Next Generation Partners

Labour and employment: foreign firms in China

Baker McKenzie FenXun

Baker McKenzie FenXun is the go-to labour firm for many multinational household names. The firm’s joint partnership with FenXun Partners allows it to litigate in China; a key advantage. The team works closely with teams from other practice areas, including tax, pensions and immigration. Jonathan Isaacs‘ specialist areas of knowledge include collective bargaining, data privacy issues and the employment aspects of M&A transactions. He heads the practice and is well supported by Zheng Lu, who has particular expertise in large-scale labour matters such as mass lay-offs and strikes and is noted for her ‘prompt and commercially practical advice‘. The firm’s pro-bono work for the Mekong Club NGO is particularly notable. In this capacity, the practice advises on matters including forced labour and modern slavery.

Practice head(s):

Jonathan Isaacs

Other key lawyers:

Zheng Lu


‘Exceptional quality of service. Commercially astute advice and responsiveness.’

‘Zheng Lu offered prompt and commercially practical advice to address all matters arising. Her team was easy to deal with and highly responsive.’

‘Baker McKenzie has been my trusted advisor for China employment legal matters for several years now. Having them partner with FenXun is a great addition to their offering as it allows a seamless one-stop shop for delivering both China advice and local assistance (e.g. labor arbitration attendance).’

Work highlights

  • Assisted a US online games company with purchase of gaming business from Chinese company.
  • Providing pro-bono assistance to a non-profit NGO – the Mekong Club – advising on all aspects of forced labor, child labor, workplace violence, and modern slavery issues in China.

DLA Piper

DLA Piper‘s ‘functional‘ and ‘client-centric‘ employment law practice comes well recommended by its peers in the market and continues to attract clients, including several businesses requiring advice on matters that encompass multiple jurisdictions. It is also praised for its ‘flexibility and availability despite time zone differences‘ and for its ‘responsiveness and consistency‘. Johnny Choi‘s areas of particular expertise include the contentious removal of company executives, investigations into senior-level corruption and the defence of clients from intellectual property theft by departing employees. Associates Ying Li and Zhou Xu work closely with Choi and together advise on matters from restructuring to international secondments to employee misconduct.

Practice head(s):

Johnny Choi

Other key lawyers:

Zhou Xu; Ying Li


‘The team is well-experienced and provides prompt commercially-sound advice’.

‘Johnny Choi and Ying Li are amazing partners’.

‘The team’s approach is functional and practical.’

‘On the most recent project, we worked with Johnny Choi and Ying Li. Ying Li did the majority of the work. Both are stand-out lawyers. We were particularly pleased with their flexibility and availability, even though the different time zones often meant they were working/on calls late into their evenings and even during their overnight hours.’

‘Overall a great and client-centric team who consistently delivers and provides excellent service’.

‘Johnny Choi is consistently excellent – providing high-quality advice that is relevant and commercial; he has a good understanding of our context and our environment; he is very responsive – treating us like a priority client: his work ethic, commitment and client centricity are superb’.

Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP

Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP offers clients a ‘holistic‘ approach and a service which encompasses every aspect of the employment relationship. The ‘responsive and commercially minded team‘ is noted for its knowledge of the intricacies of Chinese labour law, the market climate and for its ability to respond to new developments in each – in this, highly experienced practice head Lesli Ligorner leads by example. She and her team assist with complex terminations, the implications of supply chain alterations and sanctions, compliance with data protection regulation and handbook updating. Hong Kong-based Charles Mo has an extensive track record of handling employment disputes and has particular expertise in matters involving executives in the finance and securities sectors; Mo works jointly with Ligorner on matters pertaining to China. Todd Liao is a further name to note.

Practice head(s):

Lesli Ligorner

Other key lawyers:

Todd Liao; Charles Mo


‘They provide not only excellent legal advice, but are also very solution-oriented. They provide advice clearly with how to practically apply that advice within the unique aspects of the local environment. They provide very holistic advice. As a General Counsel, I find that to be invaluable. They take client service commitment very seriously. They are always very responsive. They are an excellent team.’

