Guangzhou
以广州为中心的珠三角地区历来享有“世界工厂”的称号,这里不但拥有成熟完善的产业体系,也上演着欣欣向荣的外贸交易。然而,2020年的新冠疫情给繁荣的广州蒙上一层阴云,这座以“稳健”著称的城市开始加速审视产业及社会变革的新需求,“规模化”“产业化”也成为了广州法律服务市场的新关键词。

 

不久前,中国各省市相继公布了2020年上半年GDP数据,几个数字将广州推上了“头条”:上半年,广东省经济总量依旧排名全国第一,然而其GDP却同比下降了2.5%。与此同时,在GDP十强城市榜单中,广州多年来首次被重庆超越,落到了全国第五。

实际上,最近几年来,关于广州“是否已经跌落出一线城市”的讨论频现于媒体。“以前提到中国几大城市,大家会说‘北上广深’,现在有人讲这个说法已经变成了‘北上重深’。” 广东金桥百信律师事务所执行主任莫哲律师告诉ALB。

作为老牌一线城市,广州向来以稳健的城市风格示人。“广州的发展一直按部就班,没有突飞猛进的行业,也没有大起大落的情况。”德恒律师事务所广州办公室主任吴国权律师评价道。

然而就像《爱丽丝漫游仙境》中的一句话:“你必须不停奔跑,才能留在原地。”尤其在今年新冠疫情的冲击下,广州发现自己的“不紧不慢”遭受了前所未有的挑战。

制造业加速转型

以广州引以为豪的制造业为例,上半年,广州第二产业增加值下降了7%,根据《每日经济新闻》分析,这与广州制造业的基础有关:其产业结构中相当一部分属于传统制造业,例如石化、汽车制造,受疫情影响较大。

在过去的15年里,广州以汽车、石化、电子信息制造业为三大支柱产业,实现了快速辉煌的发展。然而实际上,自2014年起,上述产业增速就开始大幅下降,对经济的带动作用明显减弱。

在金鹏律师事务所合伙人韩宇律师看来,广州传统制造业的后劲不足主要取决于三个原因:严格的环保监管导致以化工为代表的重污染制造业生存困难;全国产业升级的背景下,重工制造业的竞争力下降;此外,此类企业产品的市场需求也在不断下降。

传统制造业的疲软反映在了法律服务市场上。“企业经营受到影响,直接导致法律服务费用谈不上去;随着传统行业式微,在这个领域里服务的律师,例如传统的企业法律顾问,也不再被大量需要。”韩律师说。

然而变化已经在悄然发生。

同样以制造业为例,上半年,广州高技术制造业增加值增长了1.5%,其中汽车、医药、医疗设备仪器、计算机四大制造业投资增长分别为37.1%、19.8%、94.5%与2.2倍。

“广州正在加速从‘世界工厂’迈向战略性新兴产业和先进制造业中心,数字与产业融合发展将成为新趋势。”大成广州事务所主任卢跃峰律师评价道。

吴国权律师告诉ALB,律师们在法律服务中已经观察到了此种变化的发生。“2018年工业互联网项目在广州落地;落户广州的一些国内外大型科技企业已经开始将科技应用在工业生产之中……特别是在机械制造加工业,已经出现了普遍应用机器人、机械手等科技生产设备的客户。”

广州也正在打造专注先进制造业的片区,例如黄埔区广州开发区的先进制造业集群、琶洲互联网、数字广东、大数据新型产业聚集基地,以及南沙自贸区的高端工业制造基地。

根据《广州市先进制造业强市三年行动计划》,到2021年,广州将打造汽车、超高清视频及新型显示两大世界级先进制造业集群;同时打造新材料、都市消费工业、高端装备制造、生物医药等四大国家级先进制造业集群。

这样的努力已经初显成效:在智能出行领域,明星企业小马智行和文远知行落户南沙,总部设立在天河区的小鹏汽车也于8月底完成了募资额达15亿美元的纽交所上市;与此同时,新型显示、半导体和集成电路产业集群也已经形成规模。

