in Hong Kong, received compliments on her interpersonal skills and a deep knowledge of her sector. “I am consistently impressed by Mengyu’s ability to think from a client’s perspective and help other parties involved to understand a transaction from this viewpoint,” says a director from a securities company.

“Her interpersonal skills have brought banks and clients together, resolving conflicts that might otherwise have seen a deal fail. She is particularly skilled at acting as an intermediary for bank syndicates and advising companies who sometimes make unusual requests because of a lack of familiarity with Hong Kong capital markets.”

Simon Tsi, the managing and founding partner of Chang Tsi & Partners, has “a wealth of life and practising experience”, says a client. “In particular, he showcased his irreplaceable capabilities in the communication and co-ordination with judicial authorities and national ministries.”

According to a general manager from a real estate company, Nafisa Nihmat, a partner at Dentons in Shanghai, is “meticulous”, and good at communication. “Through effective communication, she is able to think in terms of the client’s commercial arrangements and management decisions and accurately grasp the needs of the clients, and then provide high-quality and effective legal opinions and practical solutions.”

The legal chief of a Chinese technology group says Su Wenwei, a partner at DeHeng Law Offices in Beijing, is “the labour law counsel we choose first”. “She not only has a good grasp of the labour regulations and policies, and can apply them with excellent skill, but also has a deep knowledge about corporate human resources management,” says the client. “She could advise our company from both the perspectives of law and human resources management … and shield our company from legal risks in employment by helping us develop labour management systems and procedures.”

COMMITMENT TO CLIENTS

Putting clients first is also important for winning their trust. The general counsel of an international information technology group says that Shu Yujing, a partner at K&L Gates in Beijing, takes an active interest in their business and “keeps abreast of developments, even when she’s not engaged in any particular matter for us”.

The legal department head from a Chinese information technology services company praises Wan Xing, a partner at DaHui Lawyers in Beijing, for his rich experience in litigation and arbitration, with a particular knack for tackling complex legal conundrums. “In quite a number of cases, Wan overcame the difficulty of handling a case in a different place, showing perseverance during a process that often lasted for a few years, and in all the cases he brought emphatic victories to our company, helping us recover a good deal of losses,” says the client.

The legal department head of a lighting technology company recommends Alan Wang, a partner at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in Beijing, because “he is always able to maintain a high level of service quality, and gets involved in everything himself, setting a good example for his peers”.

Henry Fung, the head of Holman Fenwick Willan’s Hong Kong office, “manages to ensure the company is being kept abreast of the status of matters regularly, without having to be asked. He responds promptly to the company’s request at all times,” says his client. “[He] demonstrates outstanding professionalism and always realistically anticipates the possible problems and unexpected events that may occur to the company.”

Eric Chen, a partner at Dentons in Shanghai, “can reply in a timely manner and provide a key solution to our questions about legal issues”, says a compliance head from a global technology company. Another client says Chen “replies to emails in a short period every time, with a serious and active attitude towards his work”.

Chen Yimin, a senior partner at Jia Yuan Law Offices in Shanghai, is a long-term legal counsel for a capital management company. “He always gives a timely response to our demands, providing very professional legal advice”, says a director of the company. “For a fund institution like us, with the total capital scale of more than RMB5 billion [US$757 million] to manage, such services are very welcome and uncommon.”

The general counsel from a cloud technology company has worked with Qi Fang, a partner at Fangda Partners in Beijing, on a couple of intellectual property and antitrust-related matters. “Aside from his in-depth understanding of the legislation and practices in such areas, we were quite impressed by his great attention to detail and always-timely responses,” says the client. “We know that the issue is in the right hands.”

The legal director from a Chinese telecom technology company recommends Xu Ling, the executive partner at Guantao Law Firm in Beijing, saying: “Xu has been able to overcome lots of difficulties and has always been dedicated to serving her clients. Her qualities and activities exemplify the professional spirit of a lawyer.” Xu was also a key member of the legal counsel team representing many of the Chinese families who lost their relatives in the MH370 tragedy to claim compensation.

A senior-level manager from an investment group targeting the Asia market says Jerry Ye, a partner at Jingtian & Gongcheng in Beijing, is their first choice for legal advice and has worked with Ye in many deals. “He behaves very professionally when advising on M&A, legal structures, IPOs and restructurings, as well as in deal negotiations,” says the client. “His team is also very decided to work. They worked overnight several times.”

