以下获奖名单按姓氏字母顺序。The winners are listed below in alphabetical order by last name.
陈进进 Chen Jinjin
唐周俊 Tang Zhoujun
陈一敏 Chen Yimin
王悦 Jason Wang
吴小亮 Wu Xiaoliang
夏锋 Jerry Xia
杨关善 Yang Guanshan
杨锦文 Yang Jinwen
杨曙光 Yang Shuguang
李琳琳 Li Linlin
张淼 Zhang Miao
黎学宁 Li Xuening
张婷 Zhang Ting
2020 ALB China Client Choice
For lawyers, the greatest honour is to be recognized and praised by their clients. As in other years, ALB surveyed some 1,800 clients of lawyers in China, asking them to recommend lawyers who stood out not only for their ability to provide sound advice, but also their commitment to client service.
In an era when new technologies and innovative ideas are reshaping all aspects of our lives and work, lawyers find that for clients, the definitions of "good lawyer" and "good legal service experience" are constantly changing. In particular, as the COVID-19 pandemic this year has caused changes in the legal service delivery model, lawyers have started to give client service and relationships a greater amount of consideration.
But there’s something remaining unchanged about the legal profession: Lawyers are required to uphold the professional ethics, codes of conduct and social responsibilities regardless of social and economic changes.
In ALB's survey this year, several new keywords are frequently seen in clients' evaluations of lawyers. What do lawyers think about the "new standards" put forward by clients?
RISE OF ‘EXPERT LAWYERS’
The 20 lawyers made the list this year are all seasoned experts in different industries or business fields. The survey shows that clients praise them for their in-depth understanding of the industries, in particular the fact that they have a good grasp of new regulations and business trends in the relevant fields, and in many cases, they can even guide clients in new projects.
The term "expert lawyer" is frequently seen in the legal market in recent years. "You can see more and more mainstream lawyers who, focusing on one or several industries and business fields and taking advantage of combining profound legal expertise and knowledge of industries, truly understand the pain points of their clients," Zhang Miao, partner at Hylands Law Firm says.
An "expert lawyer" could mean that a lawyer who at the same time is also an industry expert and a business expert.
Tang Zhoujun, partner at Zhong Lun Law Firm, describes the emergence of expert lawyers as the fact that the essence of legal services is in the delivery of results.
"Satisfying clients' needs at the lowest cost is almost the ultimate expectation of all clients for lawyers. Lawyers must aim to satisfy clients' needs, while laws are one of the approaches to achieving that goal. It's of no value if the legal argument is not aimed at offering feasible solutions to clients," he says.
Therefore, Tang believes that, in addition to having good knowledge of rules and laws, lawyers must also "always pay attention to the national policies, macroeconomic trends, social hot spots, changes in the business environment, etc., and at the same time deeply understand the nature of the industries and business requirements of clients, and then use the laws to solve problems flexibly from their perspectives."
According to Zhang Miao, an "expert lawyer" should possess three abilities.
"The first is the problem-solving ability: clients want to know 'what can I do' when facing problems, and they hope lawyers to provide concrete suggestions and a set of plans for responding to foreseeable risks; the second is the ability to create value. During the implementation of projects, lawyers should be able to participate in the design of business models, and help clients to reason from the legal perspective about their major decisions," she says.
She then gives an example: At the beginning of 2020, the Chinese government put forward the new concept of ramping up infrastructure investments through REITs (real estate investment trusts) in order to tackle the financing difficulties in the construction industry. Zhang Miao then led her team to quickly carry out research and prepared a project financing guide for clients under the new model. "This is a very good example of combing the legal thinking with the business thinking," Zhang says.
"And the third is that an expert lawyer must also have the ability to provide great customer experience," she adds.
In addition to combining legal and business awareness, Chen Yimin, senior partner at Jia Yuan Law Offices, further points out that an expert lawyer "is even able to take the initiative to guide clients in transactions, or lead the smooth advancement of transactions and the realization of transaction objectives."
"When representing investors in private equity investments, I require my team members not only to complete legal-related due diligence and the relevant transaction documents, but also to fully communicate matters such as the transaction time and possible transaction parties with the clients, and also to discuss with clients on the possible pain points at the earliest possible time. We also guided clients to set different time expectations for different aspects of the transactions, and took the initiative to remind clients of possible difficulties and advise them on the next steps to be taken," Chen illustrates.
"By working this way, we pretty much play the role of a financial consultant … which requires us not only having knowledge of laws, but also having a good combination of IQ and EQ," he says.
According to Chen Jinjin, partner at Jingtian & Gongcheng, the combination of capabilities in legal, industrial and business aspects is actually a re-definition of the abilities of lawyers in the increasingly complex social and business environment.
