Corporate counsel around the region are keeping law firms on their toes with a demand for high quality and affordable legal advice, writes Vandana Chatlani

How much are you willing to pay for a lawyer’s time? For some corporate counsel, spending a large amount is justified if a law firm delivers prompt, precise and comprehensive advice. “We believe price consideration should in no way defeat the quality of the work we look for when we instruct a law firm,” says an in-house counsel with a top state-owned insurance company in China.

Corporate counsel have also started to claw back much of the work they once outsourced, turning to private law practitioners only when absolutely necessary. Many have mastered the art of running a tight ship to manage their legal spending – training lawyers in-house, relying on technology, standardizing templates and documents, and sharpening their negotiation skills if money is to be spent on hiring external lawyers.

This focus on controlling legal budgets has translated into fee pressure and increasing rivalry among domestic and international law firms. Across Asia, firms are looking for new revenue models and ways to stay profitable by offering competitive rates, strengthening practice areas, hiring new talent and opening new offices.

Zhang Zhi, co-founder of V&T Law Firm in Beijing, says the legal services market in China has become “a buyer’s market” due to a substantial rise in the number of legal practitioners and “fierce competition between law firms”.

Jacqueline-Zhao-Marketing-Manager-Merits-&-Tree,-Beijing

Jacqueline Zhao, a marketing manager at Merits & Tree in Beijing, agrees with this assessment, saying China’s legal services market “is becoming increasingly price-sensitive, and most firms have definitely been impacted”. She adds: “Price competition exists all the time and is much more severe than before.”

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