SPECIALIZATION

But what is perhaps more important is that lawyer have their own practice or industry focuses, given that legal issues and business activities today have become so diversified.

Edward Epstein, the managing partner of Troutman Sanders’ Shanghai office, is “remarkably responsive and thoughtful”, says the general counsel of an international manufacturer of electronic components. “He is able to explain to US-based companies how to understand and deal with the laws in China. He is efficient and very experienced in all aspects of corporate law and practice.”

Dong Chungang, a partner at Jingtian & Gongcheng in Beijing, is an arbitrator “with rich experience in arbitration”, says the senior partner of another leading Chinese law firm. “He is adept at commercial arbitration in particular, having handled a good number of influential cases in the market, and his grasp of relevant legal issues is very accurate.”

Jet Deng, a senior partner at Dentons in Beijing, earns accolades from the legal department head of a multinational producer of electrical products for “his rich experience in handling government matters, and insights to understand what is the best for clients”.

Lisa Chung, a partner at Slaughter and May in Hong Kong, “acquires a sophisticated knowledge of regulatory provisions and applications, which makes her legal advice professional and practical, thereby greatly establishing the trust and confidence of the relationship with clients,” says a general counsel. “She has advanced experience in facilitating M&A deals through excellent techniques in communicating with our company and counterparties.”

Rao Yao, a partner at HHP Attorneys-At-Law in Shanghai, “has been advising multinationals on M&A in China, and also providing comprehensive legal support to their everyday operations”, says the head of a think-tank for corporate legal affairs. “He has also assisted many Chinese companies in completing complicated M&A deals and construction projects in overseas jurisdictions. His professional and efficient legal services have made him widely recognized in the M&A and corporate fields.”

The head of risk control at an investment management company compliments Guo Kejun, a partner at Zhong Lun Law Firm in Beijing, saying he is “very knowledgeable at business related to China’s capital market and private equity investment funds, and demonstrated high professional quality in his services”.

A senior-level manager from a regional trade association in Asia recommends Natasha Xie, a partner at JunHe in Shanghai, saying “she is very knowledgeable about not only the financial regulatory landscape in China but also the issues of foreign financial institutions in China”.

The intellectual property head of a multinational conglomerate praises He Jing, a senior consultant at AnJie Law Firm in Beijing, for being “a strategic adviser”, and highly recommends him “for government lobbying and policy advisory work in China”.

Frank Liu, a partner at Jincheng Tongda & Neal in Shanghai, is said to have “abundant experience in handling the disputes and litigation cases in respect of intellectual property. His professional advices and quality services are highly praised by the clients as always.”

Ma Dongxiao, a partner at Zhong Lun Law Firm in Beijing, “has been very capable to handle intellectual property disputes and technology-related dispute resolution, and is very experienced in the management and protection of enterprises’ intellectual properties,” says the CEO of a video technology company. “He is very detail-oriented, professional and dedicated to his work. We feel reassured as his client.”

The chief legal counsel of a Chinese technology group thinks highly of Huang Jianwen, a partner at King &Wood Mallesons in Beijing. “She specializes in legal issues in the sector of healthcare and pharmaceuticals,” the client says. “She has high professional capabilities and a strong sense of responsibility. She can bring her clients good results and keep positive interactions with the clients.”

A senior investment manager from a Chinese company that provides financial products and services applauds Huang Zaizai, a partner at Tian Yuan Law Firm in Beijing, for “being very professional when it comes to public-private partnership policies, the design of financial structures and the entry of insurance capital into the market,” adding, “he can put forward more feasible proposals based on realities.”

With her knowledge of Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and related listings rules and regulations, Lü Mengyu, a partner at Sidley Austin in Hong Kong, “has helped to iron out misunderstandings and ensure that transactions run smoothly”, says the client. “She also stands out from many of her peers due to her in-depth understanding of the differing legal structures that apply to SOEs and private companies.”

The legal compliance head of a Chinese financial technology company recommends Yang Tiecheng, a partner at Clifford Chance in Beijing. “Tiecheng has advised on certain PRC regulatory issues,” says the client. “He has great knowledge and experience of the PRC regulations and practice, and is able to help clients find commercially practical solutions.”

PROBLEM SOLVER

One of the real tests for a fine lawyer is their ability to help clients solve problems that require the overall application of the legal counsel’s knowledge, experience and creativity.