从“千年商都”到“直播之城”

上半年,广州的另一个强项——外贸,表现也不容乐观。

受到广交会无法按期举行、出口产品结构偏于传统等因素影响,上半年,广州进出口总额同比下降了7.6%。

“广州的商贸在全国占据特殊位置。改革开放之初,依赖广交会,广州的批发市场分门别类,遍布街头巷尾,是很活跃的经济业态。东欧、俄罗斯、中亚、中东、非洲等地商人都聚集在广州做生意,把这里的工业产品带到世界各地。”吴国权律师回忆道。

“今年的疫情对外贸造成了很大影响,但得益于互联网,现在很多交易转到了网上进行。”他接着说。

疫情下看似不得已的转变其实暗合了广州这几年来的发展策略。过去几年,电子商务在广州快速发展,2020年3月,广州还正式提出了打造“直播电商之都”的口号。

在中华全国律师协会副会长、浩天信和律师事务所合伙人会议主席朱征夫律师看来,“千年商都是广州最传统的优势,电子商务在广州的高速发展和商贸传统在商业逻辑上是一致的……在广州,商品经济意识根植于普通老百姓细胞里面,理解了这点,你才会明白它的改革开放是根深蒂固的”。

换句话说,在广州,老百姓会想方设法地做生意。

数据佐证了这样的说法:同样在上半年,广州网上零售额增长31.6%;通过组织外贸“云推荐”“云洽谈”“云签约”,上半年广州新设外商直接投资企业1067家,实际使用外资同比增长0.2%。

海淘成为了广州的新业态。“政府不断出台支持跨境电商发展政策,使企业开展跨境电商业务成本进一步降低,营商环境得到改善,吸引一大批跨境电商聚集发展。”卢跃峰律师说。

根据广州海关数据,上半年广州海关通过海关跨境电商管理平台监管进出口商品占全国五分之一,同比增长7.8%。

直播带货也发展得如火如荼。根据《2020淘宝直播新经济报告》,广州目前是淘宝第二大直播之城。6月,广州还举办了全国第一个以城市为平台的直播带货节——首届直播节(中国·广州)。

“老生意+新手段”也催促着法律服务的变化。“广州产业升级及新经济形态的出现,对律师的服务理念、思维、模式、效率等都提出了更高要求。”卢律师总结说。

韩宇律师则指出了直播的具体例子。“直播带货行业的法律需求是前所未有的。例如带货主播具有极高流量,但他们是否做了个人税务筹划、有没有合理的风险管理,再加上一些平台可能涉及多方面的知识产权纠纷……这些问题都值得思考。”

新角色与新产业

传统产业加速转型背后,广州也在思考一个更深刻的问题:未来,这座城市将以怎样的形象示人?尤其在粤港澳大湾区中,广州如何打造与深圳、香港等地不同的城市形象?

事实上,《粤港澳大湾区发展规划纲要》中已经为广州提出了比较明确的定位,即广州要“充分发挥国家中心城市引领作用,全面增强国际商贸中心、综合交通枢纽和科技教育文化中心功能”。

为了“配套”上述新形象的期许,广州加快了吸引新兴产业落地的步伐——它首先瞄准的就是以互联网为代表的新经济产业。

“(互联网)是广州的一个痛。”韩宇律师说,“广州最初涌现了一批互联网企业,但是没有留住:例如网易从广州搬到了杭州。在移动互联网和5G时代,广州有一个强烈的愿望,就是在未来竞争中守住这块高地。”

互联网不仅是必争高地,也能带来切实的经济效益。根据广州市统计局7月底发布的数据,今年二季度,广州新经济逆势增长,其中互联网相关行业实现了19.6%的增长。

借助良好的教育、科研和人才优势,广州近年开始大力打造互联网科技产业聚集区。吴国权律师告诉ALB,海珠区琶洲、番禺区、南沙自贸区、黄埔开发区等都吸引了创新科技产业落地,其中琶洲是绝对的明星,这个曾经以“广交会”闻名的地方未来将成为“互联网聚集区以及数字广东经济集合区”。

