Once again the China Business Law Awards have proved enlightening as we took in the views of law firms and clients alike on the best performers for 2014. Leo Long reports on the results
Despite the economic slowdown, the legal market in China has been bursting with activity in the past year, with an evolution in central policy leading reforms large and small. Co-operation among international and domestic law firms has moved to a new level and more legal practitioners than ever have been on the move.
Fiercer competition has also brought with it innovation. Some Chinese firms are seeking alliances, while many of their international counterparts are exiting and consolidating. Before the onset of the Year of the Goat, we witnessed the groundbreaking merger of Dacheng and Dentons, which made headlines around the world.
As some in-house counsel commented to us in the course of our research for the 2014 China Business Law Awards, the best law firms in China now require both an international quality and local expertise.
As with last year’s inaugural awards, it’s been a challenge to pick the best firms in each category from so many outstanding players. After receiving hundreds of nominations and recommendations from in-house counsel and law firms in the legal fraternity, we took on board other significant factors including landmark deals, cases or other eminent achievements to make our choice for the best of the best firms.
Nothing has been more rewarding than reading the nominations and positive comments from firms’ clients. In-house counsel have a deep understanding of what the best legal services are: efficiency and expertise, international expertise and local experience, risk management and value enhancement, innovation, price and quality, and so on.
Well recognised firms have strived to tailor their service for companies they served, by giving prompt and useful responses, and overcoming obstacles in complex deals or cases. The chosen ones include not only the best prominent full service law firms, but also those boutique firms well acclaimed by clients and peers in niche areas.
China Business Law Journal has announced seven law firm of the year awards, one best new law firm award, and five winners of equal standing in each China-related practice category, as well as five international winners. This design not only demonstrates the true diversity of talent in the market, but also assists our in-house readers in recognising the fleets of quality law firms in each category.
To cover every outstanding performance of every winning firm is not possible, so tough decisions had to be made. It is necessary to point out that regardless of this coverage, each winning firm in each category carries the same weight of achievement – and deserves the same level of congratulations. In our eyes, they are simply the best.
Law Firm of the Year
The winners of our most prestigious awards are: King & Wood Mallesons (KWM) is widely regarded as a leader among Chinese firms in many aspects. “It is probably the number one in China in respect of comprehensive strengths,” says Xia Shukai, legal manager of Advanced Semiconductor Manufacturing. “One of its advantages is their leading internationalisation; in addition, it has an advantage in its size.”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); Maples and Calder, Law Firm of the Year (Offshore); Deacons, Law Firm of the Year (Hong Kong); Zhong Lun Law Firm, Law Firm of the Year (Beijing); AllBright Law Offices, Law Firm of the Year (Shanghai); Guangda Law Firm, Law Firm of the Year (Guangdong).
In capital markets, KWM advised Alibaba Group on its US$25 billion initial public offering (IPO) on the New York Stock Exchange, the biggest IPO to date. The firm also participated in the Hong Kong IPOs of Bank of China, China Everbright Bank and China Cinda. The firm is also active in other areas.
Clifford Chance is also highly recognised for its capital market performance. Clifford Chance’s practitioners “keep their international quality when customising their services in China,” says Shao Lijun, legal director at Fosun International. “They not only tell you what the laws specify, but also how to solve the problems, and how many solutions they have.”
Clifford Chance advised in several landmark acquisitions: the acquisition of PSA Peugeot Citroen by Dongfeng Motor and the acquisition of Noble Agri by COFCO. It also represented several banks in MMG’s US$7 billion acquisition of Las Bambas.
Maples and Calder has been active in providing offshore legal services to many law firms on multiple going private transactions in the past couple of years. It recently helped Kirkland & Ellis with Cayman law issues in Focus Media’s going private transaction, according to Jesse Sheley, a partner at Kirkland & Ellis. Sheley said he was very satisfied with the firm’s service and expertise, and described partners Greg Knowles and Richard Spooner as “very responsive, knowledgeable and practical”.
Tim Steinert, the general counsel of Alibaba Group, said the firm is Alibaba’s main Caymans counsel on all Caymans matters for all major M&A and securities deals, including Alibaba Group’s investment in Youku Tudou (US$1.22 billion) and its record IPO in NYSE. He also considered the firm’s service and expertise to be “generally, excellent – timely and on point”.
Deacons has advised the independent board committee of Chong Hing Bank as to Hong Kong law in relation to the pre-conditional voluntary cash partial offer by Yuexiu Financial Holdings to acquire up to 75% of the issued share capital of Chong Hing Bank. Deacons acted as Hong Kong counsel to several banks in the issuance of RMB26 billion (US$4.2 billion) sovereign bonds by the PRC Ministry of Finance in Hong Kong.
