After extensive editorial research, China Business Law Journal has compiled a list of top private practice lawyers for China-related business. Frankie Wang reports

In the face of a constantly shifting commercial and regulatory environment in China, the demand for legal services of many enterprises with commercial activities relating to China are often complex and multi-dimensional. In order to better understand what special qualities make an outstanding commercial lawyer, China Business Law Journal conducted its annual survey and received over 1,000 recommendations from corporate legal counsel, senior officers and legal colleagues, from whom it selected 150 elite lawyers (100 of whom are from Chinese law firms and 50 of whom are from foreign law firms) involved in China business.

From these recommendations it is possible to derive the mien of this group of outstanding Chinese lawyers. They have deep legal knowledge, extensive practical experience, shrewd business thinking, an internationalized vision, effective team co-operation abilities, and, most importantly, a spirit of professional dedication that places their clients first.

We have also noted some foreign lawyers that have been deep-tilling the Chinese market for many years, contributing their strengths to Chinese and foreign enterprises with their professional knowledge and competence.

The practice areas of a significant number of lawyers chosen this year include data protection, blockchain and other such new fields, and many lawyers chosen in past years have also adapted to changes in the international situation by upgrading and expanding their knowledge in industries where they have a hand. Compared to last year, another significant change is the appearance on the list of three lawyers from western China. Located in Chengdu and Chongqing, they highlight the rapid growth of lawyers and law firms in this region.

Many nominators, when recommending the lawyers they respect, recalled numerous details that made them sit up and take note; that separated their choices from the rest. From these, we have selected a few comments in the hope of giving readers a more direct appreciation for the outstanding qualities of these lawyers.

PROFESSIONAL CAPABILITIES

The senior management and legal counsel of numerous tech companies nominated Niu Zhenyu, founding partner, and Zhu Zan, partner, in Beijing of Shihui Partners. “Mr Niu’s extensive experience and professional capabilities in commercial law have resolved many practical issues for us, many of those issues being prospective, helping us to avoid going down wrong roads,” says Shen Liang, CFO of Meiyou Information Technology.

Zhu Zan was also the subject of similar praise for being well-versed in capital market operating methods and the procedures and systems for listing domestically and abroad. “[Zhu’s] professional commitment can provide practical, feasible and economical solutions for his clients,” says Mi Qi, JD.com’s legal counsel.

Zhang Fanquan, legal manager of Candy Group – Jinling Electrical, recommended James Chen, managing partner in Guangzhou of Zhuoxin Law Firm, praising him for safeguarding the enterprise’s interests in its joint ventures, trademark use and material business decision making. “[Chen] is a master of Chinese and foreign laws and regulations, and has employed skillful and solid court expertise to win for us legal actions in the amount of RMB7.8 million [US$1.1 million],” he says.

Wang Yuan, a partner in the Shanghai office of Jia Yuan Law Offices, was recommended by several long-term clients with whom he has worked for around 10 years. They said he quickly responds to questions, thinks like a businessman and has a high degree of sensitivity to policies and regulations. “[Wang] has always personally addressed and rapidly responded to our urgent questions, many times responding at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning,” says a senior officer of an investment company in Shanghai. “Wang has also, on numerous occasions, participated with us or represented us in participating in commercial negotiations. His commercial negotiation experience, negotiating skills and professionalism are admirable and his results extremely good, with the other party in the negotiations even expressing their satisfaction on some occasions.”

Kevin Cai, a senior partner in the Beijing office of Dentons, has extensive knowledge and experience, is conscientious and meticulous in his work, and has superior communication skills, according to a number of companies and chambers of commerce. “[Cai] has the ability to simplify complex legal issues, and to further refine simple legal issues,” says the legal counsel of one foreign chamber of commerce.

Business thinking is also manifested in due care for client developments. One client’s assessment of Liu Yan, a member of the management committee and partner in the Beijing office of Tian Yuan Law Firm, is that she is extremely well versed in the state of financial regulation and capital markets in China. “She closely follows the newest developments of the company at all times, always promptly responds when required by the company, and provides very professional legal opinions,” says Zheng Tong, director and board secretary of Drinda Automotive Trim.

Enterprises such as Qihoo Technology, Bank of China and China Minmetals Corporation praised Zhu Ning, managing partner in Beijing of Chance Bridge Partners. Bi Liyan, deputy department chief of the legal department of Minmetals, says Zhu Ning “communicates fluently with clients and actively provides vocational training and other such high-quality, value-added services”.

Wan Xing, partner in the Beijing office of DaHui Lawyers, was lauded by clients for sound basic skills, an outstanding ability to handle complex issues, and a spirit of service that places the client first. “We are very satisfied with the services he has provided, giving us a feeling as if we were his only client,” adds the legal counsel of a technology company.

Zhang Xinyang, senior partner in the Beijing office of Commerce & Finance Law Offices, is adept at handling cases relating to internet companies and Hong Kong listings, being responsible for such projects this year as the Hong Kong listing of China Renaissance. He was hailed by clients for his work in venture capital.

“Mr Zhang has very strong self-control, is able to skillfully discern what can be said and saying it, and what cannot be said and keeping silent about it,” says the founder of a tech company. “I feel that this is a crucial consideration when determining whether it is worth entrusting the company’s key trade secrets, and only this kind of lawyer is worth trusting.”

EXPERTS IN THEIR FIELDS

Isabelle Wan, a senior partner at TransAsia Lawyers in Beijing and Hong Kong, received praise from long-term clients for her work involving labour and employment law, and the cases she has dealt with that “exceeded expectations”. “I’m extremely impressed by her in-depth practical knowledge, professional responsibility, articulation, risk assessment and problem-solving skills, which a multinational corporation like ours can totally rely on,” says Estee Tam, the Asia compliance officer with Dassault Systemes (Shanghai) Information Technology.

