大成律师事务所创建的“下一代法律全球转介网”（Nextlaw Referral Network）目前是全球规模最大的律师协作网络，拥有来自200个国家的超过700家律师事务所。和传统律师协作网络不同，该平台不收取会员费，对于律所不进行规模限定，同时也没有“一地一所”的限制。通过专有技术，会员律所可以搜索、联络客户需求地的合适律所，并对他们的服务进行评分，以保障客户能够在陌生法域同样得到高质量服务。会员还可以利用这一平台追踪自己的所有推荐及被推荐记录，形成个性化推荐选择。这一平台同时入驻了多家法律科技供应商，以折扣价格向会员律所提供相关服务。
新冠疫情期间，大成上线了“COVID-19 Hub”，该信息中心针对员工、客户及合作伙伴，协调全球48个国家的区域办公室，实时整合各国政府公告、防疫资讯、以及涉及劳动法、数据隐私保护、不可抗力、税务、竞争反垄断等领域专业资讯。疫情期间，大成还在直播App“大成律师”（Dentons Lawyer）中上线了“大成学习假期”（Dentons Learning Holiday），免费向律师和客户提供培训课程，自2020年2月来共上线了超过100门课程、观看量超过170余万次。
虹桥正瀚律师事务所自2011年起实行了纯粹的“计点制”（pure lock-up）分配模式，是中国大陆极少数使用此种分配制度的律师事务所之一。在虹桥正瀚看来，唯有通过解决合伙人之间的分配关系、促成更好的律所内部合作模式，才能为客户提供品质更高、内容更前沿和复杂、速度更快、成本更受控制的法律服务。纯粹“计点制” 打破了合伙人边界，将整个事务所打造成完全一体化的团队，使合伙人、律师人均营业持续多年创下新高，并帮助律所快速打造了顶尖争议解决、金融、房地产等团队。
2020 ALB Trailblazers – China
While law firms may have once courted a traditional, somewhat conventional image —today, innovation and adaptation are key. From employing new types of groundbreaking technology to establishing new ways of working and new approaches, there are many different ways to be a trailblazer. For ALB's new Trailblazers 2020 rankings, 10 Chinese firms stand out for their originality, leadership and impact.
A year of upheaval has demonstrated that law firms need to be nimble and adaptive if they are to come out of this crisis and thrive in the long run. Here are some firms that are using innovative approaches to tackle existing challenges and also make themselves future proof.
It is likely that years from now when we look back on 2020, we'll remember it as the time of the Big Shift in Asia's legal industry. At the start of this year, the traditional law firm model was already under a considerable amount of strain, with shifting client expectations, rapid advancements in technology, and a plethora of high-quality competition. And then turned up COVID-19 to deliver what appears to be a decisive blow.
As law firms scrambled to contain the fallout to their businesses, one thing started to become obvious —that innovation and boldness were the critical keys to both surviving the current shock, but also set the stage for sustainable growth in the future.
Keeping this in mind, we sought submissions for the ALB Trailblazers listing of innovative law firms. Given that this was the first edition, we were surprised at the diverse responses from across the legal industry — marquee names in their respective markets showcased their innovation credentials, while smaller law firms highlighted just what could happen if firms had a mix of ambition and a positive mindset.
The rankings were well received by the legal industry players in China. Although innovation is defined in different ways, overall we can look at it from a few aspects, namely management, distribution, business model, legal network, technology innovation and flexibility. We share how the winners enable innovation using these aspects.
Before we introduce the trailblazers, we would like to share two noteworthy observations. Firstly, law firms sometimes propose very different solutions to the same pain points. Secondly, the winners' list presents a more diverse representation that includes not only marquee names and smaller law firms, but also local firms and boutique law firms.
With the Trailblazers listing, we hope to initiate a discussion on the innovation of law firms. A small step taken today could be an important indicator of survival in the future.
1. Beijing DOCVIT Law Firm
Keywords: management, legal network, technology innovation
Alongside its multiple China offices, DOCVIT Law Firm has set up a headquarters in Beijing which is an independent entity and the main holder of the rights and interests of each office. Partners of the law firm can also earn a stake in the headquarters in certain ways. At the headquarters are the brand strategy centre, the product R&D and guidance centre, as well as the business support and market coordination centre. The headquarters leads work relating to strategy, products and marketing of the firm and manages all the offices.
DOCVIT Law Firm led the establishment of the Green Legal Global Alliance (GLGA), which is China's first cross-sector alliance made up of insiders from legal services, academic research, financial institutions, industry entities, business incubators, the Internet industry, innovation-driven companies, media, and other groups. GLGA organizes cross-sector forums, seminars, salons and closed-door events, as well as conducting research on industries. The alliance published the Legal Health Index Report on National Private Equity Industry, the Legal Health Index Report on National Insurance Industry, the Legal Health Index Report on Listed Companies among Central SOE, the 2018 Blue Book of China's Non-Performing Assets and so forth.