The firm’s services, especially in intellectual property (IP), are “very efficient, very comprehensive”, says a legal and compliance chief of a leading independent investment bank in China. “Deacons has better creativity, maybe because it is more sensitive to the changes in mainland China,” adds Judy Cui, legal manager at Energizer (China). “The firm possibly knows more about the practice in China, and it is responsive.”
Zhong Lun Law Firm excelled in capital markets and infrastructure. It advised JD.com in its partnership with Tencent and its IPO on NASDAQ. “Zhong Lun has demonstrated big progress these [past] years,” says Angela Li, chief legal counsel at B. Braun Medical. “Its team is energetic and the partners are young. That is what I like.”
AllBright advised in the establishment of the East-West-North Guangdong Revitalisation Fund, the first equity fund set up jointly by provincial platforms and financial SOEs, which became a flagship for the financing of local authorities. The firm also participated in Greenland’s US$1 billion bond offering, the first bond deal using the cross-border guarantee structure after the PRC cross-border guarantee regulations became effective. AllBright teams “have a very good system and follow good procedures”, says Lin Youren, a private bank supervisor at China Merchants Bank.
Guangda Law Firm provides legal solutions and services to clients, especially in real estate. It normally acts as legal counsel for local companies including a subsidiary of Guangzhou Port Group, which is the biggest port operator in Southern China, by providing full legal services in real estate development, construction, sales and marketing, investment and operation. The firm also has provided services for subsidiaries of Guangzhou Iron & Steel Enterprise Group in projects including the establishment of a big steel logistics base in Guangzhou.
Best overall PRC law firms
The winners are Dacheng Law Offices, Fangda Partners, Jun He represented Carlsberg Group in its acquisition of Chongqing Brewery. The deal was the first foreign strategic investment in the market implemented solely through a partial tender offer. Jun He’s lawyers are “responsive and able to provide detail-oriented services,” says Huang Jie, general counsel at Telstra China.The winners are Dacheng Law Offices, Fangda Partners, Jun He Law Offices, King & Wood Mallesons, and Zhong Lun Law Firm.
Jun He provided assistance in Dongfeng Motors’ equity investment in PSA Peugeot Citroën Group, which was the biggest offshore acquisition by a Chinese auto SOE and the largest Chinese investment into France. Jun He also had a presence in Thermo Fisher’s US$13.6 billion acquisition of Life Technologies, which combined two of the world’s largest companies in the life science and laboratory sector, across more than nine jurisdictions.
Dacheng Law Offices advised Trina Solar when it acquired a 90% stake of Yunnan Metallurgical New Energy, which has been operating Yunnan’s biggest photovoltaic power project. The project will probably become the biggest single solar power station in China. Dacheng’s lawyers give “quick and quality feedback; we can feel the professionalism in their communications and other actions,” says Lin Youren, a private bank supervisor at China Merchants Bank.
Fangda Partners seldom missed a chance to represent in some of the biggest deals that shone in 2014, such as Alibaba’s historical IPO, and Giant Interactive’s go-private. It also advised Alibaba Group in its US$1.22 billion investment in Youku Tudou, which is one of the most high-profile M&A deals for the year.
Best overall international law firms for China work
Baker & McKenzie shone in various sectors in 2014. The firm advised Yue Xiu Enterprises in its takeover of Chong Hing Bank, the first major takeover of a financial institution in Hong Kong by a non-financial institution. In capital markets, the firm also acted in the US$380 million global offering by Poly Culture Group, a leading culture and art enterprise in China that also became the first auction house to be listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (HKEx).
“Generally, it has a very good, strong capacity for international co-ordination,” says Xia Shukai, the legal manager of Advanced Semiconductor Manufacturing. “For our business in the US, Germany and South America, it has very good planning, communication and co-ordination, and has advantages in communications with local authorities.”
Davis Polk showed an active presence in many ground-breaking deals in 2014. The firm advised Tencent on various investments in China, as well as a bond offering that became the largest cross-border tech company debt offering ever from non-Japan Asia. It also advised in Greenland’s bond offering – the first bond offering using the cross-border guarantee structure after PRC cross-border guarantee regulations became effective.
Davis Polk’s lawyers do “a very good job in the drafting and preparation of transaction files and communication with relevant authorities, such as stock exchanges, securities regulatory authorities,” says Jiang Zhixiong, the general manager of the legal affairs department at Intime Retail.
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer assisted at the end of 2013 in completing the IPOs of China Everbright Bank and China Cinda Asset Management, which were the two largest IPOs in Hong Kong that year. The firm also participated in CITIC Group’s Hong Kong IPO, the biggest acquisition in the global market in 2014.
Linklaters advised on the inaugural RMB Formosa bond issuance of the Hong Kong branches of four banks including Bank of Communications, Agricultural Bank of China, Bank of China and China Construction Bank. The issuance was the first RMB securities offering by PRC issuers in Taiwan since 1949. The firm also offered advice in Bank of China’s US$6.5 billion offshore issuance and Hong Kong IPO, which was the first Basel III compliant AT1 capital issuance by a PRC bank.