"For example, a large number of laws and regulations are updated faster, posing higher requirements on lawyers' continuous learning ability; with the wide use of Internet technology and the rise of new economy companies, more importance is given to the work style that can help solve problems quickly, requiring lawyers to respond immediately and give feedback quickly," he says.
"And the emergence of innovative business models calls for lawyers with cross-industries backgrounds and creative problem-solving ability. In the context that companies are growing faster, and mainstream global capital markets are competing with one another while being interconnected, it poses new challenges to lawyers in terms of the ability to provide one-stop services across the primary and secondary markets, and in domestic and overseas markets," he adds.
But clients have more to consider when evaluating the legal services. In addition to the above "hard core" capabilities, we also see feedback on the "soft skills" of lawyers – for example dedication, efficiency, strong communication skills, strong leadership, approachability, patience to explain, and even "he/she made me feel at home" - in the survey.
"Legal services are actually very difficult to quantify. Whether lawyers are professional or whether they have appropriate skills are all reflected in clients’ objective feelings," Zhang Miao says.
"The legal profession is a part of the services industry, and a lawyer's responsibility is to find solutions for people, so the soft skills are particularly important," Tang of Zhong Lun points out.
In his view, soft skills include two aspects, namely, listening skills and effective communication skills.
"Lawyers must learn to listen to clients' needs, think in the others’ shoes, and consider clients' perspectives … Meanwhile, legal expressions may be difficult for clients to understand, lawyers should try to explain the laws to the clients, and even their counterparties, in a professional yet acceptable way," Tang says.
Chen of Jia Yuan points to the particular importance of the good verbal communication skills.
"Lawyers should be down to the earth," he says and then gives a vivid example: many young lawyers can speak eloquently before colleagues, but when reporting to clients, they'd be interrupted within a few minutes. "They should do more homework about the people they will speak to. Lawyers shouldn't immerse themselves in paperwork all the time; they should actively participate in activities such as communication with clients and negotiations, to have more interactions with people," Chen adds.
He also points out that lawyers should make logic arguments in a balanced way. "I was in some negotiations where some lawyers tended to be very aggressive. I still remember in a private equity investment project, we hadn't even gone into the details about the terms of the transaction, a lawyer of the counterparty said 'No' without even listening to what we had to say, and said to us 'then don't invest in (this project) if you don't agree.' It was really embarrassing."
"I think that lawyer made a big mistake by actually being a 'deal breaker.' He was acting tough but what he did was not conductive to the success of the deal. This shows that a good lawyer should also learn to manage his emotions and stress. You don't want to make your clients worry about you, or even would not like to talk with you," he says.
Zhang Miao of Hylands points out that soft skills also include leadership and empathy.
“In particular when facing group clients or handling large projects, lawyers would serve their clients as a team, and whether a partner has a strong leadership is particularly important. In addition, empathy is also an important skill for lawyers. As a female lawyer, I tend to be more patient in listening to clients, which helps me to build rapport with them. In practice, lawyers have their own different ways to build trust with their clients," she says.
"I believe that an excellent lawyer should uphold the spirit of craftsmanship, continuously improve their professional capabilities, keep promises, give timely feedback to clients, and continuously increase your clients' trust, so that your clients will have faith in your capabilities, and more importantly, in your character," Yang Jinwen, partner at JunHe, sums up.
When it comes to the changes of clients' preferred characters over the past few years, the lawyers observe that more clients require them to "combine hard-core capabilities with soft skills."
According to Zhang Miao, "with continuous evolvement of the legal service industry, we’re now facing a consumer-dominated legal market, and lawyers with comprehensive strengths will gain more recognition and trust."
"Changes have been quite noticeable in recent years. When selecting a lawyer, a client would look at his performance or the brand of his firm, and meanwhile ask his peers about his reputation, including whether he has good communication skills and whether he is willing to cooperate," Chen of Jia Yuan admits.
"If I were the client, I'd also like to find a lawyer with the combination of hard-core capabilities and soft skills," he adds.
Another word frequently seen in this year's survey is the "innovative thinking" of lawyers.
In Zhang's view, "a client who asks a lawyer for help usually because the client can't find a way out the current situation already. Innovative thinking enables a lawyer not to be constrained by conventional thinking and to find new and unique solutions."
But she also points out that the "innovation must be based on the essential characteristics of the case, and at the same time the lawyer must have a flexible and innovative mindset."
"Innovation without a solid professional foundation is dangerous. Different from other professions, legal services have a very low tolerance for the failures resulted from trial and error. Therefore, lawyers' innovative thinking should be fully combined with their experiences and aimed at solving problems," Chen of Jia Yuan says.
