For the inaugural China Business Law Awards we went to law firms’ peers and clients to help identify the ones that stood out in 2013. Richard Li reports on the results
China’s legal market is increasingly energetic and competitive. Mergers between firms and the mobility of experienced veterans featured prominently in 2013. New firms sprang up lit with ambition, and new business opportunities bloomed with the further development of legislation and enforcement.
Determining the winners among so many quality law firms has proved a massive challenge. Tough decisions were made according to hundreds of nominations and recommendations received from China-focused in-house counsel and legal professionals from around the world, in combination with other important factors such as landmark deals, cases or other notable achievements.
China Business Law Journal not only considered the most prominent full-service firms, but also those smaller firms whose specialist expertise in niche areas impressed clients and peers.
Clients are in the best position to judge the service of law firms. According to what we hear from them, not surprisingly, the experience and expertise of lawyers is a key ingredient in their choices.
However, it’s equally important for lawyers to have a deep understanding of their clients – the market environment they compete in, the potential risks, the nature of their business, their development path and future ambitions, etc. – and to tailor their service to the varying needs of the numerous clients that approach them. This is a tough challenge involving hard work and good co-ordination skills, but those who succeed in this prove their value and secure their position in China’s competitive legal market.
China Business Law Journal has announced seven law firm of the year awards, one best new law firm award, five winners of equal standing in each domestic practice area award category, and another five in each international practice area category. This design not only reflects the true diversity of talent in the market, but also assists our in-house readers by highlighting an elite group of high-quality law firms for each area of work.
To cover every outstanding performance of every winning firm is not possible, so tough decisions had to be made regarding what highlights to cover. It is necessary to point out here that regardless of this coverage, each winning firm in each category carries the same weight of achievement – and deserves the same level of congratulations.
Law Firm of the Year
King & Wood Mallesons (KWM) is appreciated for its service on capital markets deals over the year. “Their advice has been informative, thorough and practical,” says Michael Wong, a director at Barclays in Hong Kong.The winners of our most prestigious awards are: King & Wood Mallesons, Law Firm of the Year (China); Clifford Chance, Law Firm of the Year (International); Conyers Dill & Pearman, Law Firm of the Year (Offshore); Deacons, Law Firm of the Year (Hong Kong); Jun He Law Offices, Law Firm of the Year (Beijing); AllBright Law Offices, Law Firm of the Year (Shanghai); and Guangda Law Firm, Law Firm of the Year (Guangdong).
KWM advised 21Vianet Group on its RMB1 billion (US$165 million) bond offering, the first dim sum bond offering by a Chinese internet company. The firm also acted for Sino-Forest Corporation in its multi-jurisdictional restructuring, and for bank lenders in their syndicated loan of US$8 billion to China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba.
KWM and SJ Berwin formally launched their alliance on 1 November 2013, making the firm the first global law firm headquartered in Asia. KWM’s capacity of law practice now covers mainland China, Hong Kong, Australia, Europe, the Middle East, the US, etc.
Clifford Chance also won praise for its capital markets practice. “They have clear understanding on what is required in their role as underwriters counsel, and would never put themselves in a difficult situation. Their work is of a high standard and we can at all times feel comfortable that they have covered all aspects of the transactions,” Michael Wong says.
Clifford Chance advised China Southern Power Grid on the China-Vietnam Vinh Tan 1 coal-fired power project, a rare example of foreign-backed build-operate-transfer project licensed by the Vietnamese government.
The firm was also active in the banking and finance area. It acted as legal counsel to the consortium of bank lenders in Focus Media’s delisting from Nasdaq, one of the largest going-private deals by a Chinese company to date.
Conyers Dill & Pearman assisted many international law firms by providing offshore legal input. Robert Ashworth, the Asia managing partner at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, says they normally need Conyers’ advice on takeover of public companies incorporated in Bermuda, Cayman Islands or British Virgin Islands. He says that David Lamb, a partner at Conyers in Hong Kong, “knows public takeover situations very well”.
Conyers acted for NetDragon Websoft in Baidu’s US$1.9 billion acquisition of 91 Wireless from NetDragon and other shareholders. This is said to be the first time that a Hong Kong-listed Cayman company has used statutory merger provisions to effect a takeover.
