Based on extensive editorial research, China Business Law Journal has compiled a definitive list of the top private practice lawyers for the china market.

Leo Long reports

In August, the huge merger of Uber China with its Chinese peer Didi Chuxing shocked many industry observers. Later, in mid-September, the Postal Savings Bank of China (PSBC) launched the year’s biggest IPO, worth US$7.4 billion, in Hong Kong. Despite its economic slowdown, China keeps surprising the world with its still impressive growth, and, as usual, Chinese lawyers and their foreign counterparts have played an important role in securing the smoothness of these significant deals. Han Kun Law Offices, Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom and Walkers took part in the landmark merger between the two huge ride-hailing service providers, while Clifford Chance, Davis Polk & Wardwell, Haiwen & Partners, and King & Wood Mallesons assisted in the PSBC’s colossal IPO.

Under a volatile regulatory environment, locating the best legal partners to handle significant transactions is a key issue for many in-house counsel or decision-makers in China-related businesses.

So, what does it take to be one of the top lawyers in China-related businesses? To gain a better understanding of the in-house community’s ideas about determining the best lawyers, we sought answers from a large number of legal professionals, mainly experienced in-house counsel.

We found that corporate lawyers are never shy in speaking highly about their helpful advisers. Hundreds of nominations were filed for the A-List and we received many comments. Some lawyers stood out, winning several compliments from various clients and being well regarded as the best among their peers.

Based on this feedback and extensive research about the lawyers, we made some often difficult choices to select our 100 elite and compile them into China Business Law Journal’s first A-List, a definitive list of the country’s top private practice lawyers. From the list, you will find many already notable practitioners, who have handled significant or complex deals for their clients.

For example, Charles Li, the managing partner of Han Kun Law Offices, has impressed clients for “leading his teams in many representative deals in China’s technology, media and telecommunication (TMT) sectors in recent years”. The latest was the US$35 billion tie-up of Uber China and Didi.

Charles Guan, the managing partner of Grandall Law Firm’s Shanghai office, has also been highlighted by clients for advising on some notable deals, especially in the fields of capital markets, merger and acquisition (M&A), and private equity and venture capital (PE/VC). This is exemplified by the US$3 billion going-private of Giant Interactive and its back-door listing, and the RMB20 billion (US$2.95 billion) worth of syndicate loans into SAIC Motor Corporation, led by 12 banks.

“His expertise and professionalism are well recognized by clients and peers,” a managing partner of another big Chinese law firm says.

The best traits of the outstanding lawyers have also been tested through their long-term relationships with clients. Some of these lawyers have represented the same clients for more than two decades.

To reveal their recipe for being trusted by in-house counsel, we will present comments from their clients and peers. Although it is not possible to detail the traits of all the winners, it is necessary to note that each winning lawyer deserves the same level of congratulations.

OUTSTANDING OUTCOMES

Above all, what a lawyer has achieved for their clients is the top reason for them to feel satisfied with the lawyer. Many clients praised Michael Gu, a Beijing-based partner at AnJie Law Firm, for his assistance on anti-monopoly and merger and acquisition issues.

“Our company has paid much attention to compliance issues on anti-trust laws,” says a China-based legal head of a leading Japanese electronics company. “During our co-operation with Michael Gu of AnJie Law Firm, we have received professional legal support from Gu, which is quite helpful in handling our company’s legal affairs.”

Clients praise Xiang Dong, a Beijing-based partner at AllBright Law Offices, for her efforts in securing victories in international trade disputes.

“Ms Xiang is experienced in removing international trade barriers and is skilful at anti-dumping and anti-subsidy litigations against foreign parties,” says a senior manager of a Chinese biochemistry company. “She has a track record of impressive victories in many anti-dumping cases.”

In mid-2015, Xiang successfully assisted a Chinese citric acid company in passing an on-site anti-dumping investigation by Brazilian authorities for price undertaking on citric acid, and she also acted as the legal counsel for a Chinese photovoltaic company, helping it to successfully pass an EU on-site investigation on photovoltaic products.