Lü Haibo, the founding partner of Sunland Law Firm in Beijing, is said to be able to provide assistance well beyond pure legal services. “Based on his past experience as a senior corporate manager, and his experience serving many start-ups, he was like a mentor of entrepreneurship, providing us with many valuable suggestions and strong support regarding equity structures, business models, financial systems and the mindset as a partner,” says the CEO of a private education institution. “When we come across big issues, Mr Lü can help us work out legal solutions from a corporate strategic perspective, far-sighted as well as down-to-earth. Young entrepreneurs need such a mentor-like lawyer indeed.”

Chen Bi, a partner at MinterEllison in Beijing, is “one of the best commercial lawyers I ever met in my career”, says the general counsel of an energy company. “She is business-oriented and can always provide her clients with ‘commercially workable solutions’ from a legal perspective. Her acumen in business makes her outstanding among her peers.”

Charles Li, a partner at Han Kun Law Offices in Beijing, is believed to be “a consummate professional and problem solver” by a senior-level corporate counsel from a smartphone app operator. “I have dealt with many PRC lawyers who will recite the law back at you, but Charles understands the need for professional and risk analysis, and is at the cutting edge of technology transactions in the PRC.” Another client praises Li as the “best M&A lawyer” and “a true deal maker”, who “immediately identifies the issues and simultaneously provides pragmatic and elegant solutions.”

The legal compliance director of a clearing centre thinks highly of Wang Pengfei, a senior partner at DHH Law Firm in Shanghai, because “he is able to think from the client’s angle and acquire a deep knowledge of the features of the whole commercial project, rather than just providing some superficial and ambiguous legal advice. More importantly, Wang always try his best to address the needs of the clients, whether in terms of time commitment or work intensity, helping the clients to eliminate their potential problems.”

Alex Hsin, the senior partner of MHP Law Firm in Shanghai and the managing partner of Guoju Law Firm in Taipei, “is familiar with the commercial culture and legal structures in both Chinese mainland and Taiwan,” says his client, a head of corporate legal affairs. In a transaction this year, “in addition to the essential legal work, he also represented us to directly handle the commercial negotiations with the counterparty and achieved very good results, which shows Hsin’s integrated knowledge of both commercial and legal issues.”

Ma Chen, a partner at Han Kun Law Offices in Beijing, is “a problem solver who brings deep expertise, practical reasoning and sound advice to every transaction,” says a senior-level global legal counsel from a mobile app provider. “He knows the ins and outs of the regulatory environment and gives his client comfort and expert advice dealing with complicated issues.”

Ethan Ma, a partner at Orrick in Shanghai, has “both in-house and private practice experience” and “strong business acumen”, says his client.

According to the intellectual property head from a security solution supplier, Li Zhanke, a partner at Global Law Office in Beijing, “has rich practical experience in the field of intellectual property litigation, and based on his profound legal knowledge, he can provide the corporate clients with a series of integrated solutions to intellectual property and unfair competition issues.”

The legal director of a foreign-invested company credits the improvement in his company’s intellectual property protection to Chang Tsi & Partners. In a few litigation cases, Simon Tsi, the firm’s managing and founding partner, “could fully understand our needs,” says the client. “He not only fully considered the legal aspects of the issues, but also took into account our company’s business characteristics, direction of development, and actual needs, working out tailor-made and effective solutions for our company that aim to achieve minimized costs and maximized returns.”

Zhang Xin, a partner at Global Law Office in Beijing, “is very familiar with policies and regulations in the field of banking and finance”, says his client. “He is also able to apply his expertise wisely to provide very innovative solutions for the most high-end and complex financing deals in the market.”

METHODOLOGY

The A-List is based on extensive research conducted by China Business Law Journal. To identify the top 100 lawyers for China practice, we turned to thousands of in-house counsel in China and around the world, as well as partners at Chinese and international law firms, and asked them to tell us which lawyers should make the cut.

Nominations were received from professionals at a wide range of Chinese and international companies, law firms and other organizations. The final list reflects the nominations received combined with the China Business Law Journal editorial team’s years of collective experience in documenting and analyzing China’s legal market.

All private practice lawyers for the China market were automatically eligible for inclusion in the nomination process, and there were no fees or any other requirements for entry into that process. The names and photographs of all A-List lawyers are published on the pages that follow.

In addition, each A-List lawyer was given the opportunity to include their biography and contact details, for which a publishing fee was charged.

It is important to note that while the compilation of the A-List was based solely on independent editorial research, the biographies and contact details that appear alongside many of the listings have been written by the participating lawyers and the content has not been independently verified by China Business Law Journal.