Conyers’ Hong Kong-based partner Piers Alexander “has been in Hong Kong for many years and understands the Asian hedge fund market”, says Jeremy Lam, a Hong Kong-based partner at Deacons.
In terms of Deacons, “when it comes to Hong Kong laws in tax, property and real estate financing, Deacons is clearly the leading firm in terms of knowledge and experience,” says a senior in-house counsel at an international bank in Hong Kong. “Also, they cornered the market for local funds formation/authorisation.”
Deacons advised the joint lead managers and joint bookrunners as to Hong Kong laws on the RMB3 billion in bonds due 2015 issued by the PRC Ministry of Finance. This marked the first time that retail investors had been able to apply for such bonds through Hong Kong Securities Clearing Company and securities brokers.
Deacons also advised the issuing and lodging agent as to Hong Kong laws on the RMB5 billion in bonds due 2016 and the RMB2 billion in bonds due 2018 issued by the Ministry of Finance.
Jun He Law Offices impressed the market with its dispute resolution practice. “[The firm has] a solid team which gives thorough and unbiased opinion,” says Patrick Chan, senior regional counsel, Asia-Pacific, with a German-headquartered multinational chemical company.
The firm is also praised for its intellectual property (IP) practice. Bai Tao and Paul Schmidt, a partner and counsel, respectively, at Jun He in Beijing, were recommended for IP and general commercial matters by one of their clients, an associate general counsel from a global manufacturer of personal computer accessories.
In the capital markets area, Jun He advised the underwriters for the H-share listing and global offering made by People’s Insurance Company (Group) China in Hong Kong. The number of investment banks and cornerstone investors involved broke the global record.
AllBright Law Offices represented the whole Chinese photovoltaic industry in the anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigations launched by the EU against Chinese photovoltaic products. The proposed anti-dumping duties would have caused a serious problem for Chinese solar panel manufacturers if imposed. The dispute was finally settled, with EU governments approving an agreement with China that sets a minimum price on the EU’s imports of Chinese solar panels.
AllBright also helped Fosun Group win the right of first refusal to purchase the equity in the joint venture set up for the Shanghai Bund 8-1 Lot, dubbed as the “top land plot of Shanghai”. The Shanghai firm opened its Hong Kong office in November 2013.
Guangda Law Firm advised IPS – a Chinese company providing third-party payment platforms – on restructuring the assets of the company and related companies. The deal involved a possible strategy for foreign investment to enter the third-party payment market. Guangda also advised China Telecom on corporatising its digital music business, a core innovative business of the client. In another transaction, the firm acted for Golden Dragon Development on acquiring Zhongshan Securities. Since 11 sellers were involved in the transaction, efficient negotiations were required to overcome the challenge of acquiring their shareholdings at the same time and price.
Best overall PRC law firms
Fangda Partners is considered by the market to be strong in the private equity area and the technology, media and telecoms (TMT) industry. Fangda advised TPG on the sale of its 100% stake in UT Capital Group to Haitong International Holdings, the first investment in a finance leasing company made by a Chinese securities company. The firm was also involved in the delisting of Focus Media from Nasdaq.
In the construction and real estate area, “[Fangda is] very professional, experienced and able to provide practical recommendations and solutions,” says a Beijing-based counsel from a German multinational electronics conglomerate.
Haiwen & Partners has a well-established capital markets practice. “They have a long history and good quality control,” says Zhou Jiaxing, an executive director in the legal department at China International Capital Corporation (Hong Kong). He adds that there is little variation in the quality standards of the many lawyers at the firm.
Haiwen acted for Sinopec in its US$3.1 billion private H-share placement, one of the largest H-share non-public offerings to date. The firm also participated in some large cross-border M&A deals, such as the US$15.1 billion acquisition of Nexen by China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), in which Haiwen acted for CNOOC.
Zhong Lun Law Firm excelled in the dispute resolution and antitrust areas. In August 2013, Beijing Rainbow Medical Equipment Technology & Trading won the first case involving disputes arising out of vertical monopoly agreements in China. Zhong Lun was the legal counsel for the company.
