After extensive editorial research, China Business Law Journal has compiled a list of China’s young elite lawyers. Charlie Wu reports
A close look at China’s busy and fiercely competitive legal sector reveals an undercurrent, especially evident in the better firms, where young talent is being carefully selected, trained and motivated.
In 2019, Jingtian & Gongcheng promoted 18 lawyers as partners or counsel, King & Wood Mallesons completed the promotion of 28 partners in its China offices, while Zhong Lun Law Firm promoted a total of 54 lawyers to the partnership.
Reflecting the continual development of China’s economy and society, many young lawyers these days have attained an impressive education and rich international experience. Among them, the stellar few can be promoted to partners within a few short years and truly stand out as stars in the legal market.
Although these lawyers may have less than 20 years of practice, you will have seen them in action helping companies in big-ticket transactions – Qihoo 360 Technology’s A-share backdoor listing, JD Finance’s B round financing, and Alibaba’s debut listing on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange to name a few.
Backed by our experience in covering the Chinese legal market for a decade, China Business Law Journal’s editorial team has carefully evaluated hundreds of recommendations from corporate counsel, senior executives and legal colleagues to compile, for the first time, a list of 30 young elite lawyers as winners of our Rising Stars of the industry.
This list highlights the contributions of these new-generation lawyers to the business law practice and development of corporations. The lawyers listed all have more than 10 years’ industry experience and expertise in fields like M&A, capital markets, intellectual property, etc.
It is worth noting that recognition from corporate counsel was the most significant factor in our selection process. We appreciate that for corporate counsel, the most important criteria for selecting lawyers are business thinking, negotiation ability, affinity, risk perception, and sense of responsibility.
Given the constraints of space, it is difficult to reveal every vital achievement of the winners. Therefore, we chose to highlight some significant achievements of a selection of winners, while recognising that the achievements of all on the list are equally outstanding. We believe that these young elites will be the backbone of the industry in future.
For corporate counsel, the practical capabilities of lawyers are always essential. The Rising Star winners have already achieved marked success in M&A, capital markets, intellectual property, real estate, energy, and other areas.
Teddy Li , a partner at Llinks Law Offices in Shanghai , won appreciation from Stacy Gao, general manager of the compliance and risk management department at Shen Yin & Wan Guo Alternative Investment , because of his expertise in M&A. “Li can give us very positive feedback and answers to any of our inquiries promptly,” she says, adding that she feels more relieved if Li is the lead lawyer of a project.
Grandall Law Firm’s Beijing-based partner, Lin Qing, also specializes in M&A, and worked on the merger of China South Locomotive & Rolling Stock Industry and China Northern Locomotive & Rolling Stock Industry (now CRRC). “Lin has a sharp understanding of clients’ legal needs and can provide high-quality legal services beyond clients’ expectations,” says Chen Xiaoyi, the legal director of CRRC. “She is very trustworthy. She is an outstanding problem solver, and can safeguard the delivery of cross-border transactions.”
Jiang Jingjing, a partner of King & Wood Mallesons in Hong Kong, was recommended by his clients for his work in private funds, and has won his clients’ trust with ”. He represented China Resources Enterprise to establish its first global consumer fund and helped China General Nuclear Power Corporation set up its first European renewable energy fund.
In addition to these areas, the increasing numbers of trademark and patent disputes in recent years have given intellectual property lawyers plenty of opportunities to showcase their capabilities and earn recommendations. Chen Jing , a Beijing-based partner at Commerce & Finance Law Offices , has co-operated with the National Intellectual Property Administration and the Beijing Municipal Intellectual Property Office on the “evaluation of patents’ value ” among other things, and has represented ZTE in patent disputes against corporations like Ericsson and Huawei.
Her outstanding work in the intellectual property area earned her this praise from an in-house counsel at a large Chinese retail group: “Chen has outstanding practice abilities, treats the clients meticulously and responsibly, and fulfils clients’ needs very well. She is an excellent lawyer.”
Accurately assessing legal risks is an essential skill for any lawyer in today’s evolving business environment, but elite lawyers need to provide more than this. Corporate counsel are now asking whether a lawyer can bring extra value, using existing resources, besides just legal services.
“Lawyers not only need to be equipped with professional knowledge, but also business thinking and logic, to provide comprehensive services for the clients,” says Liu Juan, head of the legal department of Shanghai Vanke.
Alex Li , a senior partner and family office senior adviser of AllBright Law Offices in Shanghai, is a good example. He has participated in or led dozens of large-scale real estate projects. Liu Juan says that Li analyses the benefits and risks in practice accurately with an “active and responsible attitude”, and helps clients solve problems quickly.
Some clients not only value lawyers’ commercial awareness, but also their sense of responsibility. Cheryl Luan, associate general counsel of UL (China) Holding , has worked with Wang Zi , a partner in Beijing at Guantao Law Firm , for many years. She says Wang has keen commercial awareness, works meticulously, and has a strong sense of responsibility. Wang has achieved notable success in areas of infrastructure facilities, energy, overseas investment, and has participated in a series of acquisition projects, representing China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation (Sinopec), and Sinochem Oil.
Becoming a problem solver for clients requires that the lawyers fully understand the clients’ business needs, apart from being a thorough professional.
Ye Han, a partner at Merits & Tree Law Offices based in Beijing, is experienced in antitrust and competition, regulatory and compliance, and M&A. He also has excellent industry research and analysis skills in the health industry. Cathy Liu, the vice president of the strategic partnership of iKang Healthcare Group , says Ye is a professional lawyer combing “solid legal knowledge, creative problem-solving skills and an ability to communicate with clients”.
Many of our elite young lawyers also have notable academic skills and achievements. Daniel Ye , a senior partner at Jincheng Tongda & Neal in Shanghai, works as a part-time professor in the School of Law at Nanjing Audit University , and the School of Economics and Management at Anhui Normal University , teaching and lecturing on economic law, finance law, and others. Lu Yaqi, a corporate counsel at China Construction Bank’s Shanghai branch, sees Ye as “very professional, intellectual, detail-oriented and enthusiastic”.
In communication with female lawyers, it is evident that even though gender equality has long been a priority, it is still not easy for women to compete with men. “From the perspectives of clients, female lawyers are often subject to more restrictions, and need to work harder to win the trust of the clients, while often taking care of their families at the same time,” says Li Chaotian, deputy general manager of the compliance department of Generali China Asset Management.
Among the hundreds of recommendations received for young elite lawyers, 11 female lawyers in private practice have made it to the Rising Stars list with their outstanding performances.
Li highly recommends Xie Routing, a partner at Jingtian & Gongcheng based in Beijing, “Xie as a female litigation lawyer, and not only has the aggressive side in professional practice but also is detail-oriented and a logical thinker during court trials. She can provide a clear, organized presentation with trustful advice for clients.”
Apart from problem-solving abilities, empathy is an outstanding quality that an elite lawyer should have. A corporate counsel from a leading real estate corporation speaks highly of Xun Tingting, a partner at Guantao Law Firm’s Beijing office. “Xun can understand the clients’ needs well in practice, with a very nice attitude, and achieve the relevant goals with her best,” says the corporate counsel. “She is experienced in real estate leasing, and can safeguard the clients’ benefits from their perspectives. Both her professionalism and services are among the top.”