戴律师进一步指出，史密夫斐尔选择了一家规模相对较小的律所，这样两家所就能够共同成长和发展。“ 我们的目标是建立一家能够为中国客户和在中国投资的外国客户提供 物有所值的服务——他们将能够得到由一家提供全方位、全覆盖服务的综合性顶级律师事务所提供的服务。”
这一观点得到了贝克麦坚时律师事务所的赞同。贝克麦坚时于2015年率先与奋迅律师事务所在上海自贸区成立了奋迅•贝克麦坚时联营办公室——上海自贸区第一家中外律所联营办公室。与史密夫斐尔一样，贝克麦坚时的合作关系依赖于强大的文化契合度和实务上的协同。“奋迅律师事务所的国际化理念及建立更有力的平台的目标与贝克麦坚时的合作和友谊文化非常吻合。作为一个联合平台，我们在满足贝克麦坚时在中国投资的客户以及奋迅•贝克麦坚时在海外投资的客户的需求方面实现了无缝协同。” 贝克麦坚时亚洲管理合伙人Milton Cheng说。
The Right Fit
Herbert Smith Freehills recently became the sixth international law firm to enter into a joint operation (JO) in the Shanghai Free Trade Zone, about five years after China first allowed these alliances. Lawyers who have entered into JOs say that to make these relationships work, it’s vital that the two firms are compatible with each other.
In August, China announced it was to double the size of the Shanghai Free Trade Zone (FTZ), with tax incentives and exemptions being revealed after. Since it was launched in 2013, Shanghai’s FTZ has undergone a raft of changes to attract greater international business interest, and these recent developments indicate more growth may be on the horizon.
It’s no surprise, then, that it has attracted the interest of international law firms as well. Currently, there are six foreign law firms operating in the FTZ under joint operation (JO), with the most recent one being Anglo-Australian firm Herbert Smith Freehills. In August, HSF announced it was launching a JO in the FTZ with Shanghai Kewei Law Firm, a boutique outfit launched by partner Xu Wenbao in 1995.
May Tai, Greater China managing partner at Herbert Smith Freehills, says that while this may have just been announced, the relationship has been a long time in the making. Two of Kewei’s partners - Gavin Guo and Stanley Xie – have spent a significant amount of time at HSF. Guo was an associate at the firm’s Shanghai office between 2006 and 2014, while Xie has spent the entirety of his career – beginning in 2007 – at HSF, only moving to Kewei as an international partner in July this year.
“All international law firms with a significant presence in China have been considering how to develop and expand their offerings in China, in line with the opening of the market and the growth of Chinese companies,” Tai says. “About five years ago, the opportunity came in the form of the relaxation of the regulations in the Shanghai FTZ, which allows an international law firm and a Chinese law firm to combine their offerings in a way that hasn’t been permitted previously.”
Tai says that HSF initially met with a mix of niche boutiques and large Red Circle firms before settling on the Kewei arrangement. She says that eventually what drove the decision was the compatibility and the good relationship between the two firms. “It took a long time to get to a place where both firms had done lots of due diligence, knew each other and were comfortable working together,” she adds. “Then were comfortable putting a forward and application to the authorities for approval.”
BENEFITS FOR CLIENTS
Tai further notes that HSF chose a relatively small firm so that the two operations could grow and develop together. “The objective is to have a law firm that can service China in the way that Chinese clients and foreign clients investing in China deserve to be served, by a top tier law firm that is full-service, full-coverage.”
It is a view echoed by the FTZ JO pioneer, Baker McKenzie, which launched its tie-up with FenXun Partners back in 2015. And much like HSF, the firm’s partnership relies on a strong cultural fit and practice synergies. “The FenXun Partners’ international mindset and vision for a stronger platform fit well with the Baker McKenzie culture of collaboration and friendship. As a combined platform, we have achieved seamless synergies in servicing the needs of Baker McKenzie’s clients investing into China and of Baker McKenzie and FenXun’s clients investing overseas,” says Milton Cheng, the U.S. firm’s Asia managing partner.
Cheng says following the FTZ joint operation regime, the firm has been able to “handle seamlessly both the international and cross-border aspects for our clients as well as the onshore Chinese law aspects”. It has also represented clients before regulators, including the Ministry of Commerce and the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, as well as in Chinese courts, Cheng notes.
“Through our joint operation platform, we are able to advise clients on their legal needs across China on a full-service basis, including PRC dispute resolution, contentious tax, compliance, IP, real estate and employment, which most other international firms currently cannot match, as well as transactional services particularly in M&A/private equity, banking and finance, and project finance, where there is strong client demand,” he adds.
Tai, herself an arbitration lawyer, emphasizeds the capabilities when it comes to cross-border disputes.
"Today you are not resolved in one forum alone and there with be multiple parallel arbitration and litigation proceedings. To give you an example, if I have a cross-border arbitration that is seated in Hong Kong on occasion we may need to seek interim relief In the mainland to freeze assets, or ultimately to enforce the arbitral award in the mainland."
"Those are two aspects that an international firm couldn't help clients with because they can't appear in the mainland courts, so in the past we used different Chinese law firms to assist with that aspect, going forward we now have the ability to Provide a one-stop-shop offering between HSF and Kewei,” she says.
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