Zhong Lun also impressed clients with its capital markets practice, due to the firm’s dedication to work and strong problem-solving abilities, says a manager from a Chinese aerospace corporation.
The firm has been included in all the sub-lists in the Candidate List of Law Firms published by the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM), and will provide legal services for the Chinese government regarding overseas investment, trade treaty disputes, trade barriers, etc. The firm opened its New York office in April 2013.
Best overall international law firms for China work
The winners are Baker & McKenzie, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters, and Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom. Baker & McKenzie recently advised China Merchants on acquiring a 49% stake in a French company operating ports in eight countries for €400 million (US$550 million). “I have worked with Baker & McKenzie now on many projects and deals over the past 10 years globally, and I am happy with their global scope and especially with their very tailored services,” says Jared Zerbe, the executive director at China Merchants Holdings in Hong Kong.
Regarding the firm’s banking and finance practice, “Although their derivative team is located in Sydney, their support in HK is good and fees are fair,” says Richard Li, a legal counsel at Dah Sing Bank in Hong Kong.
Baker & McKenzie’s China employment law practice was praised by the head of the legal department from a Hong Kong-based insurance company, who recommends Andreas Lauffs, head of the firm’s employment law group in Hong Kong, and Jonathan Isaacs, a special counsel at the firm in Hong Kong.
Freshfields advised Alibaba as the borrower on a US$8 billion syndicated loan. The firm also represented Dalian Wanda Group, a Chinese property and entertainment conglomerate, in its acquisition of a 92% stake in Sunseeker International, a large luxury yacht maker in the UK, and a significant development site in London’s South Bank.
Freshfields’ competition and antitrust practice left a positive impression to Tim Steinert, general counsel at Alibaba Group in Hong Kong. He praises Michael Han, a Beijing-based partner at Freshfields and the leader of the firm’s antitrust, competition and trade practice in China. “Better than probably anyone, [Han] combines his China AML [anti-monopoly law] knowledge with a strong knowledge of EU and US competition law as well,” Steinert says.
Linklaters’ competition and antitrust work also receives positive feedback from the market. Fay Zhou, a Beijing-based counsel at Linklaters, “is knowledgeable of latest competition law development, while sharp in analysing issues existing in our company,” says William Tan , a Shanghai-based legal counsel at BP China.
The firm is also regarded as having a strong practice for Chinese financial regulatory matters and M&A transactions. “They are a reputable name on the market because of their value-added advice and understanding of challenges,” says the head of China legal affairs from a leading global financial services company.
She continues that Linklaters’ Shanghai-based partner Fang Jian and his team “well understand and are able to address appropriately the legal issues arising from cross-border transactions and foreign financial institutions operating in China”.
Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom made achievements in the TMT area. The firm represented Jiang Nanchun, the chief executive officer of Focus Media, in the privatisation of this large interactive digital media network in China. Skadden also advised 21Vianet Group in the first dim sum bond offering among China’s internet companies.
In the dispute area, the firm recently represented Ping An Bank in a civil forfeiture action in the US. Due to Skadden’s effort, in July 2013, the US judge ordered that the government should return the total of the seized funds to the Chinese bank.
Best law firms for offshore work
Maples and Calder acted as Cayman Islands counsel to Shuanghui International Holdings for its acquisition of Smithfield Foods. Active in the TMT sector, the firm was also involved in Focus Media’s going private from Nasdaq, and a syndicated US$8 billion loan to Alibaba.
Steinert, at Alibaba, says they often approach Maples for Cayman company law matters. He says the firm’s service is “timely, accurate, generally user-friendly”. Greg Knowles and Richard Spooner, a partner and of counsel respectively at Maples in Hong Kong, were recommended by Steinert.
Mourant Ozannes has worked with many leading onshore law firms. The firm’s Hong Kong managing partner is Paul Christopher. Simon Weller, a corporate partner in Freshfields’ Hong Kong office, has worked with Christopher on BVI-related matters. “I’ve found him and his team to be responsive and commercial,” Weller says.
Oliver Hallsworth, the senior legal counsel of Al Khalij Commercial Bank in Doha, says Mourant Ozannes is an all-round service provider. The offshore firm helped the bank launch its debut bond issuance, providing services relating to the set-up of a special purpose vehicle.