Best law firms for offshore work
Conyers Dill & Pearman has been engaged by other law firms for commercial transactions where Bermuda or Cayman Islands legal opinion is required, such as for loan transactions, acquisitions and disposal of interest in offshore companies.
“When my client needs thoughtful, creative lawyering, Conyers Dill is a great choice,” says a partner in an international law firm that has worked with Conyers Dill & Pearman for more than 20 years. “An excellent choice, especially for corporate law thinking.”
“Their response time is reasonable and [their] opinions are often appropriate in the circumstances,” adds Siu-Yin Pang, a partner at Cheung Tong & Rosa Solicitors. Pang recommends the firm’s Bernadette Chen because she “normally gives prompt response and explains the relevant issues clearly.” The firm’s David Lamb is also recognised.
Walkers is “the go-to firm for complex Asian structured finance” for Michelle Taylor, a partner at Jones Day’s Hong Kong office. On a recent deal, Walkers provided the key transaction opinions for the firm because Cayman law was crucial to the structure. “Working with the Walkers team makes the deal move more smoothly, and they are always able to address issues in a constructive and thoughtful way,” adds Taylor. Kristen Kwok, Ashley Davies and Andy Randall are recommended by their clients.
Best new law firm
DaHui Lawyers has impressed people by offering legal services to leading domestic and international companies in China, especially in the sectors of technology, media and telecoms (TMT), and mergers and acquisitions (M&A).
In 2014, DaHui advised a China SOE and other investors in the US$5 billion Sino-Mex energy investment project, which marks the largest Chinese investment in the entire Central/Latin America region to date. Involving a wide range of investments in Mexico’s energy industry, the project is also ranked a winning deal by China Business Law Journal for the year. DaHui structured and co-ordinated all relevant legal work with assistance from agents and counsel in three continents and six jurisdictions.
Liu Siying, the CFO of Source Code Capital, said she enjoyed working with the firm. “Although DaHui is a comparatively new and young firm, the services and quality of the DaHui partners and their teams are very impressive – at least as good as, if not better than, some of the established PRC firms,” she says.
Aviation and shipping
The PRC winners are Dacheng Law Offices, Hai Tong & Partners, Sloma & Co, Wang Jing & Co and Wintell & Co. International winners are Holman Fenwick Willan, Ince & Co, Norton Rose Fulbright, Reed Smith, and Stephenson Harwood.
Ince & Co has been recognised for many years for its practice strength in both contentious and non-contentious matters in aviation, energy, shipping, insurance and reinsurance, and international trade and commodities. The firm has provided services to COSCO Group for more than 20 years in various fields, including maritime law, contract law, energy and offshore, and others, according to Song Chunfeng, the managing director of COSCO (Hong Kong) Insurance Brokers. Song adds the company is satisfied with the firm’s services.
Rosita Lau and Gary Wong, two partners at Ince & Co’s Hong Kong office, “are very experienced and have the ability to lead their respective teams to deliver quality outputs for their clients”, comments David Koo, the managing director of The Valles Group.
Wintell & Co provides various legal services but has particular strength in maritime and shipping, insurance, corporate and security. In 2014, the firm provided legal services in the rescue operation of Chinese Antarctic vessel Xue Long, which was trapped after its rescue of another ship. Its lawyers, led by Cai Cunqiang and Mervyn Chen, communicated and co-ordinated with all parties involved, to secure the correct handling of the operation and avoid large losses.
Banking and finance
The PRC winners are Global Law Office, Grandall Law Firm, Jun He Law Offices, King & Wood Mallesons, and Llinks Law Offices. International winners are Allen & Overy, Baker & McKenzie, Clifford Chance, Linklaters, and White & Case.
Llinks Law Offices advised a bank syndicate on trade finance of more than US$1 billion to Tangshan Iron & Steel in October 2014. The syndicated loan was granted to a Hong Kong-based buyer and used by the buyer for the advance payment between the buyer and Tangshan Iron & Steel as supplier. During the deal, the firm offered legal services in documentation, while advising on regulatory issues like cross-border security, issuing legal opinions and assisting in conducting registrations with PRC authorities.
Tong Liping, the chief legal officer of Shanghai Electric Group, describes the firm as “professional, experienced, rigorous and dedicated”. Tong says Yu Weifeng, a partner at the firm’s Shanghai office, impressed with his professionalism.
White & Case advised Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) and Bank of China (BOC) in their syndicated loan worth US$675 million to Fosun International’s subsidiary, in connection with its purchase of the insurance arm of Portuguese-owned Caixa Geral de Depositos, making it the group’s largest transaction out of China.