据创业邦报道,目前有20个互联网企业总部项目在琶洲推进建设。德恒广州办公室恰好于一年前搬到琶洲,“我们每天都能在近距离观察琶洲的发展变化。”吴律师说,“目前唯品会已经进驻,阿里和复星广州总部已经封顶,腾讯微信总部也差不多封顶……现在是建设铺垫阶段,三五年后,相关产业会有很大产出。”

广州“觊觎”的另一个板块,则是金融产业。

“这些年来广州其实一直在被周边城市挤压,其中来自深圳的挤压主要集中在金融层面,因为深圳有深交所,它的金融资产是广州的好几倍……所以广州一直想提高金融板块竞争力。”吴律师说。

今年上半年,金融领域不负众望,增加值增长达到8.1%。据《广州日报》报道,在7月底最新一期全球金融中心指数报告中,广州位居全球第19名,是国内一线城市中排名上升最快的。不久前,渣打集团宣布将投资4,000万美元在广州设立大湾区中心,预计于第三季度投入运作。

吴律师告诉ALB,目前广州在天河区的东圃、车陂正在建设国际金融城,南沙还携手国际金融论坛(IFF),推进打造“南沙国际金融岛”项目,去年,亚洲金融协会智库也落户黄埔开发区。

“此外,广州也在考虑发展期货交易、碳交易,成立相关资源交易中心,带动金融业务发展。还希望借助商贸城市的特点,推进贸易金融发展,包括贸易金融结算、贸易金融产品供应链等。”吴律师说。

互联网和金融外,医疗医药、信息产业等领域也在加速发展。

实际上,广州在2017年就提出了“IAB”战略,即发展新一代信息技术、人工智能、生物制药三种新兴产业。目前,广州在医疗医药领域集中了金域医学、GE、百济神州、赛默飞等领先企业,在人工智能和新一代信息技术领域则涌现了佳都科技、机智云、亿航科技、玖的数码等科技企业。

法律服务新机遇不断产生

伴随新产业落地,广州律师们也观察到了法律服务新机遇的产生。

“包括专利、版权,特别是互联网大数据领域相关的著作权,这些方面的保护越来越突出。”朱征夫律师说,“尤其是《民法典》关于知识产权惩罚性赔偿的规定出台后,下一步在知识产权保护方面可能会有新业态出现。这是一个很明确的业务方向。”

其次,则是互联网发展带来的大量服务机会。

2018年,广州互联网法院成立,目前是全国仅有的三家互联网法院之一。“互联网法院现在业务量超出预期,甚至有些不堪重负。”吴律师介绍道,“根据我们了解,广州互联网法院目前每月立案量完全饱和,经常有几千上万个案件在排队等候。”

莫哲律师则告诉ALB,2019年广州互联网法院的办结案件总量约为4万余件,其中金桥百信承接了约1万余件。“(这表明)互联网的发展为律师带来了很多新业务,尤其是与互联网视频、直播、自媒体、音乐等相关的著作权案件业务。”她说。

“但如何才能承办这么多案件?这对律师的业务操作模式提出了更高要求。包括相关案件中证据、数据的取得,现在都要通过技术实现,这需要律师在不断提高业务水平外,服务、技术、设备等也要相应创新。”莫律师说。

另一个在广州快速发展的,则是涉外法律服务。

黄山律师现任广州律协会长,也是广东广悦律师事务所创始合伙人,他告诉ALB:“广州其实有很不错的涉外法律服务人才,但是相对分散。因此律协正在打造广州国际法律服务中心,聘请了金杜律师事务所华南区负责人王立新律师担任中心主任,未来将把全广州的涉外律师汇聚在一起,集培训、宣传推广、业务推荐于一体。”