Clients expressed their gratitude to Chambers Yang, a senior partner based in Dentons’ Shanghai office, for helping them in a crisis. “His professional, efficient and innovative legal service has reliably helped us to overcome difficulties and solve urgent problems,” says a general manager from a restaurant group. “His professional service has made an immeasurable contribution to our company.”

Another general manager from a Shanghai-based technology group remembers that Yang helped them to reverse damages valued at tens of millions or renminbi.

SECTORIAL EXPERTISE

Solid experience also helped differentiate these lawyers from their peers. While there are a few generalists among our laureates, many are specialists and focus on only a few sectors or industries. It has become common that in-house counsel choose one lawyer that is active in a few specific practice areas for their companies, instead of choosing a generalist to guard all of their legal issues.

Sun Hui, a Beijing-based partner of Zhong Lun Law Firm, received compliments for her persistence in practising infrastructure and construction issues. Sun has handled dozens of infrastructure projects involving sewage, bridges, ports, energy and recycling.

“She is familiar with many kinds of infrastructure models such as public-private partnership [PPP], engineering procurement construction (EPC) and energy management contracting [EMC], and all processes of transaction structures,” says a former general counsel of a Chinese investment company focusing on infrastructure projects. “With a good understanding of the needs of all parties, she can offer clients seamless legal services.”

A director from a leading international bank says that Tao Xiuming, a Beijing-based partner from JunZeJun Law Offices, is a “very experienced and respected lawyer with excellent knowledge of derivatives rules and market regulations … relating to derivatives in China”.

Qian Yaozhi, a Shanghai-based partner of King & Wood Mallesons (KWM), is known for his experience in finance and corporate fields. Prior to joining KWM, he worked as the division head of the High People’s Court of Jilin province, involved in the hearing and studying of more than 3,000 cases.

“Qian has acted for many well-known enterprises, at home and abroad, in hundreds of litigation cases and has quite strong judicial judgment and problem-solving skills,” says a legal director with a leading Chinese automobile group.

Tan Jinghui, director of City Development Law Firm’s Beijing office, won similar accolades for his knowledge in the real estate and construction sectors. “Tan has strengths in the development, financing and construction of real estate projects, and relevant litigations and arbitrations,” says her client. “She can combine her theoretical knowledge and practical analysis to find solutions quickly.”

Tan has provided legal services on numerous PPP projects in China, including the nation’s first hospital PPP project.

LOCAL AND INTERNATIONAL KNOW-HOW

A lawyer’s expertise is also reflected by his or her in-depth grasp of either local knowledge or international experience, or perhaps both. This capacity is quite an important ingredient for their clients’ success in local or cross-border transactions. Knowing the Chinese language is also a plus for foreign lawyers offering assistance to clients for China-related deals.

Edward Epstein, the managing partner of Troutman Sanders’ Shanghai office, has been well recognized for his experience in China. He has lived in the country for more than 26 years and his main practice areas include M&A and real estate.

“Mr Epstein is a knowledgeable and responsive lawyer who always understands the needs of the client,” says the general counsel of a leading international electronics manufacturer. “He is able to explain to American companies how best to respond to the special needs and requirements of doing business in China.”

Ulrike Glueck, the managing partner of CMS China’s Shanghai office, is another foreign lawyer with long-time China focus. “Dr Glueck has almost 20 years of practical experience in M&A in China,” says the Asia president for a European management consultancy. “She worked for my company, as well as for my clients, brilliantly and with sustainable success. I recommend her to my clients.”

Michael Cripps, a Shanghai-based partner of Clyde & Co, is also applauded for his local knowledge. “Michael has an unparalleled expertise and deep understanding of China’s insurance market,” remarks a legal head of a Chinese conglomerate. In August 2016, Cripps led a team of lawyers to secure joint-venture co-operation between the company and a global insurer. Cripps is also praised for his professional manner by the client: “He is gentle, cultivated, calm and determined, and plays a key role in helping to secure the smoothness of projects amid fierce negotiations.”