"Clients rely on lawyers for their comprehensive experiences in finance, taxation, business, and practical operations. Lawyers with more experiences are able to provide solutions of higher effectiveness and accuracy," he adds.
Tang of Zhong Lun believes that for legal professionals, "flexibility" and "respect" usually go hand in hand.
He shares a case he and his team handled lately. Tang and his team participated in an acquisition project of a listed company, which couldn't follow the conventional transaction structure because of the tight schedule. They therefore designed a two-tier transaction structure, which made a breakthrough in the regulatory convention form. After communicating with the competent authority on the essence of the new structure, they obtained the approval, finally helped the client complete the transaction.
LAWYERS’ INTERNET THINKING
Given the special circumstances this year, many lawyers have transferred big bunch of their work online. In fact, the Internet has already become an indispensable tool for lawyers in recent years, whether for work communication or self-promotion.
Chen of Jia Yuan found it quite challenging providing services online during the pandemic. "When serving the clients, the biggest challenge for me is time management, which I believe is the art of balancing input and output. We had to work online during the pandemic – to be honest, we began ‘online working’ since the creation of WeChat already… It has been super normal for clients to leave messages on WeChat, to drag us into chat groups, or to start online meetings without advance notices," he tells ALB.
"While it makes it more convenient and efficient for us to communicate, the problem is that lawyers can't stay on WeChat all the time to respond to clients' enquiry." Therefore he came up with two solutions: sharing ready articles with clients about normal enquiries, and also assigning specific lawyers to be responsible for responding online. "In this way, we greatly improved the efficiency of dealing with less difficult tasks, and clients also enjoy our efficient feedback," he says.
Zhang Miao echoes Chen's opinion.
"We had to handle a lot of matters online this year, which is to some extent a disruption to the legal service delivery approach. To work well with clients, we need to establish and maintain rapport with them, which requires communication and empathy. With the new service delivery model, how could we guarantee to provide the same customer experience as offline models?" she says.
To this end, Hylands is planning to launch a new OA system, hoping to visualize the lawyers' work results online, and display the firm's work results to clients through the new system. Zhang hopes that there will be more customized software products in the market that can satisfy the needs of the legal profession in the future.
Another influence of the "Internet thinking" on lawyers is the use of the Internet for self-promotion.
Chen of Jia Yuan observes that "during the pandemic, many lawyers worked to increase their exposure or social influence by means of writing articles on WeChat, making publicity of their teams through WeChat moments, or carrying out online training for clients."
In his opinion, lawyers' use of the Internet for increasing their exposure is an efficient supplementary to offline business development and client retention. Lawyers could use various online platforms to attract web traffic, but meanwhile, they need to think about how to turn the traffic into the real deals.
Zhang Miao believes that there are advantages and disadvantages in terms of using the Internet to do publicity.
"This is the era of consumer sovereignty, and in the face of economic downturn, clients tend to be more cautious. The self-promotion of lawyers without doubt provides clients with more comprehensive information and more diversified channels. But to some extent, the we-media publicity also increases the decision-making time cost of clients. Furthermore, lawyers should choose the right platform when they make publicity online," she says.
Although their capabilities and services are recognized by this year’s ranking, the enlisted lawyers still dream big for the future.
Some want to advance in their areas of practice, such as Chen of Jingtian & Gongcheng and Yang of JunHe. Chen hopes that "my team would become the 'client choice' team in the TMT field."
And Yang says: "With the rapid development of a new generation of information technology such as 5G, big data, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and and blockchain, cybersecurity and data protection will become more and more important. I will devote myself to the research of cutting-edge issues and comprehensively meet the new compliance requirements posed by technological innovation on enterprises."
Some want to contribute to the development of the large market, as Tang of Zhong Lun says that he would "work towards providing the best legal services for clients, and grow together with them … At the same time, I will serve the Chinese capital markets accurately, timely and efficiently, and provide efficient services to the connection between capital and the real economy."
Chen of Jia Yuan hopes to lead his team to greatness. "As a partner, I hope that in the future, Jia Yuan will become a prestigious law firm with a strong brand and high-quality services, so our young lawyers could be proud to announce their senses of belonging," he says.
Talking about the future, Zhang says she is "quite idealistic... As a legal professional, I want to use what I have learnt to safeguard the justice of law. I believe that it is also what all legal professionals are committed to."
In addition to leading her team to provide excellent services, Zhang also wants to fulfill her social responsibility as a lawyer. "Many people say that the legal profession is profit-seeking, but in my eyes, lawyers' priority is to protect the orderly operation of the entire society under the framework of law, so that the legitimate rights and interests of each individual are protected," she says.
To contact the editorial team, please email ALBEditor@thomsonreuters.com.