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2024年伊始,ALB再度向您介绍中国法律服务市场上发展迅速、值得瞩目的精品律师事务所。目前,法律服务市场正处于日益“分化”之中,越来越多精品小所以精准的市场定位和聚焦的专业能力获得客户认可,它们既灵活又有韧性,书写出不平凡的增长之道。

 

今年,共有15家律师事务所登上了2024 ALB China 精品律所榜单。它们所拥有的合伙人中位数是5人,员工平均数则为22人。虽然2023年的法律服务市场略有挑战,但15家上榜律所均取得了积极的营收增长,不但平均增速跑赢市场,部分律所甚至实现了近乎两倍的收入增长。

成立时间上,上榜律所中历史最久的是成立于1993年的上海锐敏律师事务所,最晚近的则是成立于2022年5月的天习律师事务所。共有6家律所设立于过去五年之内,9家则经历了更长久的市场周期考验,但依旧坚持了精品化发展理念。

今年的上榜精品律所来自更为多元的地域。其中7家源自北京,3家位于上海(包括一家美国所的上海代表处),2家设立于广州;此外还有3家成立于杭州、成都、潍坊。

“专业化”是很多精品所设立的初衷,也是最显著的发展特色。在赛道愈发细分、“标签”“个性”被日益高举的时代,专注于特定业务,甚至产业板块的律所越来越受到市场认可——上榜律所便是此方面的代表。

小还是大?

过去一年,伴随经济形势变化,承压的中国法律服务市场开始出现比较明显的整合趋势。小而精的律所是否也感到些许生存压力?它们如何看待精品所在目前市场环境中具备的独特优势?

锦略律师事务所首席合伙人余伟平律师认为,律师事务所应该做大还是做小、做精品,取决于事务所的愿景、市场定位、专业领域、资源、客户需求以及管理团队偏好等多种因素。“无疑,规模大所具有资源丰富、客户多样、品牌和影响更大的优势,但也面临着管理更加复杂、律所文化难以统一、个性化服务不足的问题。对锦略来说,专业化精品小所更加符合我们的定位。不过,无论哪种模式,都要确保提供高质量的法律服务,持续满足客户需求,保持机构的可持续增长和稳定运营。”

张亚樵律师是美国温斯顿律师事务所中国(上海)首席代表, 他坦言,过去一年确实感受到中国法律服务市场的整合趋势,因此“我们也采取了类似整合措施,集中在华资源、人力,以精品律所的角色高效服务中国市场”。

朗诚律师事务所主任、创始合伙人武峰律师也认为整合趋势“不容否认”,但精品所并不会因此失去生存空间:“从产品供给角度讲,大所和小所提供的法律服务产品各具特点,各有自己的客户群体,互为补充而非彼此取代;同时,‘一花独放不是春,百花齐放春满园,拥有多元化、互补性、广泛性,更有助于法律服务市场生态健康、长远发展。”

回到目前市场环境下精品所的独特优势,武峰律师指出:“首先,小而精、专而强,是小所的安身立命之本,要牢牢把握专业化不动摇;其次,小所机制灵活、决策速度快、执行力强;另外,机遇总是留给有准备的人。小所面对竞争加剧的市场环境,更要主动去拥抱、顺应、拓展、挖掘市场,根据市场变化前瞻性地做好新业务领域的开拓准备,一旦发现新契机就马上做好专业知识储备,同时迅速打造出新的法律服务产品。”

天习律师事务所主任刘斌律师对此也颇为认同。他坦言:“精品所如何生存的话题已在业界被探究多时,精品所的发展固然存在一定压力,但也有自身优势。小所能对有限的资源进行高效、合理配置,不断优化资源利用效率,依据不断增长的法律服务需求进行调整,以提供性价比更高的优质服务与客户体验。”

把有限的资源用到“对”的地方,最重要的是“小所需要更清晰地把握当前社会和市场环境的脉搏,不断改变自身思维方式,适应快速变化的环境,才能赢得生存和发展的空间。天习在加强细分业务领域的同时,也不断统筹多样化专业法律资源的整合,收获了良好口碑”。

对星来律师事务所主任王珺律师来说,自身的发展数据很能说明问题。“截至2023年11月底,我们的营收已经同比增长了25%,能在普遍的市场困境中逆势而上很不容易。”

去年,星来与几家百人以上的规模所展开接触,对方都表达了希望加入星来品牌的愿望,这也让王律师感受到后疫情时代市场对于“标签”“个性”更强烈的认可度。出于律所业务、文化理念的考虑,星来最终决定暂缓合并,按照自己的步调稳步发展,“保持我们的合规业务特色,继续打造一个能够让市场记住的品牌”。

下一步策略

市场瞬息万变,正所述“船小好调头”,精品所也要不断根据市场需求、自身发展情况来调整未来策略。

有人已经对未来有了更大的计划,例如朗诚。武峰律师说,拓展业务板块、扩大地域办公范围已经列入了朗诚未来发展的议事日程。“朗诚会优先考虑在汽车产业比较发达的城市设立新的办公室,比如广州、天津、上海、武汉等地,为客户提供更加方便快捷的法律服务;其次,在牢牢扎根汽车行业法律服务领域的同时,我们也会在合适时机‘谋定而后动’,拓展新的业务板块。”

