今年入选“2021 ALB China十五佳律师新星”榜单的律师们有着硕果累累的履历：他们服务于多元化的行业，深受这些行业里头部企业的信赖，他们所参与的案件或项目数额动辄上亿。不仅如此，在律所内部，他们还承担起管理者的角色，为团队与律所的发展出谋划策。而这些律师的平均年龄只有37.8岁，平均执业年限仅为12.7年。
2021 ALB China Rising Lawyers
Drive and ambition are the two attributes common among those that made this year’s Rising Lawyers list, as they represent the emerging energy of China’s legal industry. As we congratulate the 15 winners, ALB speaks to them about their expectations for the future.
The winners of 2021 ALB China Rising Lawyers this year have impressive resumes: Their practice areas involve diversified industries, they are trusted partners of the leading companies in those industries, and the deal amount of most of the cases and projects they handled easily reach more than 100 million yuan ($15.4 million). Not only that, with an average age of 37.8 years and a mean of 12.7 years of legal experience, they have taken on management responsibilities in their firms, making plans and leading their firms and teams to achieve remarkable growth.
There is no shortcut to success. How have these outstanding Generation Y Chinese lawyers achieved rapid growth? How can their experiences inspire the next generation? What are their next goals when it comes to climbing the ladder of success? With these questions, ALB interviewed some of the lawyers who made the list this year to hear their stories of growth.
Zang Xin, a partner at Grandway Law Office, joined the firm as a full-time lawyer after graduating from Peking University with a master's degree. Over the past more than a decade, Zang has been focusing on the practice area of capital markets. He led his team to act as the lead legal counsel for more than 20 companies in their IPOs on the main board, the SME board, the GEM board, and the STAR Market. And Zang provides refinancing and perennial legal advisory services for dozens of listed companies. The firm assigned Zang to Grandway Shanghai Office in 2016 to build a local team there for business expansion, which now sees steady business growth.
Zhou Wei, partner at Zhong Lun Law Firm, started her career in the legal profession after graduating with a master's degree in 2008. She has been focusing on the practice area of capital market dispute resolution in terms of securities compliance, securities litigation, and corporate litigation ever since she started her legal career.
"Back then, it (the securities related practice area) was a blue ocean in China's legal market, and the related regulation, law enforcement and judicial practice were in the stage of exploration and improvement. As forerunners in this area, we were faced with both opportunities and challenges. Over the years, we always endeavour to combine our expertise and in-depth study of securities related laws and regulatory policies, and regulatory and judicial practice cases, to help our clients resolve securities legal risks," Zhou says.
Zhou led her team to complete several first-of-its-kind cases with far-reaching impact in this "blue ocean" sector. In terms of securities compliance, they handled the first case of securities-related administrative settlement in China, the first case of illegal OTC capital allocation, and the first case of EFT market manipulation; and in the securities litigation area, a number of cases represented by Zhou's team involved cutting-edge disputed legal issues, and thus were selected by the Supreme People's Court (SPC) to include in the SPC annual gazette. Zhou also led her team members to actively participate in the revision of judicial interpretations and summarize their case handling experiences into works and papers on legal business guidelines, so as to promote theoretical development and system improvement through practice.
"I'm convinced that setting a clear career development direction and goals and working hard towards them, that's the way to success," Zhou says.
Wang Weibin, senior partner at AllBright Law Offices, started practicing law at MHP Law Firm after graduating with a master's degree in 2007. "A career in law was a natural path for me to take, as I've always wanted to be a good lawyer. I always tried my best to accomplish whatever tasks my mentor lawyer assigned to me," Wang Weibin says. Meanwhile, he kept the habit of completing reading one or two profession-related books a month, to constantly enrich his knowledge reserve. Looking back, "the early stage of practicing law seemed to be boring, but it was then when I gained the solid experiences and skills that prepare for my career development and help me to develop my own practicing characteristics," Wang Weibin recalls.