Alex Hsin, a senior partner at Martin Hu & Partners, is “quite familiar with laws in both mainland China and Taiwan, and has acted as our legal counsel in both jurisdictions across the Taiwan Strait”, says a vice president of a leading game provider based in Taiwan. “He has also represented us in some arbitration cases to safeguard our company’s rights and interests.” The client says Hsin also helped the company to design the best transaction structure for their M&A transactions.

BUSINESS-MINDED

Theoretical legal knowledge is not enough for the successful practising lawyer. Corporate counsel and other decision-makers expect more from lawyers to protect their companies’ rights and interests. Li Chiang Ling, a Hong Kong-based partner at Jones Day, was nominated by her clients as an example of this. “Chiangling is a lawyer that you can always trust because of her dedication, her understanding of clients’ needs, her responsiveness and professionalism,” says the general counsel of an international mobile phone company. “She is not just a legal adviser, but also a business partner.”

Wang Yang, a Beijing-based partner of Guantao Law Firm, was praised for her down-to-earth mindset as well. “Wang can analyse the different needs of clients clearly, and offer the best solutions after considering the resources we have,” says a deputy general manager of a Chinese venture capital company. “During our co-operation with her, she displayed the highest professionalism and effective communication. Based on our complex needs, she gave us comprehensive and practical solutions, which produced satisfactory outcomes.”

Huang Xun, a Shenzhen-based partner at DeHeng Law Offices, won compliments from clients for guarding their rights and interests. “Huang has strong expertise, is good at solving problems, and at his best employing his expertise,” says a legal manager of an automobile company in China. “Meanwhile, he can protect the rights and interests of clients to the best level and secure
win-win results.”

Natasha Xie, a Shanghai-based partner of JunHe, impressed her clients for a skilful combination of legal knowledge and practical accomplishment. She was praised by her client for “having detail-minded client services and being able to consider the interests and rights of clients while handling cases”.

A Hong Kong-based director of an international bank says that Xie “combines good regulatory knowledge and underlying policies driving these regulations in the context of the commercial environment”. The client also thinks highly of her as an “excellent communicator”.

Arthur Ma, a partner at DaHui Lawyers in Beijing, also received recognition for his understanding of clients’ needs. “When representing us in international arbitration cases, Ma considers what clients need and puts forward the most viable and effective litigation solution, and helps to locate appropriate local litigation lawyers,” says the legal supervisor of a Chinese solar panel manufacturer.

Jeckle Chiu, a Hong Kong-based partner at Mayer Brown JSM, is well acknowledged by clients for his flexibility in handling legal issues. “A good communicator, Chiu can understand clients’ needs well and offer flexible strategies,” says a legal manager of a construction contractor based in Hong Kong. “He has abundant knowledge on capital markets and is especially familiar with Hong Kong’s listing rules and company law.”

Yan Guozhe, a Beijing-based partner at Jia Yuan Law Offices, “has abundant expertise in legal and financial fields, strong communication and negotiation abilities, and is able to design satisfactory transaction structures based on clients’ needs, and to help them avoid various investment risks”, says an investment manager of a Chinese construction material group.

Michelle Jin, a partner of PacGate Law Group based in Beijing, was praised for her commercial awareness. “Jin has professional legal knowledge and abundant practical experience,” says a legal head of a leading Chinese investment management company. “She has unique standpoints while providing legal services on capital markets, and can offer the best advice from the viewpoints of clients.”

WORKING ETHICS AND MANNERS

Apart from legal expertise and corporate understanding, satisfactory outcomes usually require good work ethics in handling the legal issues. Many listed lawyers are also considered efficient, client-friendly and responsive, which helps them win favour from their in-house partners.

Yang Yuzhou, a Shanghai-based partner at Dentons, is well recognized for his performance in intellectual property (IP) litigation, especially in patent infringement, trademark disputes and unfair competition domains.

“His innovative thinking and hard-working and effective case management skills add great value for the clients,” says a China-based IP head of an international semiconductor producer. “I regard Yang as a trustworthy partner for in-house legal and IP professionals.”

