A reformation of law firms in China is occurring as older traditions fade in an environment of regional and global expansion. New models for legal services are being embraced, but will they work in a contracting global economy? Frankie Wang talks to some of the reform leaders

FORTY YEARS HAVE PASSED since the restoration of Chinese lawyers into its legal system, in 1979. According to statistics disclosed by the Ministry of Justice, at the end of 2018 there were more than 423,000 practising lawyers in China, of whom lawyers aged 30 to 49 accounted for 63.7%. The post-’70s and post-’80s groups that grew up with the reform and opening up of the sector have gradually become the mainstay of the legal services market.

Quite a few of the country’s more prestigious law firms, such as King & Wood Mallesons and JunHe, have completed a management-level handover from old to new in the past 20 years.

Kangda Law Firm, founded more than three decades ago, is another such firm. Lian Yan, senior partner at the Beijing office of Kangda, says its current management committee has gathered leaders from three generations of the old, the middle-aged and the young, with the youngest committee member born after 1980.

While an increasing number of young lawyers are joining well-established firms, many more lawyers have left to set up on their own. As a growing number of Chinese companies follow the “going out” national policy to expand China’s international presence, legal services provided by Chinese law firms are no longer confined to the domestic market.

Landing Law Offices, as opposed to other Chinese firms developing international business from China, built its first office in India, standing as an “international firm” from the beginning.

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