“White & Case has an experienced research team in US finance regulatory areas and is capable of offering extensive, timely-updated and in-depth legal services,” says Zhu Xinying, the general manager of the legal department at ICBC.
Global Law Office is well recognised by its clients in banking and finance. The lawyers at the firm have “a solid base of expertise,” says Jiang Zhixiong, the general manager of the legal affairs department at Intime Retail.
Global Law Office advised on the offering of US$2 billion worth of medium-term notes by Beijing Infrastructure Investment via an offshore financing platform, which was the first project involving China’s local governmental financing platform for issuing notes through an offshore platform.
The firm also presented the lead manager on the establishment of a US$5 billion medium-term notes programme by Tencent.
The PRC winners are Jia Yuan Law Offices, King & Wood Mallesons, Grandall Law Firm, Grandway Law Offices, and Zhong Lun Law Firm. The international winners are Clifford Chance, Davis Polk & Wardwell, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Sidley Austin, and Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom.
In 2014, Grandway Law Offices provided legal services to 11 companies in their successful IPOs. As of December 2014, it had also helped 34 enterprises to list on the National Equities Exchange and Quotations, commonly known as the New Third Board. Grandway also acted in the non-public offerings of 26 companies and the restructuring projects of 23 listed companies, among others.
Jia Yuan Law Offices represented CITIC Pacific in CITIC Group’s US$37 billion IPO in Hong Kong, which marks the biggest acquisition in global markets and involved the group’s 2,000 subsidiaries in multiple jurisdictions. Jia Yuan also acted as PRC counsel for Chinese controlling shareholders of Xi’an Aircraft International’s Austrian subsidiary, in its acquisition of a composite material manufacturer.
Sidley Austin acted as legal counsel for Guangzhou R&F Properties in its issuance of US$1 billion of high-yield bonds, which was one of the largest high-yield deals in Asia. Sidley worked with other firms to deal with complex legal documentation in multiple jurisdictions, on a tight timetable.
It also participated in the US$800 million high-yield bonds and private placement of Country Garden Holdings, and the landmark Chinese currency high-yield bond offering of RMB575 million by ITNL International. Sidley Austin’s services and expertise are “very thorough, professional and in both English and Chinese,” says George Cowan, a founding Partner of Equis Funds Group.
Competition and antitrust
The PRC winners are AnJie Law Firm, Broad & Bright, Tian Yuan Law Firm, T&D Associates, and Zhong Lun Law Firm. The international winners are Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Jones Day, Mayer Brown JSM, and Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom.
AnJie has grown into one of the best Chinese firms in antitrust and insurance due to its dedication to these fields since its establishment. AnJie acted as PRC counsel to Visteon, helping it to secure its US$265 million acquisition of the auto electronics business of Johnson Controls by tackling uncertainties in various aspects such as antitrust filing.
AnJie’s managing partner, Zhan Hao, was highly recognised for his performance in antitrust by legal counsel. “We can easily see his high quality and standard in this field,” says Angela Li, the chief legal counsel of B. Braun Medical (Shanghai) International Trading. “He has an in-depth understanding.”
Mayer Brown JSM has a team with two decades of experience in antitrust matters, offering the benefits of its China antitrust filing ideas and strong relationships with key competition agencies. Mayer Brown advised in Jinmao’s Hong Kong IPO, which was the first time that a Chinese company completed a spin-off in the form of a listed trust on Hong Kong’s public market. The IPO involved overlapped business between Jinmao and its parent company, and a mechanism was established to avoid competition.
Tian Yuan Law Firm has been outstanding in antitrust and competition at home and abroad. In the high-profile litigation “3Q War”, Tian Yuan represented Tencent in the unprecedented antitrust case in China’s internet domain and helped dismiss the alleged abuse of Tencent’s dominant position in the instant messaging market by Qihoo 360.
Tian Yuan also served as legal counsel for Huawei Technologies in the IDC antitrust investigation involving US$400 million (plus settlement), which was the first case settled by China anti-monopoly enforcement agencies regarding the abuse of dominant market position in the IP sector, and the first antitrust case that applied commitment rules. The case ended up with IDC’s willful reconciliation and settlement with Huawei.
Construction and real estate
The PRC winners are Boss & Young Attorneys at Law, City Development Law Firm, Dacheng Law Offices, Zhong Lun Law Firm, and Zhonglun W&D Law Firm. The international winners are Clifford Chance, Hogan Lovells, Paul Hastings, Pinsent Masons, and WongPartnership.
Dacheng Law Offices assisted Sunshine Insurance Group to acquire Hyde Park Sheraton Hotel in Australia, which marked the first acquisition of an offshore hotel by Chinese insurance enterprises. It also advised Shenzhen Pingan Real Estate on its acquisition of a logistics property project from LaSalle Investment Management, which is one of the world’s largest and most diversified property investment management companies, operating around US$50 billion worth of assets.