根据广州律协数字,目前,广州共有涉外律师事务所167家,从事涉外服务律师648人。律协创办了全国首家涉外律师学院——广东涉外律师学院,还首创了评选“10佳广州涉外大律师”的做法。

上述三块新领域外,受访律师还提及了其他律所重点布局的业务领域,例如德恒广州办公室的国际贸易、投资服务和刑事合规服务;金鹏的商事调解服务;金桥百信的重大疑难案件及企业合规两大研究中心法律服务;以及浩天信和广州办公室的房地产和破产重整服务等。

 “新领域带来新的机会,这是一个相对公平的市场,因为所有人都在同一条起跑线上……谁先做好准备,谁就可能脱颖而出。”黄山会长总结说。

做大规模,也要做大“蛋糕”

在律师数量和律所人数方面,过去4年,广州法律服务市场经历了快速增长。

根据广州律协数据,2016至2019年间,广州执业律师从1万余人增长至约1.58万人,年均增速为13.5%;律所数量由604家增长至770家,年均增速为8.5%。据黄山会长补充,“广州法律服务业收入额在过去4年基本保持了每年30%的平均增速”。

然而快速发展背后,广州律师也有属于自己的“落寞”。“金鹏的老主任王波律师经常讲,过去广州的法律服务市场比较先进,北京、上海的律所经常派律师团队来学习。但过去这十几年,谁还向你学习呢?广州律师内心还是有种不甘的。”韩宇律师说。

谈到过去几年广州法律服务市场发生的变化,律师们首先指出了律所快速规模化的趋势。

“前几年,法律服务行业出现过一股创办‘小而美’律所的热潮,但我们逐渐发现,广州法律服务市场好像反而走向了规模化发展的路线。”韩宇律师坦言,“过去几年,广州本土发生了很多起律所合并事件,产生了不少家几百甚至上千人的律所。而且规模化的趋势还会在未来3至5年中继续。”

金桥百信就是广州本土所规模化发展的典型例子。莫哲律师告诉ALB,金桥百信从2014年的19名律师发展到了今天的370余名律师,且实现了年营收额50%以上的增长。

扩张的不仅是人口,也有分支机构。例如金桥百信目前设立了10家分支机构,除了大湾区内部布点,还在南沙成立了一家粤港澳联营所,设立了长沙、三亚分所,烟台、青岛分所也在筹备中。

金鹏则在过去几年开设了澳大利亚、加拿大、缅甸、日本等海外分支机构,“金鹏其实不倡导走激进扩张的路,这几年的布局在我们过去二十几年的历史中也从没有过。”韩宇律师坦言。

规模化之外,律师们指出,广州法律服务市场的关键词还有“一体化”“团队化”以及“专业化”。

“以前很多本土所不太重视一体化,现在发现包括专业分工、专业化提升、服务品质提升、品牌统一等,都必须靠一体化实现。能够成功实现一体化转型的大所才能继续竞争下去。”黄山会长指出。

谈到国内外律所近年加快布局广州,本土律师是否感受到竞争压力,黄会长说:“我个人认为,只有存量不增长的时候才会产生竞争,如果能保持法律行业高速发展,那么谁都有蛋糕分。”

“来了广州,就都是广州律师。典型的广州人心态是:谁比我厉害,我就向谁学习,然后变得更厉害。敬业、勤奋、脚踏实地,在广州律师身上能够看到这些最典型的岭南文化特色。”他说。


Guangzhou Reinvents Itself

The Pearl River Delta, with Guangzhou located at its center, has been dubbed the world's factory floor. It has one of the most mature and complete industrial systems in China and thrives on commerce and trade. With COVID-19 casting a shadow over prosperous Guangzhou, the city, known for its stability, has picked up speed to look carefully at the new demands for industrial and social change. "Large-scale" and "industrialization" have become the new buzzwords in Guangzhou's legal service market.

