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Wang Ling: Dare to tackle new areas

King & Wood Mallesons China’s managing partner talks ensuring continuity of client service, taking a people-oriented approach in management, and says associates must stay hungry and foolish to make partner

How would you define your firm’s culture? How important is firm culture to you?

If I had to summarise our culture in one word it would be collaboration. By that I mean not only collaboration internally and with clients, but also with other professionals, including from other law firms.

Client-centric, commitment and dedication, collaboration and sharing, teamwork, and striving for excellence.

The firm’s culture defines us as who we are and how we get here. As the firm expands and more people join us, it is important that we share the same value. This culture binds us together and motivates our people to release their potential and increase cohesion. It will also attract talents who appreciate the same culture. It ensures healthy expansion, stable and sustainable development, as well as enables us to achieve common goals and face challenges. We appreciated very much our clients’ recognition of our firm’s culture.

What’s the main change you’ve made in the firm that will benefit clients?

It is our top priority to provide high quality and efficient services to our clients. In addition to continuously improving our service quality and consistency of the quality among the firm, in recent years, we also took several structural development and initiatives based on our understanding of the client business strategic direction and the opportunities provided by the country’s economic development policies, to ensure us enter the same market with our clients.

As our clients’ businesses become more and more sophisticated, we need to grow with the clients in multiple dimensions, from the scope of services, to geographical landscape and new areas of legal service and products. To satisfy fast increasing demands of the client service, we must understand the industry and our clients’ business goals as well. The firm has been working towards industry focus and coordinating our legal resources of different practice groups and regions with very clear vision on certain traditional and emerging industries, such as energy, medical and healthcare, TMT, fintech, etc.

Our firm has been regarded as the fore runner in many practice and sectors by the clients and market, such as fintech, cyber securities, debt-for-equity Swap, securitisation/ABS, and so on. Having been involved in many industry sectors’ ‘firsts’, now KWM is deemed by peers and clients as being able to offer the most cutting-edge services in some areas of practice and complicated deals/cases.

In April, 2018, we announced the establishment of KWM International Center (KWMIC) in the Greater Bay Area, corresponding to the countries’ new development strategy of forming China’s Great Bay Area, combining the Pearl River Delta of Mainland, HK SAR, and Macau SAR into one economic entity. This strategic move will further enhance regional integration of our four offices in South China (Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Hong Kong ,and San Ya) as well as globalisation of the firm in general.

KWMIC focuses on providing an integrated service offering to assist our Chinese and international clients with exploring more business opportunities in the Greater Bay Area, including Belt and Road projects, cross-border investments, high-end financial services, PE/VC investments, capital markets, IP protection, and cross-border dispute resolution, etc. KWMIC was launched to best serve our clients and capture the historic opportunities arising from the Greater Bay Area.

In March 2019, we also established the BRCICF, as a comprehensive professional service platform combining legal services, think tank studies, consultation services, and international cooperation. It has been established to connect the government and enterprises, and to provide high-level professional services to both Chinese and foreign participators who explore the opportunity brought by the Belt & Road Initiative.

KWM has been engaged in a great number of Belt & Road projects for the last a few years, gaining extensive practical experiences covering all types of cross-border projects across various Belt & Road countries and industries, such as energy, transport, infrastructure, manufacturing, finance, etc.

What does innovation mean to you and how can firms be better at it?

Innovation is a mindset, it should not be limited to technical as such. For us, innovation means less mental restriction on what we do and find solutions, means always dare to tackle into new areas. Over the years, we have done numerous ‘firsts’ in the Chinese legal industry, including adapting western law firm compensation and management systems and IT infrastructure, expanding into new areas of practices and sectors, etc.

Being innovative also means we are always willing to look into new solutions for our clients. KWM is constantly thinking differently and redefining what is possible to enable us to deliver exceptional business outcomes and service to our clients. Wang Junfeng, our Global Chairman, and our management, have been keeping open-minded and paying attention to innovation to promote the firm’s development. The innovative mindset has been rooted in our strategy and development as well as in our management and our people.

The combination between legacy King & Wood and legacy Mallesons Stephen Jaques was an historical event in the world legal history where the first time a Chinese law firm and an established Western firm with long history merged, making the first global law firm headquartered in Asia. The firm took many innovative initiatives to accelerate the integration of two cultures and systems.

What are the biggest challenges facing you in China?

The challenges we are facing mainly relate to how to ensure the firm maintain the same pace of rapid development and continue to lead the market. We also need to ensure continuity of same quality client service across the firm, as well as constantly improve the level of globalisation and management level.

What are the biggest trends facing your practice?

Globalisation of Chinese legal services has become the biggest trends, alongside which is increasingly deeper competition in the local market. Chinese law firms are rapidly maturing and entering the international legal market competition.

What do you think are the top things most clients want and why?

  • Understand clients’ businesses and their commercial goals behind the business decisions and align with it;
  • Quick response;
  • Deliver high quality and comprehensive service; and
  • Value-add service

Is technology changing the way you interact with your clients, and the services you can provide them?

Modern technology has changed the ways of interaction between lawyers and clients. Through mobile applications and other means, it has become much easier and efficient for communication. As a result, new ways of client interaction and maintenance at personal level become possible and easier.

Technology in data collection enables lawyer to access more information so that lawyers can provide the client with value-add additional services and products through data analytics. We can foresee technology will make more changes to the way of interaction between the legal counsel and their clients which will further change the way of providing services.

What have you found is the best way to retain talent – both at partner and associate levels?

KWM always regards talent retention and cultivation as one of our primary development strategies. To keep our competitive advantage in the highly competitive legal market, we take people-oriented approach in all areas of management, firm culture, humanistic care, training and career development, and build a multi-dimensional system around it. This covers from interns to associates of all levels and partners.

We consider that the best way to retain talents is to provide a good platform and support them to develop and become successful. Based on this approach,KWM was elected as one of the China’s Most Attractive Employers 2018 by Universum for the third consecutive year.

Since becoming managing partner what’s surprised you most about running a firm?

Chinese law firms have experienced phenomenal rapid growth for 30 years, it has always been a challenge to get involved in management keeping up with the growth. I am very lucky that I can work with a group of highly talented and devoted partners in the management, who are diligent and conscientious on driving business forward, and dedicated to the firm and strive for perfection.

Our global chairman, Wang Junfeng, has been the driven force behind all of our developments, with his entrepreneur spirit, long-term vision, innovative thinking and the courage.

We also have a very dedicated operational team to support the implementation of management decisions.

Going forward and with further growth of the firm, we will definitely face more challenges in law firm management, we must continue to improve ourselves and management styles and learn in order to keep up with the development.

How has your involvement in client-facing work changed since becoming managing partner?

My responsibility requires me to focus more on the management and maintenance of the clients from the overall consideration of the firm, including setting up strategy and structure for the firm’s client management system as well as oversee its implementation. I also need to look into internal resource coordination among practice groups, regions, etc. from the business strategy level of the firm.

What advice would you give to the next generation of partners ready to rise the ranks?

Stay hungry, stay foolish; become a master of your area, while broader your horizon with wider range of knowledge; gain transboundary experience and commercial sense, understand the market and the client, and with a view on the big picture.

What are your firm’s policies on diversity and inclusion?

We encourage a diversified corporate culture from the establishment of the firm and we always keep an open policy on nationality, culture background, gender and so on. In our firm, people from many countries work together closely, and female staff members have always been a key part of our community. Currently, 34% of our partners are female and 57% of associates are female.