Dacheng’s team is “outstanding when providing plans, risk analysis and solutions,” says Wei Dong, a settlement team chief of COSCO Kawasaki. “They offer in-depth research and judgment in respect of the legislation.”
Paul Hastings advised Singapore-based real estate developer Mapletree Investment on a multibillion-dollar joint venture with Oakwood Worldwide that aims to open more than 100 new properties around the world over the next five years. Paul Hastings has also represented Mapletree on a number of its corporate transactional matters in the past few years, including the largest-ever REIT initial public offering in Singapore in 2013.
Zhong Lun Law Firm continues to be a heavyweight in the construction and real estate sector for its exposure in multiple transactions in connection with real estate developers, including the Hong Kong IPO and bond offering of Sunshine 100, the credit-enhanced bonds issuance by Huafa Group’s subsidiary, and Nanjing Sanpower’s acquisition of Nanjing Rich Field Real Estate Development.
Zhonglun W&D has maintained a leading position in real estate and construction. The firm advised for Beijing Capital Land and Shouchuang Chaoyang Real Estates Development in a real estate investment project owned by Beijing Capital Land.
The PRC winners are DeHeng Law Offices, Fangda Partners, Jun He Law Offices, King & Wood Mallesons, and Tiantong & Partners. The international winners are Allen & Overy, Ashurst, Clifford Chance, Deacons, and Herbert Smith Freehills.
Deacons has been engaged on dispute matters by various clients including Bank of China (Hong Kong) Limited. Daisy Tong, who is a Hong Kong partner of Deacons and serves the bank in litigation cases, has been well recognised for her “responsiveness, diligence and attention to detail,” says Keith Mok, assistant general counsel of Bank of China (Hong Kong).
Daisy and her team have “a clear understanding of our needs, an acute commercial sense and an exceptional ability in providing strategic advice, which has proven to be invaluable in ensuring an effective resolution of some of our most complex and difficult cases,” Mok adds.
Deacons also acted for a hotel management company pursuing its claim against a PRC developer in various arbitrations in Hong Kong and Mainland China.
Both Jun He Law Offices and King & Wood Mallesons participated in litigations in connection with the GSKCI commercial bribery case, the first in which a large multinational company was charged in China for commercial bribery. The case also involved the biggest fine amount in this area. Jun He represented GSKCI in the record case to minimise the impact of the case on the company, while King & Wood Mallesons acted for the former chairman of GSKCI, who avoided jail and was deported.
King & Wood Mallesons also represented Wuliangye in a groundbreaking civil compensation lawsuit worth US$49 million, which is regarded as China’s biggest securities civil litigation, the No. 1 case in safeguarding securities rights and the biggest A-share compensation case. In the case, the firm successfully capped the total compensation amount at RMB20 million (US$3.2 million).
Employment and industrial relations
The PRC winners are Jun He Law Offices, Lantai Partners, Laowei Law Firm, River Delta Law Firm, and TransAsia Lawyers. The international winners are Allen & Overy, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, Paul Hastings, Simmons & Simmons, and Winston & Strawn.
Lantai has offered assistance in all legal matters for China State Farms Agribusiness (Group), including corporate governance, employment and labour law. Lantai’s lawyers demonstrate “not only the high standard of legal services but also invaluable critical thinking and responsibility in handling issues regarding social security and state-owned property protection,” says Qi Zhidong, a director at China State Farms Agribusiness (Group).
Two of the firm’s partners, Yang Guang and Yao Xiaomin, come highly recommended by clients. Lantai is “professional and dedicated, with co-operative teamwork, while providing efficient and high-quality services,” says a legal counsel at one of China’s biggest banks.
TransAsia Lawyers has built up an employment law practice of repute. The firm assisted a global semiconductor company in solving a crisis involving 3,400 employees at two plants, avoiding losses of at least RMB250 million and cessation of operations. It also represented a major Asian food and shopping/retail conglomerate in settling an international arbitration that centred around social insurance and housing fund contributions for 12,000 employees across 56 localities in China in the past 10 years.
“I have worked with this firm for over 10 years and have always found their work to be exemplary,” says Shawn Galey, the Vice President of Brambles Asia-Pacific. Isabelle Wan, the firm’s leader of IP & employment law practice, was praised by her clients. “Her experience and knowledge of China labor legislation is basically second to none,” says Siew Beng Low, 3DS’ HR director in China.
Energy, projects and infrastructure
The PRC winners are East Concord & Partners, Grandall Law Firm, Guantao Law Firm, Sunshine Law Firm, and Zhong Lun Law Firm. The international winners are Baker Botts, Herbert Smith Freehills, Jones Day, Morrison & Foerster, and Vinson & Elkins.