 

The GDP growth data for the first half of 2020 released by China's provinces and municipalities not long ago have pushed Guangdong capital Guangzhou into the headlines: Guangdong's GDP remained No.1 in China, however, with a year-on-year decrease of 2.5 percent; and in the list of top 10 Chinese cities with strongest GDP growth in the first half of this year, Guangzhou was surpassed by Chongqing for the first time in many years, falling to the fifth place.

In fact, there have been discussions about "whether Guangzhou has fallen out of the first-tier cities" in recent years. "In the past, when talking about the major cities in China, we'd say they are 'Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.' But now some people would refer to 'Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing and Shenzhen,’" Mo Zhe, senior partner and executive director of Kingbridge Law Firm, tells ALB.

Guangzhou has always been a "steady" big city, it develops step by step, seldom seeing its industries achieve giant leap in progress or show sudden jumps or drops," Wu Guoquan, director of DeHeng Law Offices (Guangzhou), comments.

However, as a popular saying goes: "You have to run just to stay in place." In particular, under the impact of COVID-19 this year, Guangzhou found that its "no-rush" development model is faced with unprecedented challenges.

UPGRADING MANUFACTURING INDUSTRY

Guangzhou has always taken pride in its manufacturing industry. But the growth rate of Guangzhou's secondary industry dropped by 7 percent during the first half of the year; it might be because of the basis of Guangzhou's manufacturing industry – a considerable part of its industrial structure is composed of traditional manufacturing industries, such as petrochemical and automobile manufacturing, which are greatly affected by the pandemic, according to an analysis report by the National Business Daily.

Automobile, petrochemical and electronic manufacturing have been the three pillar industries of Guangzhou, enabling it to achieve rapid and remarkable development during the past 15 years. But in fact, the growth rates of those industries have dropped sharply since 2014, and they are no longer the main driver of the economic growth in the region.

Han Yu, partner at Kingpound Law Firm, points to three reasons why Guangzhou's traditional manufacturing industry can't keep up the momentum: (1) strict environmental protection supervision has made it difficult for the heavily polluting manufacturing industries such as the chemical industry to survive; (2) in the context of national industrial upgrading, the heavy industry has become less competitive; and (3) the market demand for products of such enterprises is declining, too.

The sagging performance of the traditional manufacturing industries is reflected in the legal services market. "The business performance decides how much the companies are willing to pay for legal services fees. With the decline of traditional industries, there's no longer high demand for lawyers serving in these industries, such as traditional legal consulting works," Han says.

But changes have taken place.

Let's take a look at the manufacturing industry in Guangzhou again. In the first half of the year, the growth rate of Guangzhou's high-tech manufacturing industry increased by 1.5 percent; among which, the investment in the four major manufacturing industries, namely automobile, pharmacy, medical equipment and devices, and computer increased by 37.1 percent, 19.8 percent, 94.5 percent, and 2.2 times, respectively.

"Guangzhou is reinventing itself from a 'world's factory floor' to a hub of strategic emerging industries and advanced manufacturing. The integration of digital and industrial development will become a new trend," Lu Yuefeng, director of Dentons Guangzhou office, says.

Wu of DeHeng tells ALB that lawyers have observed such changes in their legal services. "There have been a number of industrial Internet projects launched in Guangzhou since 2018; and some large domestic and foreign technology companies in Guangzhou have started to apply technologies in industrial production ... In particular in the machinery manufacturing and processing industry, we have some clients who widely use robots, manipulators and other technological means in the production of equipment."

Guangzhou is also building advanced manufacturing zones, such as the advanced manufacturing cluster in the Guangzhou Development Zone in Huangpu District, the National New Industrialization Demonstration Base (in big data) in Pazhou, and the Nansha Industrial Base.

According to the Three-year Action Plan for Making Guangzhou a City of Advanced Manufacturing Industry, by 2021, Guangzhou will build two world-class advanced manufacturing clusters in terms of automobiles and ultra-high-definition video and new display, and build four national advanced manufacturing clusters, including new materials, urban consumption industry, high-end equipment manufacturing, and biomedicine.