来自广州的天习则会“坚持走精品所发展道路,继续立足粤港澳大湾区,纵深推进区域发展优势,扩大自身品牌影响力”。刘斌律师表示,天习会优先考虑拓宽优势业务板块,“深化在互联网与数字经济、银行与证券、不良资产处置、建设工程与房地产、知识产权、涉外民商事、投资与并购及争议解决等领域的发展”。

温斯顿会继续向着“中国客户在美知识产权与复杂诉讼首选律所”的目标前进,成为中国企业出海涉外诉讼标杆型律所。“我们计划透过上海元达律师事务所调研在地并购不同专业业务组、美中联营律所(例如上海、深圳自贸区)的可行性。”张亚樵律师介绍道。

星来的王珺律师则说,未来星来还是会以合规为主业,逐步再去思考拓展多元化的服务领域。“不过,即便是逐渐扩大业务范畴,我们也会不断重塑‘星来’品牌的内涵和市场认知,未来期待打造一个‘大合规’的品牌概念,让星来的业务既做到种类多样,也依旧突出合规的核心理念。”她说。


 

2024 ALB China Firms to Watch

As we usher in 2024, ALB once again shines a spotlight on the rapidly evolving landscape of boutique firms in China's legal services market. An increasing number of boutique firms are carving out a distinct niche for themselves, earning client acclaim through their sharp market acumen and finely honed professional skills. These firms exemplify both flexibility and resilience, navigating their unique trajectory towards remarkable growth in an ever-competitive arena.

 

This year, a total of 15 dynamic firms have earned a distinguished spot on the ALB China Firm to Watch list. These firms typically boast a team structure centred around a median of five partners, supported by an average staff count of 22 employees. Despite the turbulent conditions that challenged the legal market in 2023, each of these firms has demonstrated remarkable financial resilience, recording positive revenue growth. Impressively, their average growth rate not only surpasses general market trends but also, in some cases, nearly doubles their previous revenue figures, underscoring their exceptional performance in a competitive landscape.

RuiMin Law Firm, which was established in 1993, has the longest history among all firms on the list, while Tianxi Law Firm, established in May 2022, is the newest outfit. Six of the winning firms are established in the past five years, while nine have experienced longer market cycles but are still persevering in their boutique development philosophy.

This year's boutique firms come from a wider range of regions, with seven from Beijing, three based in Shanghai (including the Shanghai representative office of a US firm), and two headquartered in Guangzhou. Three other firms are from Hangzhou, Chengdu and Weifang, Shandong.

The cornerstone of numerous boutique firms is their deep-rooted specialization, which also stands as their most distinctive trait in development. In an era marked by the growing subdivision of industries and an enhanced emphasis on unique 'labels' and 'personalities,' firms that concentrate on specific practice areas or industry sectors are garnering increasing market recognition. Those included in the list exemplify this trend, distinguishing themselves through their focused expertise and tailored approach in a dynamic market landscape.

SMALL OR BIG?

In the past year, as the economic landscape has shifted, the already pressured Chinese legal market has started to exhibit a clear trend towards consolidation. This raises pertinent questions: Are smaller, boutique firms also experiencing survival pressures? And importantly, how do these firms perceive their unique advantages in the current market environment?

Yu Weiping, Chief Partner of Jin Lue Law Firm, believes that whether a firm should grow bigger or stay small depends on various factors, such as the firm's vision, market positioning, practice areas, resources, client demand and managerial preference. "Undoubtedly, a large firm enjoys advantages such as abundant resources, diverse clients and greater brand awareness and influence. On the other hand, it also faces issues such as more complex management, difficulty in unifying culture and insufficient customized services. To Jin Lue, being a specialized boutique firm suits our positioning better. However, regardless of the model adopted, a firm must always ensure it provides high-quality legal services, continuously meets client needs, and maintains sustainable growth and stable operations."

Chang Ya Chiao, China (Shanghai) Chief Representative of Winston & Strawn, admits that he has indeed felt the trend of consolidation on the Chinese legal market in the past year. Accordingly, "we have also taken similar consolidation measures to pool together resources and manpower in China to efficiently serve the Chinese market as a boutique firm.”

Wu Feng, Director and Founding Partner of Longshine Law Firm, acknowledges the undeniable trend of consolidation within the industry. However, he asserts that boutique firms will not be edged out as a result. “Considering the spectrum of legal services, products offered by both large and small firms possess distinct characteristics and cater to diverse client demographics. Hence, they complement rather than replace each other. Furthermore, the traits of diversity, complementarity, and universality are instrumental in fostering a healthy and sustainable development of the legal market ecosystem,” he explains.

Speaking of the unique advantages of boutique firms in the current environment, Wu points out: "Being small, specialized and strong is the foundation for a boutique firm's survival. So a boutique firm must firmly hold onto specialization. Second, a small firm is flexible in its institutional set-up, quicker in decision-making and strong in execution. However, opportunities always await those who are prepared. Faced with intensifying competition in the market environment, small firms should even more actively embrace, adapt to, expand and explore the market, and be ready to expand new practice areas in a forward-looking manner according to market changes."