Alex Last, a partner at Mourant Ozannes in Hong Kong, “has commercial flair [and] is pragmatic in the advice that he provides, and is attuned to the needs of in-house counsel”, Hallsworth says.
Best new law firm
AnJie Law Firm’s strength in the antitrust and insurance areas has been witnessed by the market. The firm represented Charoen Pokphand Group for the transaction in which HSBC transferred its entire 15.6% stake in Ping An Insurance Company to Charoen Pokphand Group for US$9.4 billion. This is so far one of the largest overseas acquisitions by a Thai company. The firm also helped a PRC insurer invest in the UK market.
On the antitrust side, AnJie worked with Broad & Bright for MediaTek’s US$4 billion acquisition of MStar Semiconductor. The firm helped MediaTek obtain MOFCOM’s conditional clearance on this transaction. This is the fourth “hold-separate” case in China’s merger filing history.
The firm has a strong team of expert lawyers, says a legal counsel at a world leading provider of aerospace products. “In particular, I think they are very outstanding in the antitrust area,” he says, adding that he has a good impression of Zhan Hao, managing partner at AnJie, who is also an antitrust specialist.
Aviation and shipping
PRC firm winners are Hai Tong & Partners, HaoLiWen Partners, Sloma & Co, Wang Jing & Co, and Wintell & Co. International winners are Clyde & Co, Holman Fenwick Willan, Ince & Co, Mayer Brown JSM, and Reed Smith.
Holman Fenwick Willan (HFW) has been advising COSCO Pacific for more than 17 years on litigation and commercial transactions, given the firm’s comprehensive knowledge of the shipping business and understanding of COSCO, says Michelle Hung, general counsel at Cosco Pacific in Hong Kong.
“The team [of HFW Hong Kong office] never failed to provide accurate assessments on the degree of legal risk in any given situation in a timely manner,” Hung adds.
Henry Fung, a partner at HFW in Hong Kong, “demonstrates outstanding efforts of professionalism and always realistically anticipates the possible problems and unexpected events”, Hung says.
Wintell & Co represented a US-based world-leading container leasing company in recovering their assets leased to a Chinese shipping company.
The chairman of the US company says he has high regard for Wintell’s professionalism, pragmatic approach in dealing with issues, and the firm’s endless energy in working around the clock.
HaoLiWen Partners receives positive feedback from Hou Weihong, the managing director of PVA TePla (China) in Beijing. “They provide service promptly, precisely, professionally and friendly,” she says.
Banking and finance
The PRC winners are Fangda Partners, Global Law Offices, Jun He Law Offices, King & Wood Mallesons, and Zhong Lun Law Firm. International winners are Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters, Norton Rose Fulbright and White & Case.
White & Case advised the lender banks and the security agent in the US$8 billion financing to Alibaba. This is believed to be the biggest transaction in Greater China’s bank lending market in the past several years.
White & Case was also involved in the syndicated loan to Fujian Refining & Petrochemical Company for expanding its refining and ethylene project in Quanzhou, Fujian province. In the transaction, the firm advised the Saudi Arabian national oil and natural gas company, Saudi Aramco, also a shareholder of the borrower company.
Zhong Lun Law Firm acted for Yue Xiu Group to acquire the Hong Kong-listed Chong Hing Bank for US$1.5 billion. This cross-border transaction marks the first time that a Hong Kong bank has been acquired by a Chinese non-financial institution.
The PRC winners are Grandall Law Firm, Haiwen & Partners, Jiayuan Law Firm, Jun He Law Offices, and King & Wood Mallesons. International winners are Clifford Chance, Davis Polk & Wardwell, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters, and Shearman & Sterling.
“Jiayuan demonstrated professionalism and efficiency when advising our company on an initial public offering and private placement. They are able to base their advice on rich practice experience in combination with our company’s actual needs,” says Wang Yaofeng, head of legal affairs at a large Chinese electric power group in Beijing.
Zhang Wen, a Beijing-based partner of Jiayuan, “is able to manage and co-ordinate teamwork well and make the best use of time and resources,” Wang says.
“Jiayuan is a great law firm and we worked together on various deals. [The firm is] very professional and diligent. Partner Zhang Wen is particularly outstanding,” says a senior vice president from a global securities company.