All these efforts have started to pay off. Autonomous driving companies Pony.ai and WeRide.ai are now headquartered in Nansha; and Xpeng Motors, headquartered in Tianhe District of Guangzhou, completed its $1.5 billion IPO on the New York Stock Exchange at the end of August. And industrial clusters of new display, semiconductor and integrated circuit have also taken shape.

FORMER CITY OF COMMERCE EYES LIVESTREAMING

Another economic driver of Guangzhou, international trade, didn't perform as well during the first half of the year, either.

Because the Canton Fair couldn't be held on schedule and the export product structure tended to be traditional, the total import and export volume of Guangzhou saw a year-on-year decrease of 7.6 percent in the first half of the year.

"Guangzhou has a unique position in China in commerce and trade. At the beginning of China's reform and opening up, drawing on the Canton Fair, there were many types of wholesale markets in Guangzhou, diversifying the economic vitality and growth in the city. Businessmen from all over the world could be seen here," Wu recalls.

"COVID-19 had a great impact on international trade. Thanks to the Internet, many trading activities are now carried out over the Internet," he continues.

The seemingly inevitable changes due to the pandemic actually coincide with Guangzhou's development strategy in recent years. E-commerce has been developing rapidly in Guangzhou over the past few years. In March 2020, Guangzhou even officially came up with a slogan "building Guangzhou into a city of live-streaming e-commerce."

"As a city of commerce with a history of a millennium, Guangzhou has unique advantages in commerce and trade. Doing business is like a tradition for Guangzhou locals, and the rapid development of e-commerce in Guangzhou shares the same business logic with that tradition," Zhu Zhengfu, the vice president of the All China Lawyers Association and chairman of partners' meeting of Hylands Law Firm, says.

In other words, in Guangzhou, ordinary people make every endeavor to do business.

There are data supporting the above statement: in the first half of the year, Guangzhou's online retail sales increased by 31.6 percent; through the organization of foreign trade "cloud recommendation,” "cloud negotiation" and "cloud contract signing,” 1,067 new foreign direct investment enterprises have been established in Guangzhou; and the actual use of foreign capital increased by 0.2 percent year on year.

And overseas online shopping has become a new business trend in Guangzhou. "The government continuously promulgates new policies to support the development of cross-border e-commerce, further reducing the cost of such business, improving the business environment, and attracting a large number of cross-border e-commerce companies to gather and develop," Lu of Dentons Guangzhou says.

Retail live streaming is well under way. According to the 2020 New Economy Report on Live-streams on Taobao Live, Guangzhou is currently the second largest city of live streaming on Taobao Live. In June, Guangzhou even hosted China's first city-based live streaming e-commerce festival.

NEW IMAGE WITH NEW INDUSTRIES

While the city is accelerating the transformation of traditional industries, Guangzhou has something deeper to think about: what kind of image the city is trying to build? Especially in the Greater Bay Area, how to make Guangzhou a city that is different from Shenzhen, Hong Kong or other places?

In fact, the Outline Development Plan for the GBA already gives a quite clear positioning for Guangzhou, that is, Guangzhou should "be given full play to the leading role of the national central city, and should comprehensively strengthen its functions as an international trade center, a comprehensive transportation hub, and a technology, education and cultural center."

In order to match the above-said expectations, Guangzhou is picking up speed to attract businesses of emerging industries; and its first target is the new economic industries represented by the Internet.

"Guangzhou had a painful experience in (the Internet) field. There were several Internet companies started up in Guangzhou, but it failed to keep them here. For example, NetEase moved from Guangzhou to Hangzhou. In the era of mobile Internet and 5G, Guangzhou has a strong desire to win a place in this sector in the future competition," Han of Kingpound says.