Philip Qu, senior partner in the Beijing office of TransAsia Lawyers, has been widely acknowledged in the information technology, media and telecommunication sectors. “He does not only cite legal provisions to explain the law, but also brings in the intent of the legislation and what he has learned in various projects,” says Wang Yuan, compliance officer of GM (China) Investment. “His understanding of IT business, including various new types of IT technology and technical principles, far surpasses that of the average colleague in the industry. “[Qu’s] motto has always been to be brief and to the point, rather than long and tedious, making the time and legal fees spent by clients well worth spending.”

In the games industry, Shanda Games’ legal director, Ma Haoguang, nominated Fu Gang, senior partner in the Shanghai office of Co-effort Law Firm. “[Fu] has a profound understanding of the online gaming industry and can creatively design optimal solutions under the existing legal framework to resolve disputes and actual issues encountered by the client in the course of its operations; for example, in our company’s ‘Mir’ authorization dispute, Fu played a key role,” Ma says.

This year, the trend to list in Hong Kong has gathered steam, and numerous lawyers have been praised by their clients for outstanding performances in this field. Jerry Ye, a partner in the Shanghai office of Jingtian & Gongcheng, was widely acknowledged by listed companies, underwriters and sponsors. “Ye provides extremely professional legal services in the finance, investment/financing and capital operation fields, and he also has extensive experience,” says Pei Yue, founding partner of Tiger Rich (Xiamen) Asset Management. “I greatly admire his professional spirit, innovative way of thinking, and his serious approach to being responsible to the client.”

In addition to business sophistication, internationalization is a factor that elite lawyers cannot do without. Senior officers of such companies as State Power Investment Corporation and Country Garden nominated Steve Zhao, a partner in the Shanghai office of Zhong Lun Law Firm for his professional attitude and commitment. Wang Chaofeng, chief executive officer of Best Services International Freight, says Zhao is “well-versed in Chinese and American law, scrupulous in conforming to legal ethics, and taking client value as his guiding principle”.

Philip Wong, a partner from Gallant in Hong Kong, is well known for his deep understanding of the mainland China market, and is nominated by clients and lawyers from both mainland China and Hong Kong. “With his advice and swift efficiency, we can always accomplish the task before deadline and help our clients to obtain the funding for business development,” says Desmond Siu Kin-fai, assistant general manager at Bank of China (Hong Kong) Limited.

Jin Xinghui, a partner in the Shanghai office of Jun He Law Offices, has many years of experience in large Chinese and foreign law firms. Kim Joo, chief legal officer of SK Hynix, says, “he has the ability to provide high-quality legal services in Chinese, English and Korean, and, particularly in his all-round abilities in handling large-scale projects, he demonstrates resourcefulness beyond the ordinary”.

With the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative, an increasing number of Chinese enterprises are targeting Africa to co-operate with local enterprises. Long Yanmei, partner in the Beijing office of Jingtian & Gongcheng, has deep knowledge of the African, particularly the Ghanaian, gold market. Fluent in English and French, she received unanimous praise from the legal departments of a number of mining and energy resource companies. “[Long] is different from the traditional lawyer who just sits in his or her office; she will frequently go to the project site and has an extensive knowledge of the project,” says one client.

RISING STARS

On our list this year are a number of young and up-and-coming lawyers. They surpass the standards of peers of the same age, leaving their clients with a lasting impression. Such clients as Tencent and Ping An gave their nominations to Michelle Zhong, a partner in the Shenzhen office of East & Concord Partners, pointing to her sound basic skills in the law, extensive professional experience, adeptness at responding to the unexpected, and fearlessness in the face of adversity.

The investment manager of a securities company was deeply impressed by her performance on one occasion: “At one bondholders’ meeting, I thought it might need to be postponed due to time constraints, but Ms Zhong completed the relevant work rapidly and accurately, allowing the meeting to smoothly go ahead.”

Eagle Yang Qing, a partner at Zhonghao Law Firm in Chongqing, was broadly praised by clients and lawyers from China, as well as overseas from Southeast Asia, America and Europe. Together with his outstanding oral and writing English skills, he is regarded by one of his clients as among “top lawyers in [China’s] western region”.

“We are very impressed by Yang Qing’s ability to grasp and identify key issues in an unfamiliar legal environment,” says Bach Duong Pham, a special counsel at Duane Morris Vietnam. “We also admire Yang Qing’s broad client base – he has just referred us to another of his clients.”

Another young talent is Huang Mengqi, group partner in Shanghai of DeHeng Law Offices. He was assessed by clients as “having a unique understanding of the financial derivative sector” and being “young, energetic, calm and collected”. The legal counsel of one investment company says, “in [our co-operation in] several cases, we were moved by his spirit of relentlessness and willingness to do specialized research, and it is just this professional attitude of his that allowed us to salvage some not insignificant losses”.

Liu Tao, a partner in the Shanghai office of Commerce & Finance Law Offices, also received numerous letters of praise from clients. Yu Yanhua, chief legal counsel of OPPLE Lighting, lauded him as “the best commercial lawyer I have seen in more than 20 years in the business”.

Gu Daijun, chairman of the board of Aipu Vehicle (China), recalls: “During breaks in a meeting with us, he was constantly communicating on the phone with clients or holding various teleconferences, it was almost as if he were able to toggle from client to client in real time, it was incredible. In the course of more than one year of co-operation with us, whenever I had a question and called him, he would quickly and straightforwardly give me the relevant information and rapidly come to a determination.”

METHODOLOGY

The A-List is based on extensive research conducted by China Business Law Journal. To identify the elite lawyers for the Chinese market, 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 that we have produced 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 winning lawyers and the content has not been independently verified by China Business Law Journal

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