Shearman & Sterling is appreciated for its capital markets legal work. “They have consistently provided us with sound and thorough advice,” Michael Wong says.
Shearman & Sterling advised on six mainboard Hong Kong IPOs in 2013, representing five issuers – Fu Shou Yuan, China Pioneer Pharma, Macau Legend, Wuzhou International, Xinchen China Power – and also representing the underwriter for the IPO of Wisdom Holdings Group.
Shearman & Sterling advised underwriters for 500.com’s IPO on the New York Stock Exchange, just one of a surge of US IPOs by Chinese companies.
Competition and antitrust
The PRC winners are AnJie Law Firm, Broad & Bright, King & Wood Mallesons, T&D Associates, and Zhong Lun Law Firm. International winners are Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters, Sidley Austin, and WilmerHale.
T&D Associates and Broad & Bright “have rich experience in communicating with government authorities and understand the concerns of clients deeply,” says Takashi Nakayama, the general manager at Toshiba (China).
Nakayama praises Ren Yong from T&D and Yao Feng from Broad & Bright for their work in the field of antitrust M&A review, investigation and enforcement. “They deeply understand the sense of government authorities to enforce antitrust regulations,” Nakayama says.
Sidley Austin advised Flextronics International in its acquisition of the manufacturing operations of Motorola Mobility in Tianjin, and in assuming the management and operation of Motorola Mobility’s facility in Jaguariuna, Brazil. The firm acted as the client’s co-ordinating antitrust counsel in Chin and other jurisdictions, such as the US and the EU.
Construction and real estate
The PRC winners are City Development Law Firm, Join & High Law Office, Joinway Law Firm, Llinks Law Offices, and Zhong Lun Law Firm. International winners are Deacons, Hogan Lovells, Jones Day, Mayer Brown JSM, and Pinsent Masons.
Jones Day helped Silverstein China establish real estate investment joint ventures in Hong Kong and mainland China. “[Jones Day has] excellent quality control of the documents, timely performance and creative solutions,” says Richard Vogel, the president of Silverstein China in Shanghai. Eileen Penland, the chief financial officer of MIC Industries, is impressed by Jones Day’s efficient response. “I have a great appreciation for how challenging it can be to have tens of clients requiring your attention,” she says. “Jones Day … have been so professional and responsive that I am often left with the impression that I am the only client they serve.”
In terms of Mayer Brown JSM, Barry Mok, the group financial controller of Eton Properties in Hong Kong, says the company usually asks the firm to advise on litigation and land conveyance. “We had good experience for the last 20 years,” Mok says. Thomas So and Patrick Wong, both Hong Kong-based partners at Mayer Brown, are recommended by Mok.
David Yu, a Shanghai partner at Llinks Law Offices, “has a special talent for understanding critical issues and being able to explain them to his clients and counter-parties,” says Kenneth Rhee, the China head of Urban Land Institution.
The PRC winners are Fangda Partners, Jun He Law Offices, King & Wood Mallesons, Tiantong & Partners, and Zhong Lun Law Firm. International winners are Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Herbert Smith Freehills, Hogan Lovells and Winston & Strawn.
Herbert Smith Freehills acted for Grand Pacific Holdings in the Court of Appeal and the Court of Final Appeal proceedings in Hong Kong against Pacific China Holdings, in which the Hong Kong courts confirmed their support for arbitration by highlighting the wide procedural discretion available to arbitral tribunals seated in Hong Kong.
A Shanghai-based legal counsel at an international aerospace products company says he attended many lectures held by the dispute resolution team of Herbert Smith Freehills. “Their dispute resolution partners have rich experience,” he says.
Tiantong & Partners provides service for high-end commercial disputes in China. Its success rate for representing clients in cases with the Supreme People’s Court is over 90%, while more than 30 cases they appeared in have been published by the Supreme Court for guiding the trial work across the country.
Mark Lin, a partner at Hogan Lovells in Hong Kong “is helpful and provides good customer service,” says Richard Li at Dah Sing Bank.