Drawing on its advantages in terms of education, scientific research and talent, Guangzhou has started to vigorously build an Internet industry cluster in recent years. Wu tells ALB that Pazhou, Panyu, Donghu Development Zone, Nansha, and Huangpu Development Zone have all attracted innovation and technology companies. Pazhou, once known for the Canton Fair, stands out from the aforesaid areas. In the future, "it will become an area where the Internet companies gather and the digital Guangdong economic cluster area."

According to Cyzone.cn, there are currently 20 Internet companies building their headquarters in Pazhou. DeHeng’s Guangzhou office moved to Pazhou just a year ago. "We are observing the development and changes in Pazhou every day. It is now at the stage of construction and laying the foundation, the relevant industries will have significant outputs in three to five years," Wu comments.

The financial industry is another sector that Guangzhou has an eye to.

"In fact, Guangzhou has been pressured by neighboring cities in recent years; the pressure from Shenzhen is mainly at the financial level. Because of the Shenzhen Stock Exchange, Shenzhen's financial assets are several times that of Guangzhou ... Guangzhou has always wanted to increase its competiveness in the financial sector," Wu says.

The financial sector in Guangzhou met the expectations during the first six months, achieving a growth rate of 8.1 percent. Standard Chartered announced not long ago that it would invest $ 40 million to establish a GBA Center in Guangzhou, which is expected to be put into operation in the third quarter.

Wu tells ALB that Guangzhou has built international financial cities in Dongpu and Chebei, and Nansha has also joined hands with the International Finance Forum to promote the construction of the Guangzhou Nansha International Financial Island Project.

"In addition, Guangzhou is also considering the development of futures trading and carbon trading, and the establishment of related resource trading centers to drive the development of financial businesses. It also expects to give play to the role of a city of commerce and trade in promoting the development of trade finance, including trade financial settlement and trade financial product supply chains," Wu says,

It is not only the Internet and finance sectors; the medical and pharmaceutical, as well as the information technology industries in the city are also making rapid progress.

Today Guangzhou is home to some leading enterprises in the medical and pharmaceutical sector, such as Guangzhou Kingmed Diagnostics Group Co., Ltd., GE, BeiGene, and Thermo Fisher Scientific. And in the field of artificial intelligence and new generation technology, there have emerged some technology companies such as PCITECH, Gizwits, Ehang, and Guangzhou NINED Digital Technology Co., Ltd.

NEW OPPORTUNITIES FOR LAWYERS

With the arrival of new industries, Guangzhou lawyers have seen new opportunities in the legal market.

The first "blue ocean" mentioned by lawyers is intellectual property. "The competition in the intellectual property legal service market is fierce, including patent, trademark, copyright and other related segments, especially computer software copyright and patent applications by technology companies," Wu says.

The second one is the abundant opportunities created by the development of the Internet.

Following the opening of two Internet courts in Hangzhou and Beijing, the third Internet court, Guangzhou Internet Court, opened in 2018. "The number of cases handled by Guangzhou Internet Court is way more than expected, to some extent, overwhelming. According to the data we have, the number of cases filed with Guangzhou Internet Court in a month has reached 3,000, and there are still thousands of cases waiting in line," Wu tells ALB.

Mo of Kingbridge tells ALB that Guangzhou Internet Court heard more than 40,000 cases in total in 2019, while one-fourth of them were handled by Kingbridge. "(It shows that) the Internet has brought a lot of new business for lawyers, in particular copyright cases related to the Internet videos, live streaming, self-media, and music," she says.

"But how to handle so many cases? It poses higher requirements for lawyers in terms of the business operation models. There're many things need to be done through technological means, including obtaining evidence and data in related cases, which requires lawyers to continuously improve their professional capabilities, and meanwhile innovate in services, technology and equipment," Mo says.

Foreign-related legal services is another area in Guangzhou which is seeing rapid development.

Huang Shan is currently the president of the Guangzhou Lawyers Association and also the founding partner of Guangdong Grandholders Law Firm. He tells ALB: "Guangzhou actually has very good resources of foreign-related legal service talent. The Guangzhou Lawyers Association is working on the establishment of the Guangzhou International Legal Service Center to bring together lawyers who are engaged in foreign-related legal services in Guangzhou. The Center's functions include training, publicity and business promotion and referrals."