Liu Bin, Director of Tianxi Law Firm, shares this view. "How boutique firms survive has been talked about for a long time in the industry. While there is some pressure on the development of such firms, we also have our own advantages. Small firms can efficiently and reasonably allocate limited resources, continuously optimize resource utilization efficiency, and make adjustments according to growing demand for legal services, so as to provide high-quality services and client experiences in a more cost-effective manner."

To ensure that limited resources are invested in the right places, the most important thing is that "a boutique firm must have a clearer grasp of the dynamics of the current social and market environment, and constantly change its own way of thinking in order to win space for survival and growth. While building up capabilities in sub-divided practice areas, Tianxi is also continuously coordinating the consolidation of diversified professional legal resources, and has achieved good results.”

To Wang Jun, Director of Beijing Starrise Law Firm, data for her firm's development speaks for itself. "As at the end of November 2023, our revenue has increased by 25 percent year-on-year. And it is never easy for us to rise against the general market downturn."

Last year, Starrise engaged in merger discussions with several firms, each boasting a staff count of over a hundred. Remarkably, all these firms expressed a keen interest in joining the Starrise brand. This interaction led Wang to a realization that the post-pandemic market is placing a greater emphasis on distinct brand labels. However, after careful consideration of the firm’s business ethos and cultural philosophy, Starrise decided to delay any merger plans. Instead, they chose to focus on steady, self-paced growth. This strategy allows them to maintain their specialization in compliance practice and continue cultivating a brand that resonates with the market.

FUTURE STRATEGY

The market is ever-changing, as the saying goes, 'a small boat turns quickly.' Boutique firms must continuously adjust their future strategies based on market demands and their own development situations.

Some, such as Longshine, already have bigger plans for the future. Wu says that expanding practice areas and increasing regional offices are already on the firm's future development agenda. As a firm who specializes on providing services to the automobile industry, "we will prioritize setting up new offices in cities with a developed auto industry, such as Guangzhou, Tianjin, Shanghai and Wuhan, to provide clients with more convenient and efficient legal services. Further, we will 'plan and act' at the appropriate time to venture into new practice areas."

Guangzhou-headquartered Tianxi will "stick to the development path of boutique firms, continue to focus on the Greater Bay Area, deepen regional development advantages, and enhance brand influence.” According to Liu, Tianxi will give priority to expanding its advantageous practice areas and "deepen growth in areas such as the Internet and digital economy, banking and securities, non-performing asset disposal, construction engineering and real estate, intellectual property, cross-border civil and commercial law, investment and M&A, and dispute resolution.”

Winston & Strawn will continue to work towards the goal of "becoming the go-to firm for Chinese clients in IP and complex litigation in the United States,” and become a benchmark firm for Chinese companies in international litigation. "Through our partner, Yuanda China Law Offices, we plan to study the feasibility of acquiring different local professional practice groups and US-China joint venture firms (such as Shanghai and Shenzhen Free Trade Zones)," explains Chang.

Wang reveals that looking ahead, Starrise is committed to sustaining its focus on compliance practice, while cautiously contemplating a move into diverse service areas. "As we incrementally broaden our practice scope, our goal remains to redefine and enhance the market perception of the 'Starrise' brand. We envision establishing a 'holistic compliance' brand concept in the future. This approach will allow us to encompass a variety of practice areas, yet continue to emphasize our core commitment to compliance," she elaborates.

 

 

2024 ALB China Frims to Watch
2024 ALB China
精品律所

Beijing Jinlue Lawfirm
北京锦略律师事务所

Beijing Starrise Law Firm
北京星来律师事务所

Guangdong Wumei Law Firm
广东五美律师事务所

HHP Attorneys-At-Law
汇衡律师事务所

Kejie Associates
柯杰律师事务所

Lijiu Law Firm
四川力久律师事务所

Longshine Law Firm
朗诚律师事务所

RuiMin Law Firm
上海锐敏律师事务所

Shandong Haud Law Firm
山东豪德律师事务所

Shang Ze Law Firm
北京商则律师事务所

Tianxi Law Firm
天习律师事务所

Tiger Partners
虎诉律师事务所

Winston & Strawn LLP
美国温斯顿律师事务所

Zhejiang Bo Fang Law Firm
浙江博方律师事务所

ZSK Attorneys-at-Law
北京浩风律师事务所

 

Methodology
评选方法

The selection process for the law firms was based on their law firm profile, significant achievements, combined with major deals/litigations, new client wins, and growth in the past 12 months, as well as their growth strategy for the next 12 months.

我们根据律所的基本信息,历年重要成就,过去12个月完成的重大交易/诉讼、新增客户、增长情况,未来12个月的发展策略等,评选出值得关注的精品律师事务所。

 

 

TO CONTACT EDITORIAL TEAM, PLEASE EMAIL ALBEDITOR@THOMSONREUTERS.COM

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