2019年,中国在内外环境上遭遇颇多挑战,律所在业务类型和管理模式上也经历诸多变化。在本专题中,我们邀请了几位国内及国际所合伙人,共同探讨过去一年的法律市场动态和经验教训,以及他们在2020年对客户关系、人才维护及律所管理的趋势展望。

 

岁末年初,我们邀请了五位不同律所的管理合伙人,为我们总结了2019年律所在诸多层面的情况,并展望了2020年的法律新趋势。这五位合伙人分别是:天达共和律师事务所主任李大进,英士律师事务所中国区负责人何保罗(Paul Ho) ,君合律师事务所管委会成员华晓军,天同律师事务所创始合伙人彭卿,以及浩天信和律师事务所管理合伙人云大慧。

他们都谈到了过去一年国际政治局势的不确定对律所业务带来的影响,在传统业务有所见缓的情况下,他们都寻找到了新的业务领域;几乎所有人都感受到了来自法律市场本身的竞争,以及不断成熟且要求愈发增高的客户所带来的压力。不少所尝试了新的管理模式改革,他们在市场营销方面也各有心得;最后,几乎所有人都意识到了留住人才——尤其是年轻人才的重要性。

有落有涨

2019年最引人关注的恐怕就是中美之间变幻莫测的局势,五位律所管理者全都提到了中美贸易摩擦所带来的影响,过去一年,他们所处的律所在资本市场、外商投资等领域看到了业务增缓甚至下降。比起确凿的冲击,中美贸易更多引发的是一种贯穿全年的不确定性:和往年高速增长所引发的乐观心态相比,律所和他们的客户普遍换上了一种观望心态。

当然,贸易战带来的影响有些十分切实,尤其针对中国民营企业。李大进律师告诉ALB:“特别是一些中小型民营企业,他们在原来生存就比较难的情况下,又增加了一层新难度。此外,由于企业经营成本的增加,获得支持的机会又少,企业之间的纠纷也随之增加,我们则在代理解决争议过程中也感受到诉讼成本明显增加。”云律师则告诉ALB:“贸易战对一些相关产业的民营企业产生了非常大的影响,有些民企年前还是500强,年底甚至就走到破产的边缘。”

其他被广泛提到影响2019年业务情况的因素还有:科创板创立、金融监管严控、《外商投资法》的颁布、企业合规要求不断增高、最高院《九民会议纪要》发布,以及最高院将一审标的额提高等等。

有些变化显然为律所带来了新机会,比如华律师告诉ALB:“截至 2019 年 11 月 9 日,君合担任发行人律师已为包括医药制造业、 软件和信息技术服务业、 计算机、通信和其他电子设备制造业等高新技术产业和战略性新兴产业的 13 家企业提供了境内科创板上市的法律服务。”有些则在提供机会的同时也让律所保持着审慎,比如云律师提到,从2018年底,国家要求央企必须建立合规体系,因此产生了大量合规法律需要,“但政策未来的变化情况并不明朗,目前不清楚合规是否能够带来明确、长期的蓝海效应”。

有些变化甚至撼动了律所的一些经营模式,比如过去以最高法院二审、再审案件业绩闻名的天同,随着一审案件标的额提高和巡回法庭的设立,也开始业务下沉,更多的介入一审案件。彭律师告诉ALB:“原来最高院案件占比较重,现在变成了半对半。但一审案件周期长,回款慢,就要求我们必须把基数做得更大。原来我们针对律师同行的推广比较多,在案件上合作共赢。现在我们要更多的直接面对客户。”这对律所战略制定和与客户间的关系都产生了巨大影响。

在传统市场有所收缩的情况下,2019年,律所也纷纷开拓了新的业务领域。如果说这些领域在过去一年只是埋下种子,2020年则可能发生进一步的增量。“综合所的优势在于可以调配力量,在事务所内部做专业组合及调整。”李大进律师说。他告诉ALB,过去一年,天达共和在参与政府法律服务、营商环境改善、服务体育产业走向市场和体育制度改革等方面崭露头角;介入这些专业领域的服务为未来在此产生业务增量做好准备和铺垫。此外,天达共和还在上海引入了两位新合伙人,开拓了反垄断业务。