Clients praised Zhang Liping, a Beijing-based partner of DeHeng Law Offices, for her attitude towards legal advising. “She is an experienced lawyer and always an earnest and responsible lawyer, meticulous and careful, modest and polite, whose communication ability is awesome and brilliant,” says a legal head of a world-leading semiconductor manufacturer. “She kept professional all the time, sustained effective communication, comprehended the intention and will of clients, and ultimately drafted superior practical legal opinions.”

Xie Guanbin, the founding partner of Lifang & Partners, has served a top international software company for many years and won recognition for his service. “I am very impressed by his professionalism and strategies on negotiation and litigation, considerateness for clients, and dedication and care when he and his team provide legal services to our company,” says an executive supervisor of a software company.

SEAMLESS TEAMWORK

Teamwork is another word frequently mentioned by in-house counsel when commenting on the outstanding lawyers in the A-List. In most cases, these lawyers have shown strong leadership when they are responsible for projects.

As a partner from a leading offshore law firm puts it: “For me, one measure of the success of any lawyer is the type and quality of team that lawyer builds over the course of his career.” He thinks highly of Andrew Ostrognai, a Hong Kong-based partner of Debevoise & Plimpton.

“Andrew’s practice would not flourish without the support of a team of first-rate lawyers,” he says. “Andrew has applied the same energy, skill and devotion to recruiting and training a group of dedicated and loyal associates … and my colleagues have worked with the Debevoise team for more than 15 years and testify to their collegiality, reliability, hard work and outstanding legal abilities.”

Clients have mentioned the team led by Fei Ning, the managing partner of Hui Zhong Law Firm based in Beijing. “He and his team members work meticulously and are steadfast,” says a legal head of a world-leading solar panel manufacturer. “They have abundant litigation experience and are good at mining evidence, which can turn a difficult situation around and help us obtain victory.”

RISING STAR

It is also worth noting that some of our laureates are young but already have won considerable achievements in the legal industry.

Stewart Wang, a Shanghai-based partner at DLA Piper, has been described by the deputy general counsel of an American multinational conglomerate as “a rising star with extensive deal experience and deep commercial knowledge of certain industries”. Recently, he advised one of China’s largest online food ordering and delivery platforms in its US$1.25 billion Series F-1 financing from Alibaba.

LÜ Mengyu, a Beijing-based partner at Sidley Austin, also impressed clients and peers with her outstanding growth in professional capabilities. Prior to joining Sidley in 2015, she was already a partner at Kirkland & Ellis after graduating with an LLB and LLM in 2007 and 2008, respectively. “It is very surprising that she is so young and with such massive experience and achievements,” says the managing partner of a leading Chinese law firm.

She also has an amazing track record of participating in some big deals in recent years, advising underwriters in the US$2.3 billion H-share listing of China Huarong Asset Management, and China Railway Signal & Communication Corporation in its US$1.4 billion H-share listing on the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong.

Methodology

The A-List is based on extensive research conducted by China Business Law Journal. To identify the top 100 lawyers for China practice, we turned to thousands of in-house counsel in China and around the world, as well as partners at Chinese and international law firms, and asked them to tell us which lawyers should make the cut.

Nominations were received from professionals at a wide range of Chinese and international companies, law firms and other organizations. The final list reflects the nominations received combined with the China Business Law Journal editorial team’s years of collective experience in documenting and analyzing China’s legal market.

All private practice lawyers for the China market were automatically eligible for inclusion in the nomination process, and there were no fees or any other requirements for entry into that process. The names and photographs of all A-List lawyers are published on the pages that follow.

In addition, each A-List lawyer was given the opportunity to include their biography and contact details, for which a publishing fee was charged.

It is important to note that the compilation of The A-List and the list of recommended practice areas for each A-List lawyer are based solely on independent editorial research, whereas the biographies and contact details that appear alongside many of the listings have been written by the participating lawyers and the content has not been independently verified by China Business Law Journal.