Despite headlines about the slowdown of China’s growth, the country’s GDP grew 6.7% in the second quarter of 2016, thanks partly to continued investment by state-sponsored companies. Meanwhile, the Chinese government’s One Belt, One Road initiative has reaffirmed China’s intention to play key roles in infrastructure projects in those countries targeted by the policy, with particular interest in rail, ports and power. The policy has generated a great increase in Chinese outbound activities, including a significant rise in large PPP projects. Another trend is China’s shift towards growing its service-sector industries.
In the field of antitrust law, the Chinese regulators have been active and the latest draft antitrust policy guidelines have led to an increasing amount of IP-related litigation, an enforcement focus which reflects China’s ongoing concerns about its domestic economic slowdown.
In the private equity sphere, several offshore funds recently completed exits involving Chinese buyers or Chinese listings and, despite economic turbulence, the year saw buoyant levels of Chinese outbound financings, especially in relation to acquisitions.
Other busy areas for the country’s lawyers include compliance and regulatory advice; these practices are growing as a result of the keen regulatory scrutiny on money-laundering and fraud. Consequently, corporations are increasingly ensuring that they have appropriate compliance policies and programmes. Elsewhere, restructuring is an active area for employment lawyers, who have also been assisting employers with hiring strategies.
Fangda Partners, King & Wood Mallesons, JunHe LLP and Zhong Lun Law Firm continue to be the market-leading four full-service firms, closely followed by Global Law Office, Grandall Law Firm, AllBright Law Offices, Han Kun Law Offices, Dentons China and Jincheng Tongda & Neal.
That said, the Chinese legal market is increasingly diverse: 2015 saw the establishment of joint operations between Baker & McKenzie and FenXun Partners in the China (Shanghai) Free Trade Zone; the merger of Dacheng Law Offices, LLP and Dentons China; the association between Mayer Brown JSM and Jingtian & Gongcheng in Hong Kong; and an alliance between McGuireWoods LLP and newly launched Shanghai firm FuJae Partners.
Other key legal market news saw Linklaters endure high-profile departures, including Judie Ng Shortell in Beijing and Hong Kong-based Betty Yap, both of whom moved to Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, while Linklaters’ debt finance partner David Irvine joined Kirkland & Ellis in Hong Kong. At Clifford Chance LLP, former mainland China managing partner Stephen Harder retired from the firm after 20 years and former counsel Paul Wee Ei Don moved to Norton Rose Fulbright as partner.
Elsewhere, Baker Botts L.L.P. hired energy law experts Michael Arruda in Hong Kong and Joanne Du, who splits her time between Hong Kong and Beijing, from Jones Day, while DLA Piper’s Greater China corporate team was expanded with the addition of former O’Melveny lawyers Qiang Li, as co-managing partner of the firm’s mainland China offices, and Stewart Wang in Shanghai. DLA Piper’s own former Beijing corporate head, John Shi, joined Bird & Bird’s Beijing office.
Firms in the spotlight
Founded in 2009, Cathay Associates Kejie is a transactional and litigation law firm within a global network, specialising in advising domestic and international leading companies, financial institutions and governments. At first focussing on mergers and acquisitions, securities issuance and capital markets, venture capital and private equity and corporate and foreign direct investment, in 2015 Kejie expanded its practice area to commercial litigation and arbitration. The number of professionals in Kejie has grown from 10 professionals since its establishment to more than 40 professionals currently.
A full service firm including corporate and M&A practices, HaoLiWen is also renowned for providing legal advice, defense and/or solutions in very specialized areas, which comprise Trade & Customs, Competition, Dispute Resolution, E-commerce, IP Protection, Corporate Defense and Investigations. With fully centralized and integrated offices and a group of partners with experience as judge, arbitrator, or in-house counsel, and/or practitioner with both domestic and international firms and familiarity with legal risks and issues in China market, HaoLiWen provides clients with practical legal solutions to commercial needs, and thus has won recognition and trust from clients.