Having accumulated quite some practice experiences and built a consistent client base, Wang Weibin chose to practice independently in 2013. But still, it took courage for Wang Weibin to step into this role. "To put it plainly, I was faced with quite some challenges doing business development on my own in a traditional law firm as the firm usually would not give many business opportunities. So I decided to work on the business areas that there was no senior lawyer in the firm specializing in, in an attempt to form business cooperation within the firm. Based on that, I studied plenty of M&A cases, industrial M&As or financial investments, to build my practice strength, and then gradually solved the problem of limited sources of cases in the early stage of being a partner," Wang Weibin tells ALB.
Due to economic fluctuations, disputes incurred to some of the M&A projects completed by Wang Weibin earlier. He naturally became the representing lawyer in those dispute resolution cases. "Quite unexpectedly, by dealing with those dispute resolution cases, I found my new passion, to be a good dispute resolution lawyer, especially with the encouragement of my clients," Wang Weibin says.
In 2015, Wang Weibin joined AllBright Law Offices, "a larger platform and a stronger client base help broaden my horizons," Wang Weibin says. "Moreover, as a reputable firm in the market, AllBright attracts good law graduates to join us and build excellent teams. The competition in the legal profession sometimes is about how well a team works together and how strongly a team can support, in particular for litigation lawyers. We got the chance to be appointed by some major financial institutions to represent them in non-standard financial management cases involving large deal amount, I would say mostly it's because our team has been well recognized by our clients for our stable team, good services and teamwork. Most of the cases we handle usually take two to three years to close, plus the bankruptcy and reorganization cases might be involved in the process, if our team involves frequent personnel changes or our team members can't perform well stably, we can't build rapport with clients and clients won't trust us enough to entrust those major cases to us," Wang Weibin adds.
Willard Wang, partner at Jingtian & Gongcheng, has a slightly different career path than the above interviewed lawyers as he took a “detour” during him being a full-time lawyer. Willard Wang worked as a full-timer lawyer at JunHe LLP from 2007 to 2012. As a top-notch firm in China, JunHe provides an excellent platform for legal professionals to pursue their career development, Willard Wang says. But he took up the position as the assistance vice president at CCB International in 2012 as he wanted to try different roles. The work experience at CCB International was a beneficial experience, enabling him to see and handle projects from non-lawyer perspectives.
Later in 2013, Willard Wang returned to being a lawyer as he started working as a senior associate at Llinks Law Offices. Joining AllBright in 2015 becomes the second major turning point of his career, where he started to serve as a partner. Willard Wang polished his skills and abilities in project development and team management, and grew steadily from now on. When joining Jingtian & Gongcheng’s Shanghai Office in 2017, he already participated in and handled the restructuring, investment and financing projects of many companies.
"I am a calm person, always in a clear and sober mindset. This is reflected in the business development of our team, and I'm quite satisfied that we make a steady growth every year," Willard Wang says.
ADVICE TO YOUNGER LAWYERS
Although their career development paths are not quite the same, the lawyers we spoke to all demonstrate the passionate pursuit of professionalism, the resilience in the face of challenges, and the courage to embrace changes, which are also their advice to younger lawyers.
AllBright's Wang points out that professionalism is the foundation for a successful career. "Don't care too much about temporary defeats or temporary wins, and don't be jealous of what other people have achieved. Instead, you should compare yourself with you – Are you making progress every day? Are you leading a fulfilling and meaningful life? After all, lawyers are service providers; we can't expect that we'd certainly make a fortune from this profession. So instead of caring too much about the service fees, you should focus on things that give you the sense of professional accomplishment, which will lead you to the long-term success," Wang Weibin says.
Secondly, playing by the rules is also very important for the legal profession. In Wang Weibin's view, lawyers aged 45 to 55 are in the golden decade of legal career. "Until then, all your hard work is the accumulation of experiences and knowledge. So be careful not to get involved in anything that is in violation of practice rules as naivete and ignorance might ruin the future a lawyer. Staying on track and being persistent will make you among the top players in the industry," Wang Weibin continues.