DOCVIT Law Firm has also developed internally the Green Cloud VIT system that comprises three subsystems, namely Green Firm Cloud, Green Enterprise Cloud and Green Core Cloud. The Green Firm Cloud subsystem supports functions covering business, finance, administration, human resources, bidding, branding, marketing, and communication. The Green Enterprise Cloud subsystem connects lawyers and clients, while Green Core Cloud allows for cross-sector seminars, resource placement and collaboration via a mobile app and PC.
2. Beijing Dentons Law Offices
Keywords: legal network, flexibility, technological innovation
Created by Dentons, the Nextlaw Referral Network is the world's largest legal network, connecting more than 700 law firms from 200 countries. Unlike conventional legal networks, it is free and open to all law firms regardless of size, and is not geographically exclusive in membership. The network utilizes a proprietary technology platform to help member firms research, contact, and rate the performance of network members to guarantee that clients receive the highest quality legal advice and business solutions. Members can also easily record and track the types of referrals they are receiving and sending, and where the referrals are going to or coming from to better shape their offers and assistance effectively. It also serves as a distribution channel of curated legal technology for its members, at discounted prices.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dentons launched the COVID-19 Hub. The law firm united regional offices in 48 countries to integrate global consultations and summarised them in the hub, which allows its employees, clients and partners to find the latest government announcements and pandemic updates, as well as information about labour law, data privacy protection, force majeure, taxation, competition and antitrust law. During the pandemic, the law firm launched the Dentons Learning Holiday program on its live-streaming mobile app known as Dentons Lawyer to provide free training courses to its lawyers and clients. Since February, Dentons has live-streamed more than 100 courses, which have drawn over 1.7 million views.
3. CM Law Firm
Keywords: business model, product innovation
Innovative expertise in capital markets allows CM Law Firm to structure deals for companies that suit their unique nature to achieve desirable results.
Over the past few years, the law firm has been helping investors and regulators understand the online cosmetic surgery platform, an emerging industry at home and abroad. It helped SoYoung to become the first Chinese internet cosmetic services company to list on Nasdaq. The law firm also examined the legal basis of online brokerage when regulations for this area were yet to be in place, and eventually helped Futu Securities to be the first Chinese online broker to list on Nasdaq.
Furthermore, the law firm has an in-depth understanding of various emerging industries, and uses this to provide comprehensive legal services to companies, especially startups, in different development stages to help them grow. For biotech startup Kintor Pharmaceutical Limited, CM Law Firm served as its special legal adviser on restructuring and pre-IPO financing, and provided legal advice to the underwriter for Kintor's IPO. The law firm accompanied Kintor on its journey to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange from China’s New Third Board, providing innovative and integrated legal services in the capital market space.
4. Jiali Law Firm
Keywords: business model, management
As one of the six leading law firms specializing in marriage and family affairs in China, Jiali Law Firm has established an integrated operating model that oversees marketing, customer service, products, and cases. Thanks to this model, the law firm is providing a lot more consultation on a daily basis. Jiali has also streamlined work process and productized its legal services, so it can improve customer experience while accumulating data from the cases it handles. As a result, it has been publishing an annual white paper on marriage and family affairs.
Jiali has internally developed a standard operating procedure (SOP) system, a multi-functional work system that integrates tasks and projects. This combines various functions for users to generate tasks, manage their schedules, control risks, review tasks, manage collaborative projects, organize bookmarks, and discuss work. The data collected allowed for the creation of a database and the system can analyse the employees' work progress, creating a new working model that is task-oriented. In addition, the SOP system has a built-in procedure for handling cases to ensure details are collected to allow others to follow up the case more easily. This minimizes risks with the help of data as it avoids negligence and thus losses. It also makes legal work easier to handle, improving service quality, and eventually revenue growth, thanks to this tech-enabled tool.
Keywords: distribution, technology innovation
Since 2015, JunHe LLP has adopted a modified lockstep model to reform its partner remuneration system. Taking into account the risk-averse and conservative nature of the legal industry, the law firm chose not to overhaul the original remuneration system, but allowed some partners to voluntarily move their pay to the new system for second distribution. Currently, both remuneration systems have been running smoothly at the firm for six years.
In terms of building its IT capabilities, JunHe's strategy is to procure core software systems externally while developing auxiliary systems internally. It gradually built systems for case management, file management, work schedule management, lawyer/administration review, human resources management, workstation reservation, client relations, and knowledge management. JunHe has also developed a mobile app that serves the legal community.
The firm has internally developed several unique software packages used by the Chinese legal community, such as a system that can track the availability of lawyers in real-time and rearrange work between different teams, as well as another system for client relations with functions for managing client data and marketing costs and events. It has also developed a system to review lawyers and automatically identify and remove inappropriate reviews.
6. King & Wood Mallesons
Keywords: product innovation, business model, flexibility
The rapidly evolving market environment is forcing law firms to transform their business models and keep introducing new legal service products while understanding market demand. Since 2018, King & Wood Mallesons has launched the first ABS product with innovative features in the IP space, the first IPOs on Shanghai-London Stock Connect and the STAR board, and the first asset-backed securities with the financial leases of IP as the underlying asset.