Employment and industrial relations
The PRC winners are Jun He Law Offices, King & Wood Mallesons, Lanbai Law Firm, River Delta Law Firm, and TransAsia Lawyers. International winners are Baker & McKenzie, Mayer Brown JSM, Paul Hastings, Simmons & Simmons, and Troutman Sanders.
Lanbai Law Firm is assisting the China headquarters of a global retail group with investigations into the suspected non-compliant behaviour of some workers in the company.
Managing partner Lu Yin in Shanghai “has profound expertise and good professional skills. Whether in terms of professionalism or personality, you can rarely find such a good lawyer,” says an in-house counsel from a specialty chemicals company.
Troutman Sanders normally handles or supervises all matters for AVX Corporation in China including IP, M&A and employment. “We were exceptionally pleased with the responsiveness and efficiency of Troutman’s work. They have proven their value again and again,” says Evan Slavitt, the vice president for business and legal affairs at AVX.
Meanwhile, Simmons & Simmons provides “timely, practical and commercial advice, with knowledge of latest developments in the [employment] laws and market practices,” says a senior counsel at an international bank in Hong Kong.
Lesli Ligorner and Fiona Loughrey, employment partners at Simmons & Simmons in Shanghai and Hong Kong respectively, are recommended by their clients.
Energy, projects and infrastructure
The PRC winners are Concord & Partners, Grandall Law Firm, Grandway Law Offices, Jun He Law Offices, and Sunshine Law Firm. International winners are Baker & McKenzie, Minter Ellison, Pinsent Masons, Vinson & Elkins, and White & Case.
Wang Biao, the deputy general manager at Beijing Yuhuan Tiandi Project Management, says Sunshine Law Firm helps the company with policy analysis, design of transaction plans and risk management. “[Sunshine] lawyers are professional, hard working and responsive, and have good teamwork,” he says.
In 2013, Sunshine was involved in power generation projects in Zhejiang, Anhui and Jiangxi provinces. The firm has also established a co-operation network with more than 30 foreign law firms.
Wang Jihong joined Grandway Law Offices as the firm’s executive partner in 2013, bringing her team to the firm. She is also deputy director of the Environment, Resource and Energy Law Committee of the All China Lawyers Association.
Thanks in large part to Wang and her team, in the past year the firm was involved in infrastructure investment and financing projects with an accumulated investment value reaching RMB100 billion, including infrastructure projects in the Sino-Japanese-Korean free trade zone in Qingdao, the Fuzhou High-Speed Ring Road’s southeastern section project, and Yunnan’s Jinning-to-Hongta highway project.
The PRC winners are CCPIT Patent and Trademark Law Office, Co-effort Law Firm, Jun He Law Offices, Liu Shen & Associates, and Wan Hui Da. International winners are Baker & McKenzie, China Patent Agent (HK) Ltd., Deacons, Hogan Lovells, and Mayer Brown JSM.
“The lawyers from Co-effort Law Firm are very professional and responsive, delivering world-class legal services,” says Li Li, a legal counsel at Hewlett-Packard in Shanghai. “They can provide a very broad scope of service for all kinds of IP and commercial legal matters for clients.”
Li appreciates You Minjian, a senior partner at Co-effort in Shanghai. “He possesses not only the variety of knowledge in law, but also wonderful expertise and a remarkable leadership ability.”
China Patent Agent (HK) “is a nationwide pioneer and leader with a fully integrated IP team”, says Yan Minya , a patent counsel at Bosch (China) Investment in Shanghai. “CPA provides effective real-world IP solutions for our dynamic business in China.”
The legal service of Mayer Brown JSM was applauded by Frederick Chan, corporate services executive at Towngas in Hong Kong. He often consults the firm for matters such as joint ventures and IP rights. “They are highly efficient and professional and pay attention to the details of every case,” he says. “My experience as a client of this law firm is excellent and I found that the services are value for money.”
Liu Shen & Associates “is quite good at trademark disputes”, says Sean Ke, the Greater China intellectual property and licensing director at NXP Semiconductors in Shanghai. Chen Yuanqing, a senior manager at Lenovo (Beijing), says the firm has broad horizons and is “very professional”.
The PRC winners are AllBright Law Offices, HaoLiWen Partners, Huanzhong & Partners, Jincheng Tongda & Neal, and King & Wood Mallesons. International winners are Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Deacons, Mayer Brown JSM, Steptoe & Johnson, and White & Case.