And thirdly, learning and training yourself to be good team player. It's important for lawyers to find an excellent team to work with "as people have only limited energies and time. Therefore, you ought to give priority to team building. As a partner, you need to train yourself to be very good at managing your emotions, be able to inspire your team members and encourage high morale within your team, so as to lead your team to help clients accomplish their projects and objectives. Backed by a reliable and highly competent team, you together can make achievements beyond your imagination, in particular when dealing with complex cases," Wang Weibin says.
Grandway's Zang shares his success tips for younger lawyers, which are determination, confidence and patience. "If you're determined to be a lawyer, you need to set up the goal and stick to it, and be patient and persistent in the accumulation of knowledge and experience. You can take a crash course to pass the national qualification exam for legal professionals quickly, but there's no such a course to take if you want to be a good lawyer," Zang says, noting that lawyers need to use their expertise to assist their clients in achieving their goals. Furthermore, the characteristics of the legal business of the capital market require lawyers to have comprehensive professional qualities. They must not only be familiar with civil and commercial laws and use them skilfully, but also have a full understanding of the administrative law, the procedural law and other areas; not only must they be familiar with the process of licensing business such as the issuance of securities, but also be good at handling transactions such as investment and mergers and acquisitions.
“As an old saying goes, ‘the longest journey begins with a single step’. There are no shortcuts to success. Only with years of continued effort will these qualities get nurtured. To become mastery of your field, you need to get dedicated to the areas of practice, delve into every project you work on, and then you will gain the set of skills required. I believe the “10,000 hours of practice” rule, although being disputed by many, works when it comes to the legal profession,” says Zang.
Willard Wang also underscores the importance of developing and improving professional capabilities and competence. He also advises young lawyers not to be overly ambitious. “I am not suggesting a young lawyer who just starts his career to figure out a well-thought plan for the next five to six years. A lot could happen to the career path. Rather, I would suggest a green hand in the legal profession build up fundamental capabilities and competence in the first three years, which will greatly benefit the career profession. There are cases that some mid-level associate we hired was later found falling short of robust fundamental skill sets, an obstacle for them to improve later.”
Zhou Wei stresses the importance of law firms as career platforms. She says, “I think it is very important for young lawyers to make a choice based on a full understanding of themselves. Before choosing areas of practice, career orientation, the team to work with, and the platform, which are all of vital importance , young lawyers are advised to probe into themselves, identify areas of their interest and their expertise, and set a clear career path and direction that fits them. A sure success could be expected only if they remain committed and stay true to the vision. This is what I expect from young lawyers.”
HOW FIRMS CAN HELP YOUNG LAWYERS GROW
As Zhou puts it, the platform is crucial for the career advancement of young lawyers. How can a law firm promote career growth for young lawyers and offer itself a quality platform?
Willard Wang tells ALB that a law firm, either a corporate form one or traditionally team-based one, shall provide conditions to support career advancement of young lawyers, while professional training courses are one of the most fundamental elements. Jingtian & Gongcheng puts in place a well-structured internal training mechanism, which, coupled with regular interactions and exchanges between groups practicing in different areas, promote career growth for lawyers.
Zang also values training and communications. He tells ALB: “Grandway’s mentoring program offers one-on-one coaching to young lawyers, and helps them to acquire the skills quickly. Laws firms, as platforms, also demonstrate their strengths in two aspects: firstly, law firms offering comprehensive and multi-disciplinary services shall kick off exchanges and interactions among multiple areas, so that young lawyers may broaden their horizons and explore alternative career opportunities; Moreover, law firms shall set strict requirements over quality of services rendered by lawyers, and develop standardized business processes and standard legal forms/documents for young lawyers to conduct business in a more standardized and convenient manner.
Zhou notes that given the legal services are increasingly sector-focused in recent years, lawyers have to provide more full-fledged and multidisciplinary legal service solutions. For purpose of pursuing long-term growth, law firms need to think over how the young lawyers could gain in-depth knowledge about the sectors of their business coverage. In response, Zhong Lun has set up sectoral committees to try to gain more insights onto the sectors involved.
In addition to the training system, the career progression path is another topic at the heart of young lawyers’ concerns. Willard Wang tells ALB that Jingtian & Gongcheng sets a clear path from junior associate to partner. He also adds that as institutional systems of law firms may vary, the career progression path is a reflection of the uniqueness of each law firm.