At the same time, the law firm has followed national policies to formulate region/expertise-based business initiatives, such as the KWM International Center in the Greater Bay Area in April 2018, and the KWM Belt & Road Center for International Cooperation and Facilitation in March 2019. The law firm also launched an investment and financing platform in 2019 on which partners can expand access to clients to facilitate more transactions.
To cope with the changes in the workplace triggered by the pandemic and digitalization, the law firm has launched the KWM Cloud Office in seven cities, including Wuhan, Chongqing, Xi’an, Zhengzhou, Kunming, Shenyang in China, and Auckland in New Zealand. Cloud operations are supported by an online legal services platform in integrating online and offline functions, bringing together the law firm's global network and experts to meet the needs of local clients.
7. V&T Law Firm
Keywords: legal network, management
V&T Law Firm led the establishment of the V&T Alliance, which is currently made up of law firms and legal services organizations from seven countries and regions. The alliance is going global as China deepens its Belt and Road strategy, which is producing Chinese clients who need foreign-related legal services, and creates opportunities for the alliance to take part in China's development.
In terms of its management, V&T invented a model that integrates platform, management, and capital. Apart from its legal business, V&T has established a company specializing in operations and marketing for legal service providers, and a company specializing in litigation finance. V&T was also the first to put forward the concept of "legal capital" to focus on venture capital investment and operations in the legal sector.
8. Winteam500 Law Firm
Keywords: management, business model, legal tech
Winteam500 restructured its property rights, management, and distribution systems by referencing the system of limited liability companies. Currently, 23 partners have become investment partners, and the operations team is granted a 25% stake in the law firm to support its work. At the same time, the law firm integrated four departments across marketing, customer, products, and services to set up the MCPS Business Center to productize its services. It also introduced agents to advertise the lawyers.
In terms of business models, wealth succession planning has been a hot area in legal services. However, high-net-worth clients are often in the hands of VIP centres belonging to banks and insurers, which deprives law firms of access to these clients. Winteam500 collaborates with large insurers in China to create its private wealth legal service, under which 100 lawyers work with 10 large insurers to provide services to high-net-worth clients referred by the insurers. Legal service, therefore, becomes part of the service package and lawyers share their proportion of the profit from the collaborating insurers.
In the legal tech space, Winteam participated in the incubation of the KindleLaw operating system as well as fadada.com, an integrated service platform that offers electronic contracts, electronic signatures, and electronic seals.
9. Yuanda China Law Firm
Keywords: flexibility, business model
Yuanda adopts a unique approach to provide clients with cross-border services against the backdrop of the ongoing trade tensions. The law firm identifies and mitigates potential risks in advance for clients, while it helps Chinese companies analyse the deep-seated backgrounds and reasons why they might become the targets of investigations, law enforcement, or sanctions. To properly perform this function, Yuanda uses its extensive experience in communicating with the U.S. authorities and in-depth knowledge of various U.S. law enforcement departments and specific law enforcement officers. These attributes enable Yuanda to predict how laws will be enforced and help clients formulate strategies accordingly. The law firm can also identify high-risk employees in the company, evaluate the chain effect caused by legal risks, and help the company find justifications and evidence.
The team combines expertise at home and abroad — Chinese lawyers as core members, with U.S. lawyers, accountants, and public relation consultants coming aboard to jointly formulate and execute strategies. This system enables Chinese clients to address queries from the Chinese and U.S. authorities, media, clients, suppliers, banks, investors, and employees, as well as offering services from legal, economic, and social aspects.
As data protection is getting more complex, Yuanda has adopted an innovative approach to help clients address issues regarding cross-border data transfer and cybersecurity. The law firm not only helps clients formulate plans that address the legal requirements of cross-border data transfer across China, the EU and the U.S., but also advises on handling sensitive data, confidential state information, complex political relations, and trade compliance, as well as for settling conflicts between China's laws and the requirements of the U.S. government.
10. Zhenghan Law Firm
Keywords: distribution, technology innovation
Zhenghan Law Firm has implemented a pure lock-up compensation model since 2011 and is one of the very few law firms in China to do so. The law firm believes that only by addressing compensation among the partners can it foster better cooperation within the firm, so as to provide clients with higher quality and speedier legal services that are more cutting-edge and complex in nature with more controllable costs. The pure lock-up model creates a fully integrated team, and has enabled the per capita revenue brought in by partners and lawyers to hit new highs over many years. It also helps the law firm quickly assemble top-notch teams specializing in dispute resolution, finance, and real estate.
In terms of IT capabilities, Zhenghan was one of the world's first law firms to bring in Oracle's ERP system. The law firm also keeps updating the system to align it with its document management system to achieve 100 percent remote working, which enables efficient management and helps partners and lawyers handle cases much more efficiently.
To contact the editorial team, please email ALBEditor@thomsonreuters.com.