云律师则告诉ALB,过去一年浩天信和除了一直占主要地位的争议解决、国际贸易、知识产权、通讯传媒、建设工程、破产重整等核心业务板块持续增长外,还开展或持续深耕了 “企业合规、家族财富传承、数据隐私合规、人工智能”等领域。

有些律所则通过自身策略的变化,在略显暗淡的大背景下实现了“逆袭”,英士就是很好的例子。2019年初,英士与英国律所Gordon Dadds合并,不仅人员规模翻了一倍,而且“英士传统做海事海商、国际贸易、国际仲裁,合并之后我们成了一个多元化综合所,在上海和北京,特别是服务大型国有企业时,开始可以向他们销售更多的业务。”何律师告诉ALB。2019年,英士不仅在香港增加了一支约30人的新业务团队,其整个中国区的利润增长率也预计将超过80%。

竞争加强

2019年,几乎所有律所都感受到了法律市场日益白热化的竞争。“ 数字是最实在的。”李大进律师告诉ALB,“现在北京的律师数量已经达到了近3.7万人,全国则已经有46万律师之多。这种同业人数的增加就是一种实实在在的竞争。”

云律师则提到,央企、国企采用的招投标采购法律服务让律师行业竞争更加激烈。彭律师佐证了她的话:“国企、央企、上市公司等对中介机构招投标的管理越来越严,使得法律服务这一块竞争越来越激烈。我们也在学着适应,这就是市场。”

作为外资所,英士也感受到了中国市场明显增长的竞争压力,但它同时带有一丝“旁观者清”的心态。“中国本地律所越来越强,做得越来越好,同时收费也越来越高——可能在十年、十五年前,外资所和中资所的收费模式还差别很大,现在少了很多。我们也要做得更好,停顿就落伍了。 ”何律师说,“但我觉得中国市场还是够大。最近这几年一直延续到2019年有个新特点:过去的业务很多都是外商到中国投资,最近则是很多中国企业往外走。因此英士和中国律所的合作也更进了一步。”

在这样的背景下,2019年,

律所和客户之间的关系也不免发生了或显著或微妙的变化,可以预见到这些变化将持续到新的一年。

在李大进律师看来,客户的要求——尤其是技术层面的要求正逐渐增高。“在这个技术引领的时代,律所如果还是单一地提供法律服务,恐怕就不足以占领市场,或者说不能更好地服务客户。现在有的客户希望律师懂A.I.、网络、区块链等技术,有的甚至希望律所在给它设计投资计划或商业模式时把技术融进来,比如说同时为客户提供大数据分析,让他们更好地判断及决策。”

客户对全方位服务的要求不仅跨越领域,也跨越法律链条。例如天同,过去做诉讼,拿到裁判文书就算代理目标实现,但现在“服务下沉,参与很多一审案件竞标时,客户的需求是全方位的,所以我们又搭建了执行和破产重整业务板块,延展了自己的服务能力。”彭律师说。

何律师从另一个方面阐述了为客户更好提供服务的“要义”。“我觉得沟通和信任很重要。当经济不明朗的时候,花更多时间去见客户,就显得尤为重要。这比较花时间,所以找到平衡很关键,既要与客户见面沟通,但又不能影响工作质量,这就很考验你的团队够不够强大和成熟。 还有一点:律师应该从客户的利益来考虑每一件事情,务求保持长期深厚的合作关系。”

管理创新

细化律所管理是2019年中国法律市场的热词,受访的几位管理者几乎都提到:在过去一年中以及2020年,律所会对目前的管理体制、合伙人制度甚至是分配制度进行一定程度的调整。

有些律所在2019年进行了重大的管理改革。以浩天信和为例,2019年,浩天信和在各运营模块接连引入了专业性人才。云律师告诉ALB:“专职管理人的引入是非常重要的改变,把合伙人的精力极大解放了出来,也显示出我们在制度变革方面的决心。”