A world leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment consults HaoLiWen on matters including importation issues and customs inquiries. “They are very experienced in the customs field,” says a legal counsel from the manufacturer.
The counsel says Zhao Deming, the firm’s senior partner, is knowledgeable about customs issues, adding that “Mr Zhao had prior in-house experience and is able to offer practical legal advice that can be readily implemented by our business team”.
Michiel Barendse, vice president at Fokker Elmo in the Netherlands, says his first impression of HaoLiWen is positive. “They are quick responding, knowledgeable and reliable,” he says.
Akin Gump worked directly with the head of international trade for a major aerospace company on matters such as internal investigations on export controls and sanctions. Many of the investigations resulted in voluntary disclosures to the US government and a number of them have been closed by the government without penalties or additional action.
Trade policy lawyers at Akin Gump assisted Liberty Mutual Insurance, an insurance products provider in the US, on market access issues in China. The lawyers worked with the US and other foreign governments to encourage China to open its highly regulated compulsory third-party motor liability insurance market to foreign insurers. Their efforts were a success.
Mergers and acquisitions
The PRC winners are DeHeng Law Offices, Fangda Partners, Jun He Law Offices, King & Wood Mallesons, and Zhong Lun Law Firm. International winners are Baker & McKenzie, Clifford Chance, CMS China, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, and Linklaters.
“CMS is rich in legal resources in EU and pays more attention to the Chinese legal market than other international law firms,” says Richard Wang , general counsel at CIMC Capital in Shenzhen. In one of CIMC’s biggest overseas investment projects, “[CMS] shared their great experience in the joint venture and offshore fields with us”, he says.
Ulrike Glueck, managing partner at CMS China in Shanghai “not only draws from her abundant experience in the support of German investments in China, but is also capable of putting herself in the position of the investor and giving entrepreneurial advice”, says Ulrich Hadding, general counsel with SMA Solar Technology in Kassel, Germany.
Fangda Partners represented Smithfield Foods for the transaction in which Shuanghui International acquired the US-based global leading pork producer for US$7.1 billion.
Private equity and venture capital
The PRC winners are Dacheng Law Offices, Fangda Partners, Global Law Offices, Han Kun Law Offices, and Zhong Lun Law Firm. International winners are Goodwin Procter, K&L Gates, Ropes & Gray, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton, and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett.
Goodwin Procter was involved in the US$206 million Hong Kong IPO of Forgame, one of China’s largest developers of web-based games. The firm represented the private equity investors of Forgame as selling shareholders. The firm also advised multiple investors in a series of equity investments in Xiaomi Corporation, a China-based company that produces Android smartphones.
Chew Shou Zi, executive director at DST Investment in Hong Kong, says he’s very satisfied with Goodwin Procter’s expertise and professionalism surrounding PE deals in China.
K&L Gates’ advice “is usually timely, practical, balanced, well reasoned and insightful”, says a senior counsel from a global producer of nutrition products, who was based in Shanghai until the end of 2013. In 2013, K&L Gates advised a Chinese domestic private company, which is controlled by several offshore private equity funds, on disposing of its investment in a PRC cable TV company. The buyer is a leading state-owned company in the media sector.
Han Kun Law Offices acted as PRC counsel for PPTV, a leading online video platform worldwide, in its sale of stakes to Suning and Hony Capital, a pioneer in China’s PE industry. The deal value was US$420 million.
Restructuring and insolvency
The PRC winners are Fangda Partners, Guantao Law Firm, JunZeJun Law Offices, King & Wood Mallesons, and W&H Law Firm. International winners are Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Hogan Lovells, Mayer Brown JSM, and Tanner De Witt.
The professionalism and risk management capacities of Guantao Law Firm in restructuring transactions have impressed Zhu Zhizhong, the vice president at ChemChina Asset Company in Beijing. “We are a central state-owned company, so we have to comply with both general laws and regulations on state-owned assets,” he says. “Guantao lawyers have rich experience of risk management particularly for the restructuring of state-owned enterprises. We have confidence in [their work].”
A senior counsel of a large commercial real estate company agrees: “Guantao lawyers have strong professional capacity, good attitudes in service and they handle legal affairs efficiently.”