Sunshine Law Firm is holding a lead in China with expertise in energy and environment, by offering services in a number of energy projects including a coal-to-gas project and a clean oil production project of Zhejiang Provincial Energy Group, a thermal power risk valuation project of CR Power, and a project of Shanghai Electric Power in Malta to name but a few. The firm also provided legal service for the State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation in its first financing in China’s capital market.
Herbert Smith Freehills served as legal counsel on a debt package of US$7.2 billion secured by an ore project in Western Australia for a consortium formed by Marubeni Corporation, POSCO and China Steel Corporation. The deal is said to be the largest ever mining sector project financing in the world.
Herbert Smith Freehills also advised Huaneng Power, which is the listed unit of China’s biggest power producer, China Huaneng Group, in its acquisition of equity in 10 power plants in China for US$1.19 billion. The firm also advised in Huaneng Power’s HK$3.14 billion (US$405 million) H-share placement.
Zhong Lun Law Firm advised PowerChina Road Bridge Group in various projects including Guangdong Zhongshan-Kaiping Highway project (US$4 billion), one of the biggest investment financing projects in the expressway sector, and the Yunnan Jinning-Hongtaqu Highway BOT concession project (US$1.4 billion), one of the projects that has adopted the new PPP model in China. Wang Jihong was the lead partner in both projects.
The PRC winners are CCPIT Patent and Trademark Law Office, Chang Tsi & Partners, China Patent Agent (HK), Liu Shen & Associates, and Wan Hui Da. The international winners are Baker & McKenzie, Bird & Bird, Deacons, Finnegan, and Wilkinson & Grist.
China Patent Agent (HK), or CPA, has “many good patent attorneys who can provide good quality work in the required timeframe,” recommends an IP attorney at a leading communications technology company, which has enjoyed the firm’s services including drafting applications, office action handling, invalidation and licence registration, among others.
CPA successfully represented a German chemical and pharmaceutical company in an appeal against the ruling of the Patent Reexamination Board (PRB) in an administrative dispute, which demonstrated the first court decision in mainland China that permits amendments to Markush-type claims in the invalidation process. The firm’s Chinese patent attorney, Xiong Yanfeng, was recognised by clients for his “excellent skills in handling invalidation cases”.
Liu Shen & Associates represented France’s leading chemicals producer, Arkema France, as the third party to win in the first instance of the patent invalidation administrative case, which was initiated by Mexichem Amanco against the PRB. In another case, the firm represented GoerTeck in a patent infringement case, where its defendants were ordered to stop infringement and pay damages of RMB37.2 million for economic losses.
Wan Hui Da represented the Absolut Company and Pernod Ricard China (Trading) to file a complaint against “decoded” spirits, which disturbed the sales of Absolut Vodka. The court confirmed the removing of lot codes affects the function of the trademark, after the “decoded spirits” were seized and confiscated by authorities.
Wan Hui Da has “strengths in fundamental jobs such as investigation, on which it does better than other firms,” says Judy Cui, the legal manager of Energizer (China).
The PRC winners are AllBright Law Offices, B&H Associates, Huang Shan & Co, Huanzhong & Partners, and Jincheng Tongda & Neal. The international winners are Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Covington & Burling, Holman Fenwick Willan, Steptoe & Johnson, and Van Bael & Bellis.
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld advised Jiangxi Copper, China’s largest copper producer, on its first overseas acquisition of a 50% equity interest in Nesko Metal. This is the first large-scale investment into the Balkans by a Chinese mining company. The firm also advised on the US$3 billion take-private of Giant Interactive, which was widely reported as the second-largest private-equity backed privatisation of a US-listed Chinese company.
The firm is “able to navigate the various issues that arise,” says Jeffrey Wilson, a Director in Houlihan Lokey’s Hong Kong office. Akin Gump’s Hong Kong partner, Gregory Puff, is well recognised “with in-depth experience in resources-related transactions internationally,” says Danny Wu, the executive director of Newforest. “He is also open-minded and creative in giving us advice and developing strategies in negotiations.”
AllBright advised Zhejiang Anshun Pettechs Fibre in the EU’s anti-subsidy investigation into the Chinese polyester staple fibre trade. The case marked the first time that the EU terminated an anti-subsidy investigation because of meagre subsidies for Chinese enterprises.
In another case, AllBright successfully assisted Huading Nylon in its defence in Brazil’s anti-dumping investigation against Chinese nylon filament products, enabling the company to be the only enterprise to obtain zero anti-dumping tax.
Jincheng Tongda & Neal advised Hebei Iron & Steel Group, South Africa’s Industrial Development Corporation and China-Africa Development Fund in the construction of the largest offshore whole-process steel project invested and built by Chinese enterprises. The firm acted as the lead legal counsel to Hebei Iron & Steel Group in its acquisition of the world’s largest steel trade and overall-service provider Duferco International Trading Holding, which marks the first time that a Chinese steel enterprise has acquired a mature international business network.