天同近年来尝试了“企业化运营,引入了战略咨询和人才测评机构,这在律所行业中可能比较少见。”彭律师说。“比如我们的第一个三年战略规划,以及OKR战略落地管理体系,都是在战略咨询顾问的指导下做的。2019年我们还请咨询机构SHL对所有合伙人和员工做了人力测评和人力建模,会用于2020年人才梯队、晋升体系和人才引进系统的搭建。”

英士则在2019年经历了中国区的融合管理。“我们统一了香港、北京、上海三个办公室,由我负责管理。”何律师介绍说, “这样就把办公室竞争降到了最小,也能让我们更好地利用资源,甚至三个办公室的营收额和现金流都是放在一起来看的。”

随着管理手法的日益精细和分化,在市场营销及品牌营造层面,中国律所也愈发呈现出百花齐放的状态。华晓军律师告诉ALB:“中国律所行业市场品牌差异化发展取决于每一个律所的战略及律所市场团队的专业化程度。随着中国律师业的发展,不仅仅是对律师工作专业化的要求,对包括律所市场团队在内的所有团队都提出了更高的专业化要求。目前各律所管理团队对品牌营销重要性的认识停留在不同的阶段,我们预期未来中国市场品牌差异化所带来的头部效应将愈加明显。”

他给ALB举了君合的例子:2019年恰逢君合成立30周年,于是围绕“三十周年”这个关键词整合了线上线下营销传播,并借助PR稿、视频故事、研讨会、公益活动、客户答谢活动等多种方式,实现了12个月热点不断,达到了极高的业内曝光率。

天同则在过去一年中细化了自身的品牌营销策略。“根据每个分所所在地情况不同,实施因地制宜的策略。”彭律师说,“在天同品牌已经树立起来的地区,要在当地通过大数据列出目标客户,进行精准触达,多组织闭门沟通会。但在品牌比较弱化的地区,则持续通过论坛等品牌活动扩大影响力。”

对有些律所来说,他们认可营销手段的必要性,但更觉得“品牌” 是一种内在质感的培养,之后才会像光芒一样照射到外部。比如云律师提到了浩天信和在2019年加大了公益服务力度,“公益的对外宣传是让公益理念深植人心,带动更多人投入公益活动;对内则增加了大家的核心价值观认同,让品牌加入精神内核。只有建立了坚固的律所文化,大家才能一起更好地走下去。” 她认为2020年中国法律服务市场品牌差异化的核心是“细分市场。在此基础上针对目标市场的个性化需求,通过品牌定位与传播,赋予品牌独特价值,树立鲜明形象,建立品牌的差异化和个性化核心竞争优势。”

李大进律师对于“品牌”的认识则更多与律师的职业责任感相关。能够以专业示人并透过有品质的服务,让律师有尊严的执业,“ 我认为这是律师最有价值的两个方面,这也是打造律师品牌的价值所在。”

“最重要的是人”

2019年,律所普遍感受到了人才的重要性,这指的不光是新人及团队的吸纳,更重要的是让年轻律师在律所平台上能够成长,所有受访律所在这方面都建立了既有机制。

华律师告诉ALB:2019年君合再度登上了ALB中国年度最佳雇主榜单,这是律所在十年内第十次获此殊荣。“君合的人文关怀和与时俱进的工作管理制度,在律师界一直享有美誉。我们的律师队伍较为稳定,离职率较低。”谈到2020年的招聘策略,“从院校直接招收的应届毕业生和留学归国人员将是君合人力资源的主要来源。同时,君合将加大有经验律师的招聘力度,以确保律师梯队在结构上的合理性。”

李大进律师告诉ALB,“作为律所管理者,更让我欣喜的不是从外面吸引来了多少人,而是我们近两年合伙人的增量来源于本所内年轻人的主动申请。这说明大家认可了你的理念、文化和制度。当然我们也欢迎任何愿意到我们‘一体化’平台上来发展的其他律师同仁,特别是80后和90后年轻人。”

在何保罗律师看来,“大部分的管理合伙人面对的一个很大挑战,我相信就是要管理合伙人。在我看来,如果要实现增长,首先要能够留住好的人,否则走一个来一个,数量上也没有增长。稳定性对于维护客户关系也非常重要,很少听到客户真的会抱怨某个律所业务能力不好,他们通常会说:原来合作的那个律师我联系不上或是离职了。”而和客户交流一样,他认为做好管理者的关键,“说到底就是沟通。”