According to data from the Guangzhou Lawyers Association, there are currently 167 foreign-related law firms in Guangzhou, with 648 lawyers engaged in foreign-related legal services. The Guangzhou Lawyers Association founded China's first institute for foreign-related lawyers, and initiated the practice of selecting "top 10 foreign-related barristers in Guangzhou."

"The emergence and development of new sectors have created new opportunities and a level playing field for all players in the market … it's like running a race, the runner who gets prepared first might stand out and win the race," Huang concludes.

PROMOTING LEGAL AS A KEY INDUSTRY

The legal service market in Guangzhou, just like those in other places, has experienced rapid growth over the past four years, in terms of the number of lawyers and the number of law firms.

According to data from the Guangzhou Lawyers Association, between 2016 and 2019, the number of practicing lawyers in Guangzhou increased from more than 10,000 to about 15,800, with an average annual growth rate of 13.5 percent; the number of law firms increased from 604 to 770, with an average annual growth rate of 8.5 percent. And "the revenue of Guangzhou's legal service industry has basically maintained an average annual growth rate of 30 percent in the past four years," Huang adds.

However, behind the rapid development, Guangzhou lawyers also have their own "frustration.” "Wang Bo, our former director of Kingpound, often said that the legal market in Guangzhou was advanced in the past, and law firms in Beijing and Shanghai often sent lawyers to Guangzhou to learn our practices. But since about a decade ago, who still comes to Guangzhou to learn from us? For Guangzhou lawyers, it's that they are not willing to give way," Han says.

Speaking of the changes in the Guangzhou legal market in the past few years, the lawyers first point to the trend of rapid growth in size of law firms.

 “A few years ago, boutique firms boomed in the legal industry. But we later found that it seems that the legal market in Guangzhou favors large firms instead. Many law firm mergers took place over the past few years, and this trend of law firms' growing in size will continue in the next three to five years," Han points out.

Kingbridge is a typical example of a Guangzhou local law firm growing from a small firm, with 19 lawyers in 2014, to a large firm now, with more than 370 lawyers, Mo tells ALB. And the firm also achieved an annual revenue growth of more than 50 percent.

The firm's expansion is not only manifested in the number of employees. Kingbridge now has ten branch offices; in addition to a couple of offices establish in the GBA, the firm has set up a Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao joint office in Nansha, and established branches in Changsha and Sanya. Kingbridge is also preparing to set up offices in Yantai and Qingdao of Shandong Province.

Kingpound has set up overseas branches in Australia, Canada, Myanmar, and Japan in the past few years. "We actually do not advocate aggressive expansion. In fact, we've never done this – setting up so many branch offices within a rather short period of time – ever since the firm was founded 20 years ago," Han admits.

In addition to expansion, the lawyers also point out that there are other key words in Guangzhou legal service market, which are "integration,” "teamwork,” and "specialization.”

 “In the past, most local firms didn't care about integration, but now they find that the division of work, enhanced specialization, service quality improvement, brand unification, etc. … these all need to be achieved through integration. A firm probably can't go far by following the traditional model. Only those that successfully realize the integration and transformation can maintain their competitive edge," Huang points out.

Then whether domestic and foreign law firms' accelerated expansion in Guangzhou has put pressure of competition on Guangzhou local lawyers? "I personally believe that competition occurs when there aren't enough works. As long as we can keep the legal industry developing rapidly, everyone in the market will have a piece of pie."

"Once you've come to Guangzhou to practice law, you are a Guangzhou lawyer. The typical mentality of Guangzhou people is: Whoever does a better job than I do, I will learn from him, and then I'll become better. Being dedicated, diligent, and down to earth, you can see these typical Lingnan culture characteristics in Guangzhou lawyers," Huang says.

 

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