The firm also assisted the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) in several ongoing anti-subsidy investigations against Chinese photovoltaic products.
Mergers and acquisitions
The PRC winners are Fangda Partners, Haiwen & Partners, Jingtian & Gongcheng, Jun He Law Offices, and King & Wood Mallesons. The international winners are Clifford Chance, Davis Polk & Wardwell, Linklaters, Sullivan & Cromwell, and Shearman & Sterling.
Shearman & Sterling has mostly been sought out in large M&A projects by clients including Dow Chemical. The firm brings “both international experience or best practice and local knowledge to the table,” says Yvonne Tan, Asia-Pacific managing counsel at Dow Chemical.
Shearman & Sterling also worked with International Finance Corporation (IFC) globally for more than 20 years in multiple institutions and has consistently been its “go to” law firm for counsel. “They have a deep global bench and can seamlessly work on cross-border deals,” says Audrey Yu, chief credit officer of IFC. Both Tan and Yu recommend Andrew Ruff, managing partner at the firm’s Shanghai office. “He is pragmatic, sharp and is a fighter”, says Tan.
Jingtian & Gongcheng advised in the US$3 billion joint acquisition of a 60% stake in Castle Peak Power by CLP and CSG HK. It was the first acquisition of Castle Peak Power in its 47-year history and a significant deal for both Hong Kong and China. The firm also participated in L’Oreal’s acquisition of all issued shares of Hong Kong-listed Magic Holdings International. This move marked L’Oreal’s biggest investment to date in the Chinese beauty market and the biggest acquisition of one of China’s domestic cosmetics brand by foreign investors.
Private equity and venture capital
The PRC winners are Fangda Partners, Global Law Office, Han Kun Law Offices, Han Yi Law Offices, and Jun He Law Offices. The international winners are Allen & Overy, Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft, Clifford Chance, Kirkland & Ellis, and Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison.
Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft was engaged by NetEase Capital in venture capital investment deals, and NetEase managing partner Benjamin Ha describes the firm’s lawyers as “knowledgeable in various legal aspects of venture capital transactions”.
Cadwalader also helped All-Stars Investment to handle a recent financing round of China’s leading internet phone provider, Xiaomi Corporation, and the subscription of Series E preferred equity of Didi Taxi, the first company developing a taxi ordering system with mobile internet technology. “The team is always extremely responsive and is able to adhere to a very demanding timetable of the transaction amidst the complexity of the deal,” says Esther Woo, chief operating officer at All-Stars Investment.
Both Ha and Woo recommend Rocky Lee, the firm’s Asia managing partner, “not only because of his sound legal advice, but also because of his business acumen and negotiation suggestions,” says Ha.
Han Kun Law Offices, among the first Chinese law firms offering services in private equity investment and relevant business, has acted for funds and companies including Sequoia, Qiming Venture and IDG. Han Kun says it completes more than 100 investment and finance private equity funds every year.
In TutorGroup’s subscription of Series B preferred equity, Han Kun worked with Cadwalader, Fangda Partners and other firms. They overcame complicated challenges caused by the heavy restriction on foreign investment in the operation of China’s internet platforms.
Kirkland & Ellis co-operated with offshore firm Mourant Ozannes in the second private equity fund (US$550 million) of Vision Knight Capital, making the deal one of the fastest financings accomplished in Asia. The deal was completed in less than three months, and it involved complex procedures among some major investors.
Restructuring and insolvency
The PRC winners are Fangda Partners, King & Wood Mallesons, W&H Law Firm, Zhong Yin Lawyer, and Zhongzi Law Office. The international winners are Baker & McKenzie, Eversheds, Tanner De Witt, Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz, and Watson Farley & Williams.
Fangda Partners advised in Giant Interactive’s US$3 billion take-private transaction, where Giant Interactive used a variable interest entity (VIE) structure to go public in the US, and also adopted a creative restructuring process to simplify the shareholding structure of the VIE.
Fangda Partners also participated in Trina Solar’s offering of US$150 million convertible senior notes, which involved Trina Solar’s new subsidiaries and restructured companies and the compliance of its restructuring and investment matters, and significant operation contracts and loan guarantees within Trina Solar’s structure.
King & Wood Mallesons supported the reorganisation, acquisition and financing for New Century Real Estate Investment Trust, the first hotel REIT in China, on its acquisition of the Songjiang New Century Grand Hotel Shanghai. The firm also advised Shenzhen-listed Beihai Port on its major assets restructuring for integration of three ports to be listed, resulting in the port attaining top ranking among listed port companies. The firm has also assisted in equity restructuring and listing of various companies including Neway Valve, China’s biggest producer and exporter of industrial valves.