律所也普遍建立了培养中坚力量的内部制度。云律师告诉ALB,浩天信和创新了管委会“一带二”管理模式,即“1位管委会成员+2位年轻合伙人”,赋予年轻合伙人参与律所管理事务的权限,充分发挥他们的创造性、积极性,提升主人翁意识,在潜移默化中实现管理的代际传承。天同则创办了天同研究院,并开设了“合伙人私享会”,解答年轻律师“如何面对客户”“庭审中可能遇到的情况”等常见的职业困惑。“看似是种技能和经验的传递,实际上也传递着律所的文化氛围和价值观。”彭律师说。

展望2020

2019年的诸多情况与经验必然在2020年得以延续,此外,几位管理者也与ALB分享了一些他们对于2020年业务、管理和宏观趋势方面的预测。

华律师和彭律师都提到了比

较具体的立法及政策影响。华律师认为,随着《外商投资法》实施,外商直接投资将全面实行准入前国民待遇和负面清单管理制度,可预期与FDI相关的业务将出现增长。此外国家已全面取消了在华外资银行、证券公司、基金管理公司等金融机构的业务范围限制,降低了外国投资者投资设立银行业、保险业机构和开展相关业务的市场准入条件。外资金融机构已经计划在证券、基金等领域一展身手,2020年可预期与此相关的业务领域出现增长。

彭律师则提到了2020年将要出台的《民法典》。“《民法典》会影响老百姓的整个社会生活,也对法律服务行业具有深远意义,其中很多法条都会存在很大的适用解读空间。”天同为此和南京大学合作成立了天同南大法律评注中心,期待未来可以在法典评注方面做出自己的贡献,并确保天同在法律行业的专业品牌。

李大进律师则指出,天达共和将继续搭建一个在发展之中能够将执业风险降到最低,继续夯实专业架构,让服务更紧密结合市场需求的律所,让律师在适合的平台上做最好的自我,让客户们在满足自己需求的律师服务中感到踏实。不求大增,也防止大减,行稳至远。

何保罗律师则预测了2020年国内外法律市场可能出现的三点趋势:“第一,更多外国律所将继续选择合并;第二,在英国、澳大利亚等地,会有更多律所上市;第三,我们会看到更多外资所开始和中资所做联营。”

 

What to Expect in 2020

With the year 2019 seeing lots of domestic and international challenges for China, law firms have been adjusting their practice areas and business models accordingly. Managing partners of both PRC and international law firms share the lessons they’ve learned from 2019, as well as their vision for 2020.

 

With the uncertain international political situation impacting trade, as well as recession in the traditional business sectors, Chinese law firms are seeking out new practice areas, even as they feel pressure from their competitions and their ever-demanding clients. Quite a few have tried new management models as well as novel marketing strategies. Additionally, they have realized the importance of retaining talent, especially young talent.

UPS AND DOWNS

In 2019, all eyes were on the unpredict-able situation between China and the United States. As a resulted of this situation, law firms witnessed slowing growth or even a decline in business in areas such as capital markets and foreign investment in 2019. Compared with the optimism brought about by the rapid growth in previous years, law firms and their clients have generally adopted a wait-and-see mentality in the past year.

Some effects of the trade war were very real, especially for China’s private enterprises. Li Dajin, director of East & Concord Partners, says: “Enterprises, especially small and medium-sized one, are striving for survival. Moreover, owing to the increase in the operating and maintenance costs of clients, the litigation costs have also increased accordingly.” Yun Dahui, managing partner of Hylands Law Firm concurs: “Some private enterprises were among the Fortune 500 at the beginning of the year, then went bankrupt by the end.”

Other commonly mentioned factors having an impact on legal work are: the establishment of the STAR Market, the new guidance from the Supreme Court concerning civil and commercial cases, the increasing compliance requirements of enterprises, strict supervision and control on the financial sector, and that fact that the Supreme Court raised the target amount of the first trial to 5 billion yuan.