"Lawyers may get promoted faster at one firm relative to another. In my opinion, the existence of such difference is rather a good thing, as it reflects a more diverse legal market. Lawyers may choose one that fits with the needs of their career development path,” says Willard Wang.
BECOMING A LEADER
Wang Weibin currently serves as a member of the management committee at AllBright. Climbing the career ladder from an associate dedicated to practicing to a partner with management duties, he admits that although it is inevitable for him to spend some time and efforts on dealing with non-business issues, such duties do broaden his cognition of the legal profession. According to him, “Showing respect is the first thing in managing a team, as I believe each lawyer who works more than a decade in this sector should have developed a set of skills or expertise to be proud of, and thus has a sense of honour that deserves respect. Secondly, the superstructure is determined by the base, and in most law firms, business sources are in the realm of partners. Against this context, running a law firm is more of communications based on the principle of “agreeing to disagree” and “respecting the differences”. Thirdly, a law firm should stress on both the growth of size and keeping good qualities, as the two are often accomplishing each other. A law firm that has a proper size and provides highly professional legal services can make a good platform for young lawyers to grow.”
Willard Wang also shares the same management philosophy of mutual respect and better communication. He tells ALB that since serving as an executive, he is committed to call for equality, healthy work relationships and a serious attitude towards work. He also shares with ALB the staffing strategies in different projects. “Usually for an investment project of properly moderate size, I will arrange a mid-senior associate and a junior associate. Whereas for an IPO project, I will allocate more work force. Clients usually approve such arrangement. And I also take factors like a lawyer’s workload, strengths, and interests into consideration. Of course if a lawyer hopes to expand his/her capabilities, I would assign him/her projects as long as the opportunities seem appropriate.”
In Zang's view, being an executive and serving clients, though being different, have something in common. “Regardless of running transactional issues or administrative affairs, one needs to tackle the needs and requests. A lawyer has to identify the needs of clients, and leverage his skill sets to cater for client needs and meantime control and mitigate risks. To manage a team well, one needs to identify the needs of lawyers, and provide better supports. Further, as the success of either a law firm or a lawyer ultimately depends upon the business performance, an executive shall keep an open mind, develop insights in the legal service market, and therefore bring about more opportunities for young lawyers.”
Talking about the future outlook, Willard Wang expects the team to steadily improve service capabilities and popularity to become one of the top-tier teams in the industry, and meantime support the career advancement of the team members.
Wang Weibin has his plans covering three areas: “First, I expect to identify one or two paralegals who are capable of becoming partners in the next five years, and hope they could attain their ambitions and pursuits in this process. Secondly, I expect to attain more expertise in the specific area of my practice. Thirdly, being an arbitrator servicing several arbitration agencies, I expect an opportunity to serve as an adjudicator, and I would surely uphold fairness and justice in the process of adjudicating cases.”
Zang tells ALB: “Advancements of technology in recent years have brought changes in all aspects of people’s lives, creating vast opportunities and huge challenges to the legal service sector. With an increase in legal service demands from multiple areas to be tackled, the legal service sector is set to cover broader areas and therefore embrace a better area, and young lawyers could benefit from the resulting opportunities. I expect to work with Grandway colleagues, embrace changes in this dynamic sector, and walk my way steadily along the path of practicing law.”
Zhou observes that the securities market compliance and dispute resolution are at key stages and experiencing fast-paced construction of the institutional structure of financial regulation, a better time to gain more administrative law enforcement practices and judicial trial experiences. Law firms may provide professional legal services to capital market players to promote a better law-compliant capital market, and in the same time, they could identify issues in practice, and do its part in law enforcement, judicial and legislative improvements.
“The emergence of an increasing number of upstarts is indispensable for any profession to evolve. I will share my experiences with youngsters, and encourage young talents to get committed to the legal profession. I would work with young lawyers and give advice to them, and in such a way help with their career advancement, and encourage young lawyers to pursue career ambitions,” Zhou says.