Allen & Overy has been advising the lenders and receivers to a corporate group on recovering the PRC assets transferred away from the group by its ultimate controller after the group defaulted. In support of PRC proceedings against the controller to recover the assets, the firm has applied to the Hong Kong courts for a free-standing freezing injunction against the controller’s assets in Hong Kong. The power of granting such injunctions is relatively new for courts in Hong Kong, so it’s untested in many aspects.
The firm has also been acting for financial institutions on the restructuring of exposure to certain PRC renewable energy companies. These cases have involved the use of novel structuring techniques.
Structured finance and securitisation
The PRC winners are FenXun Partners, Jingtian & Gongcheng, King & Wood Mallesons, SG & Co PRC Lawyers, and Zhong Yin Law Firm. International winners are Ashurst, Clifford Chance, Linklaters, Morrison & Foerster, and Slaughter and May.
In May 2013, FenXun Partners helped its clients successfully establish a special asset management scheme on tunnel engineering build-operate-transfer projects, with Guotai Junan Securities Asset Management as the manager and Shanghai Dalianlu Tunnel Construction and Development as the originator. This was the first corporate asset securitisation scheme approved by the China Securities Regulatory Commission since the promulgation of the Administrative Provisions on the Asset Securitisation Business of Securities Companies.
Fred Chang, the founding partner at FenXun in Beijing, “is extremely knowledgeable on the internal workings of major international banks and provides a very Western, commercial view on application of PRC law to foreign banks,” says an in-house counsel from an international bank in Hong Kong that deals regularly with the China market.
Ashurst advised Chinese institutions on US$2 billion multi-tranche investments in commodities-linked structured notes.
The firm also advised leading global investment banks and securities houses on their investments in the Chinese securities market through qualified foreign institutional investor (QFII) and renminbi qualified foreign institutional investor (RQFII) structures, which also involved derivative arrangements. “The Ashurst team has advised us on complex and innovative derivatives matters,” says the head of China legal affairs from a leading global financial services company. “The China practice [of derivatives and structured finance] is led by Patrick Phua, who is widely recognised in the market for his expertise on derivatives transactions and market developments.”
The PRC winners are Hwuason Lawyers, Jun He Law Offices, King & Wood Mallesons, Run Ming Law Office, and Zhong Lun Law Firm. International winners are Baker & McKenzie, DLA Piper, Garrigues, Gide Loyrette Nouel, and O’Melveny & Myers.
Hwuason Lawyers provided a taxation plan for a RMB3.5 billion equity transfer by a real estate developer in Tianjin, which helped the developer legally save around RMB100 million in tax payments.
The firm also provided advice on tax incentives for a listed Beijing company that engages in clothing design and sales, helping the company save a payment of RMB80 million in corporate income tax.
Technology, media and telecommunications
The PRC winners are Dacheng Law Offices, Fangda Partners, Hylands Law Firm, Llinks Law Offices, and TransAsia Lawyers. International winners are Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Morrison & Foerster, O’Melveny & Myers, Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison, and Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom.
TransAsia Lawyers represented three out of six Chinese internet companies that completed US IPOs in 2013: Autohome, the leading online service platform for automobile consumers; Qunar, the leading search-based travel commerce platform; and LightInTheBox, a global online retail company.
On the inbound side, TransAsia advised Amazon on the launch of its Amazon Web Services cloud computing platform in China, in particular on a multi-partner approach for delivering cloud services in compliance with China’s regulatory requirements.
The firm also advised China Film Group on negotiations with Legendary Entertainment in a transaction to fund development and production of multiple big budget films.
Morrison Foerster played an important role in helping Yihaodian set up a Sino-foreign joint venture in the Shanghai free trade zone in 2013, says Gao Huandong, the vice president and general counsel at Yihaodian in Shanghai.
In this deal, “Morrison & Foerster demonstrated good teamwork by making the full use of its lawyers in the US, Shanghai and Hong Kong offices, and the capacity of different lawyers in different areas they specialise in,” Gao says.
“Thomas Man [a partner at Morrison & Foerster in Beijing] understands both US and Chinese culture and values, and has remarkable business insights.”