Some changes have brought new opportunities for law firms. Hua Xiaojun, member of the Management Committee of JunHe says: “JunHe has acted for the IPO listings of thirteen enterprises on the STAR Market by the beginning of November 2019, who are from the sectors of pharmaceutical manufacturing, software and information technology services, computers, communications and other electronic equipment manufacturing.” Some changes provide opportunities while at the same time requiring extra caution. As Yun mentions, China now requires all state-owned enterprises to establish compliance systems, and this has resulted in great demands for compliance-related legal services, “but we don’t know whether it could grow in a long-term business because the certainty of policy is not clear.”

Some changes have even shaken up a law firm’s entire business model. Take Tiantong & Partners for example, which used to focus on Supreme Court appeal cases. After the increase in target amount, they have to get involved in more first-instance cases. Peng Qing, founding partner of Tiantong & Partners, says: “In the past, the Supreme Court cases basically accounted for 80 percent of our caseload, but now it has become half-and-half. However, the long cycle of first trial cases and the slow payment of fees necessitate us to make the base even larger.” This has a great impact on the firm’s strategy and its relationship with clients.

With the traditional market shrinking, law firms have also explored new business areas, which might further blossom in 2020. “The advantage of a general practice firm is to make business adjustments within the firm,” says Li. In 2019, East & Concord has made its mark in areas like government legal services and the sports industry. The firm also hired two new partners in Shanghai to develop its antitrust business.

Yun says that the new growth of Hylands in 2019 was in “corporate compliance, family wealth management, data privacy compliance and artificial intelligence”.

Some law firms have gone against the bleak environment through changes in strategies. Ince is a good example. In early 2019, Ince merged with Gordon Dadds and consequently not only doubled its staff size, but also “expanded into a diversified firm which can provide more legal services in addition to our traditional advantages. In Shanghai and Beijing, we could begin to sell more business to our clients,” says Paul Ho, head of Ince for China. In 2019, Ince not only added a new team of about 30 people in Hong Kong, but also its profit growth in China is expected to exceed 80 percent.

INTENSE COMPETITION

In 2019, law firms felt the fierce competition in the legal market. “The figures provide concrete evidence,” says Li of East & Concord. “At present, the number of lawyers in Beijing has almost reached to 37,000, while the number of lawyers in the whole country has reached 460,000.”

Yun mentions that the tendering system adopted by state-owned enterprises has made the competition for legal services even fiercer. Peng corroborates her words, “The supervision on state-owned enterprises, central enterprises and listed companies is getting ever-stricter, and SASAC requires the process of tendering and leaves no room for rent-seeking. This makes the competition very fierce. We are learning to adapt.”

As a foreign firm, Ince also feels the obvious growth of competitive pressure in the Chinese market. “PRC law firms are getting stronger and better, and their fees are getting higher and higher. We also must do better. Any pause will make us lag,” says Ho, “Nevertheless, I think the Chinese market is still big enough. With more Chinese enterprises going abroad, we also have more opportunities to cooperate with PRC law firms.”

The relationship between law firms and clients inevitably underwent significant or subtle changes against this background. According to Li, the requirements of clients, especially those at technical level, are gradually increasing. “In this new era, if a law firm still only sells legal services, it will not be able to take a share in the market, or serve customers better. Some clients want lawyers to understand A.I., internet and blockchain, some even ask us to incorporate elements of technology when designing investment plans or business models.”

Tiantong used to only deal with dispute resolution, but now “as our service has been extended to a more preliminary level, we have found that the needs of clients are all-dimensional. Consequently, we have set up a business section for enforcement and bankruptcy reorganisation,” Peng says.

Ho understands the “essentials” of better service for clients from another aspect. “I think communication and trust are very important. When the economic prospect is gloomy, people have to spend more time meeting clients. It is hard but also important to strike a balance between meeting clients and not compromising the quality of your work. This is a good test of whether your team is strong and mature enough.”

INNOVATIVE MANAGEMENT

Evolution of law firm management was a hot topic in China’s legal market in 2019, with many law firms changing or planning to change their current system of management, partnership system and other aspects.