‘Lesli Ligorner is outstanding. She really is unique in how responsive and practical she is with her legal advice, and her availability. As a General Counsel based outside of China, I know that Lesli will give me advice that is relevant and will help me assess and mitigate the legal risk of doing business in China from an employment perspective. I always feel like I am her only client and priority. She is one of the best partners I have ever worked with.’

‘Responsive, commercially-minded team.’

‘Lesli has strong APAC knowledge which is invaluable for our business.’

Key clients

JP Morgan Chase

Gilead Corporation



American Greetings

Bristol Myers Squibb



Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China

Work highlights

  • Advised global life sciences conglomerate on the strategy to defend the legal proceedings fueled by one former senior executive (Executive) for unpaid equity grants (RSUs).
  • Advised a global company that provides technology support on termination of all employees based on the Company’s closure of its entities in PRC.
  • Advised a global beauty care company on the employment and data privacy issues relating to the sale of certain cosmetic brands to a buyer.

Bird & Bird

Bird & Bird‘s Shanghai-based employment team advises multinational companies in the technology, life sciences, financial services and retail sectors as well as large projects in the PRC on a range of non-contentious employment issues, including senior-level contractual negotiations and cross-jurisdictional working arrangements. Ying Wang leads the team in China. She advises on compliance and HR issues and is also experienced in labour arbitration, working concurrently as a part-time arbitrator for the Shanghai Dispute Arbitration Commission. Wang is supported by Lorraine Sun who advises MNCs on matters including overseas secondments and permanent establishment issues. Hong Kong-based Pattie Walsh is another name to note who leads the firm’s overarching Asia Pacific employment practice.

Practice head(s):

Ying Wang; Pattie Walsh

Other key lawyers:

Lorraine Sun


CMS‘ employment and pensions lawyers have long assisted European companies operating in the PRC, providing ‘comprehensive and extensive advice‘. Assisting with matters from whistleblowing and employee misconduct to restructuring and redundancy programmes, it has a comprehensive labour law offering. The team has particular expertise in the manufacturing industry – with other clients hailing from the life sciences, TMT, finance, logistics and further sectors, and is led by the experienced Jeanette Yu. Yu’s expertise includes international secondment, recruitment and the termination of senior executives, government policies, regulatory procedures and compliance, trade union negotiations and employment disputes.

Practice head(s):

Jeanette Yu

Other key lawyers:

Sophy Wang; Ada Hua


‘We started using CMS China with respect to a particular matter that was sensitive for us. We have been impressed by their services and especially their engagement. They are easily reachable and responsive. They are able to react with urgency and commit to short deadlines. We are very satisfied with the fact that they provide very comprehensive and extensive advice. They are very transparent in terms of fees, costs and billing. This makes it easy and pleasant to work with them and we feel safe when they take on our matters.’


Advising regularly on sensitive employment-related matters, Deacons is adept at assisting its clients with navigating the complexities of PRC labour law. PRC Bar qualified Helen Liao advises both Chinese state-funded enterprises and multinational companies across a range of industries including shipping, telecoms and tourism. Liao's key areas of expertise include cross-border employment arrangements, income tax compliance, immigration and more generally, the multi-jurisdictional labour issues arising from global talent mobility. Notably, the firm counts other law firms among its client roster which it advises on high-level terminations.

Other key lawyers:

Helen Liao


‘Everything delivered has been exceptional’.

‘Helen Liao had been most helpful in providing sound and practical legal advice and excellent delivery of works and communications.’

‘The Deacons employment team can undertake both HK and PRC legal work – a rarity in HK.’

Helen Liao is very responsive and knowledgeable.’

Herbert Smith Freehills LLP

Herbert Smith Freehills employment practice has a presence in China through its joint operation Kewei Law Firm. Liaising with the core team in Hong Kong, Gillian Miao advises on employment-related investigations, labour disputes, company restructuring and employment policies for international clients in the PRC. The practice demonstrates multi-industry expertise, representing clients in financial services, pharmaceuticals, biotech, healthcare, defence/security, and TMT sectors. Shanghai-based corporate practice head Nanda Lau advises on the employment aspects of large corporate transactions.

Other key lawyers:

Tess Lumsdaine; Gillian Miao; Nanda Lau

Key clients

Collins Aerospace

Toll Group