Zhong Yin Lawyer assisted several industrial companies in their successful listings on the National Equities Exchange and Quotations by offering services in restructuring, reorganisation, equity interest adjustment and corporate governance. It also advised an SOE on acquiring overseas mining assets and recommended the structure for establishing offshore companies in Hong Kong and Luxembourg.
Structured finance and securitisation
The PRC winners are Fenxun Partners, Global Law Office, JunZeJun Law Offices, Zhong Lun Law Firm, and Zhong Yin Lawyer. The international winners are Allen & Overy, Ashurst, Clifford Chance, Goodwin Procter, and McDermott Will & Emery.
Goodwin Procter has been used by leading investment managers for matters including funds, M&A, securities, and structuring matters. The firm provided legal services in Alibaba’s record IPO and JD.com’s IPO. In addition, the firm advised Forest City Ratner in its joint venture with Greenland, making it the largest commercial real estate development in the US to get direct backing from a Chinese company. Goodwin Procter’s lawyers are “willing to spend an amount of time in understanding the way we look at issues and the way we think about issues, and as a result they are better able to represent us, when it comes to put the structure together,” says a general counsel in a leading investment firm. Two of the firm’s partners, Yash Rana and Gloria Liu, were recognised for providing “expertise, responsiveness, and hands-on advice”.
Global Law Office advised in the reorganisation of China Crcjh Resources Jinhua’s major assets, which is the first transaction where an offshore red-chip listed company has spun-off its inbound assets and businesses to be listed in A-shares by a back-door listing.
Global offered full legal services for Hony Capital in its subsidiary’s acquisition of Shanghai’s biggest private hospital. It acted as sole legal counsel in the integration project of Xiamen Port, which involved complex structuring in the integration and establishment of several ports among two Hong Kong-listed companies and three PRC-listed companies.
The PRC winners are Hwuason Lawyers, Jun He Law Offices, King & Wood Mallesons, Llinks Law Offices, and Zhong Lun Law Firm. The international winners are CMS China, DLA Piper, Garrigues, Gide Loyrette Nouel, and PricewaterhouseCoopers Legal.
CMS China has provided services including complicated legal and tax due diligence to various companies, especially some major European industrial companies that acquired Chinese companies or set up joint ventures in China. In 2014, the firm advised Schwing, a major European construction machinery company, in its acquisition of a joint venture by a large Chinese construction machinery company and a foreign investor.
Hwuason Lawyers has been almost a synonym for China’s leading tax practice. It advised Beijing Tongrentang in comprehensive tax planning regarding hi-tech enterprise recognition and supply chain tax optimisation, which enabled the company to save tax of more than RMB70 million (US$11.2 million) every year. In another case, Hwuason advised an individual in equity transferring, which helped save millions in tax and offered significant methods for other tax practitioners to better apply tax policies during equity transferring.
Jun He Law Offices is highly praised for its tax services for its clients and the firm’s partners, Julie Cheng and David Liu, have been active in the sector. Jun He has advised several real estate developers wholly owned by Swire Group on sophisticated tax restructuring projects in the property sector, including mergers and acquisitions of real estate companies, tax-free restructuring and related transfer of tax burden. It also advised several Cayman and Luxembourg Funds on the PRC tax implications of funds investments in H share, B share, ADS, and QFII.
Technology, media and telecommunications
The PRC winners are Commerce & Finance Law Offices, DaHui Lawyers, Hylands Law Firm, TransAsia Lawyers, and Zhong Lun Law Firm. The international winners are Baker & McKenzie, Bird & Bird, Loeb & Loeb, Morrison & Foerster, and Paul Weiss.
DaHui has provided PRC regulatory and transaction structure-related advice to leading telecoms operators in acquisitions of providers (in the cloud, IDC and VPN). Dahui lawyers “are able to deliver efficient and practical legal advice”, says a China-based general counsel with an international telecoms operator.
Richard Ma, Brendon Wu and Chris Chen at DaHui are commended by clients. “Richard has provided us with high-quality and timely advice on a variety of complex regulatory issues, particularly in our TMT projects,” says a legal counsel of a leading PE fund. “Not only is he meticulous and thorough, but he’s also adept at keeping his advice both pragmatic and workable.”
TransAsia Lawyers was consulted by Hewlett Packard for advice on strategic initiatives of the company’s move into new market segments such as Cloud, SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS, in China.
The company is satisfied with the TransAsia’s services and expertise, because the lawyers are “knowledgeable about the current market practices and can provide solution oriented advice,” says Shawn Zhao, Greater China general counsel of Hewlett Packard. He also recommended Philip Qu.
Morrison & Foerster advised Softbank in the restructuring of internet giant Alibaba’s financial services business, which was undertaken for the preparation of its IPO and created a company that would be the largest online competitor in the sector in China. The firm also advised Walmart’s global e-commerce division in the establishment of a China foreign-invested telecoms joint venture, the first foreign-invested telecoms enterprise formed in the Shanghai FTZ.