Hylands introduced new management roles such as chief operating officer in 2019. Yun says: “Introduction of the managerial system is a very important change, which greatly liberates the energy of partners.” Tiantong has also tried “enterprise-style operation, with introduction of strategic consulting and aptitude evaluation agencies,” Peng says.

Ince experienced integration in China in 2019. “We have unified three offices of Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai,” says Ho, “In this way, we minimize office competition and it allows us to make better use of resources. Even the revenue and cash flow are combined.”

With the increasing refinement and differentiation of management techniques, Chinese law firms are forging ahead en masse in various ways about marketing and brand strategies. Hua says: “With the development of China’s legal profession, a higher standard of professionalism is expected not only of the lawyers, but also of all teams, including the marketing team. At present, the law firm management team’s understanding of the importance of brand marketing stays at different stages, and we expect that the ‘head effect’ of brand differentiation in the Chinese market will become more obvious in the future.”

Tiantong refined its brand marketing strategy in 2019. “According to the location of each branch office, we implement strategies that suit the particular needs.” Peng says, “In areas where the brand of Tiantong has been established, it is necessary to list out the target customers through big data, then carry out a precise ‘crackdown’. However, in areas where the brand is relatively not well-known, we will continue to expand our influence through brand promotion activities such as forums.”

For some law firms, they recognise the necessity of marketing techniques, but feel even more that a “brand” is the cultivation of internal quality. Yun believes that the core of brand differentiation in China’s legal service market in 2020 is “market segmentation.” On this basis, according to the personalised needs of the target market, through brand positioning and the mass media, they bestow the brand with a unique value, establishing a distinct image, achieving brand differentiation and personalised core competitive advantage.”

According to Li, “brand” is something more related to the sense of professional responsibility of a lawyer. “Having an esteemed career and being able to serve others professionally, I think, are the two most valuable aspects of a lawyer’s brand,” he says.

RETAINING TALENTS

In 2019, law firms generally felt the importance of talent. This refers not only to the recruitment of new partners, but more importantly, also to the cultivating a sense of belonging among internal staff and taking care of the growth of young lawyers.

JunHe has once again won the ALB China Top 15 Best Employers award in 2019. “Junhe’s humanistic care and work management system that keeps pace with the times have always enjoyed a good reputation in the legal profession. Our team of lawyers is relatively stable, and the turnover rate is relatively low.” Hua says.

Li tells ALB, “As director of a law firm, what makes me happier is not how many people have been attracted from the outside, but rather the promotion to partners of our young lawyers. This shows that they agree with our philosophy, professional culture and system.”

In the opinion of Paul Ho, “Most managing partners are facing a great challenge, which I believe, is to manage partners. In my view, if we want to achieve growth, we must first be able to retain competent people, otherwise there will be no increase of people after their coming and quitting. Stability is also very important for maintaining client relationships.” He believes that, just like client communication, the key to be a good manager is “communication after all.”

2020 VISION

Many of the conditions and experiences of 2019 are bound to continue in 2020. In addition, several partners share with ALB some of their forecasts about business, management and macro trends for 2020.

Both Hua and Peng mention the specific implications of legislation and policy. Hua believes that with the implementation of the Foreign Investment Law, businesses involved in foreign direct investment will grow. In addition, the state has completely abolished the restrictions on the business scope of foreign banks, securities companies, fund management companies and similar financial institutions in China, it is expected that the related business areas will also grow in 2020.

Peng mentions the Civil Code to be promulgated and implemented in 2020, which will have far-reaching significance to the legal service industry, with much room for interpreting the application of articles therein. To this end, Tiantong has cooperated with Nanjing University to establish the Tiantong-Nanjing University Law Commentary Centre, which is expected to develop into a non-governmental judicial interpretation group in China in the future.

On the other hand, Li points out that East & Concord will continue to build a business framework that can minimize risks during development. “There will not be a sudden increase in business, nor will there be a sudden drop in business.”

Ho predicts there to be three possible trends in 2020: “First, more foreign law firms will continue to choose to merge; second, more law firms will be listed on capital markets; and third, we will see more international law firms entering into joint operations with Chinese firms.”

 

To contact the editorial team, please email ALBEditor@thomsonreuters.com.