REGIONAL REPORT2020年适逢中国“西部大开发”第21年。中国西部地区囊括12省份,在中国面积占比约70%,人口占比约27%,这一广阔地区暗含着巨大的发展机会。今年5月,中国政府发布了关于推进“西部大开发”的新意见,西部开发就此进入3.0时代,这一地区的法律服务市场也迎来了新机遇。

 

5月17日,中共中央、国务院发布了《关于新时代推进西部大开发形成新格局的指导意见》(《意见》),“西部大开发”再次成为中国区域经济发展的热词。

中国西部地域广阔,然而受地理、历史等条件限制,其大部分历来属于欠发达地区。过去21年的“西部大开发”已经很大程度改变了这里的经济状况:根据统计数据,从1999年到2019年,西部省份GDP平均增长约10倍,其中贵州、陕西、西藏三省的经济增长超过了15倍。

在路透社的一份报道中,中国区域经济学会副会长陈耀如此总结西部过去21年的发展历程:西部开发的第一个十年以打基础为主,包括基础设施的建设和生态环境治理、西气东输、交通基础设施完善等;第二个十年则强调自我发展能力,培育出了各地的特色优势产业。

进入3.0时代,西部开发的关键词则成为了“开放”。

如路透社在上述报道中所说,随着“一带一路”落实,外资正逐渐向西部转移,西部正向中国对外开放的“前台”转型,有望成为拉动中国经济的新生力量。

西部确实具备良好的开放条件:其与13个国家接壤,陆地边境线占全国的91%,大陆海岸线占全国的1/11。根据商务部数据,2019年上半年,西部地区实际使用外资349.6亿元,同比增长21.2%。

这样的未来图景将改变人们对于西部的认知:未来,西部开发的重点将不再局限于这一地区自身的脱贫和发展,它将承载中国对外开放“新窗口”的角色,与之配套的诸多创新和改革也将落地。

“‘一带一路’将铸就升级版的西部大开发。”一位参与起草《意见》的政府人士说。

新产业,新需求

如上所述,西部开发第二阶段目标在于培育各地的特色产业。如今,西部诸多城市、区域已经形成了各自的特色产业群,且其中不仅包括传统产业,还有高新产业,它们成为了分布在广阔西部的一个个强有力经济增长点。而新产业的发展也带动了新法律服务需求的产生。

在四川省会城市成都,悠闲惬意的生活氛围和不断聚集的信息产业使它成为了中国年轻人趋之若鹜的“新一线城市”。
2017年,成都市颁布了《战略性新兴产业发展“十三五”规划》,“新一代信息技术产业、高端装备制造、节能环保产业和生物产业、新能源、新材料、新能源汽车等新兴产业项目在成都不断萌发和聚集。”大成成都事务所主任刘守民律师告诉ALB。

“同时,传统行业也在转型升级,特别是新基建,成都在5G基建、城市轨道交通、新能源汽车充电桩、大数据中心、人工智能等多领域不断迭代升级。”他说。

根据腾讯研究院数据,2018年,成都新经济活力指数居全国第三,“互联网+”指数居全国第五,仅次于北上广深。此外,电子信息、装备制造、医药健康、新型材料、绿色食品成为了成都新五大支柱产业,对经济增长贡献比重超过82%。

刘律师还关注到“新产业类型企业产生了更为专业性和综合性的法律需求。”他指出了资本市场类服务的例子:过去几年中,大成成都接触了不少当地新能源、新材料、节能环保和生物产业、高端装备制造等行业企业在科创板上市的项目和咨询。

同样的变化也发生在成渝都市圈的另一极:山城重庆。在这里,智能制造、半导体、数字文化产业经历了快速发展。

重庆是中国的制造业重镇,在大成重庆事务所主任陈友坤看来,过去几年,智能化改造让老产业焕发了新生机。“比如钢铁、纺织、机电、汽车、化工、建筑等,通过深化数字技术在生产、运营、管理和营销等诸多环节的应用,实现了企业以及产业层面的数字化、网络化、智能化发展。”他说。

据重庆市经信委统计,2019年,重庆建设了1280个智能化改造项目、115个数字化车间和25个智能工厂,这些项目使生产效率平均提升了68.7%、运营成本平均降低了20.8%。

智能化改造也带动了半导体、新型显示技术等“硬核”产业在重庆的落地。

陈律师指出,数字文化产业的发展也给重庆带来了新魅力。目前重庆正在打造4个数字文化产业园区,“推动互联网信息服务、传媒、软件和计算机服务、创意设计、网络文化、动漫游戏等业态发展”。

陈律师说,新领域的到来无疑给法律服务带来了挑战。“客户的法律问题越来越复杂。我们在针对这类客户服务时,也深入了对企业运营模式、工作机制的了解。”他说。

他举出了两个实例,一是在电子商务领域,律师们加强了对电子合同、电子签名、电子证据、电子文书等效力的理解;另外,在游戏行业,律所则强化了对版权、知识产权保护与侵权、网络游戏企业合规、游戏开发等领域的综合研究和服务。

技术革命带来的新产业发展也在西部其他地方显现。

例如大成兰州事务所主任裴延君告诉ALB,借助互联网发展,一些依托网络的产业,诸如物联网、云计算以及大数据行业,已经在兰州萌发和聚集。此外,近两年电商直播的发展也给兰州的物流、存储行业带来新机会。

裴律师观察到,随着上述产业兴起,兰州企业在网络安全、数据保护层面的法律需求激增,亟需律师协助做好相关领域合规,排除经营风险。

而在贵州,这个贫困人口数量常年占据中国首位的省份如今成了“大数据之乡”。根据《2019年贵州省互联网发展报告》,截至2019年底,贵州互联网企业达到360家,贵州省大数据产业发展指数则位列全国第三。

贵阳市律师协会会长薛军给出了一个直观的说明:目前,中国三大运营商、腾讯、华为及苹果iCloud的数据中心都设立在贵州。

这自然给当地法律服务市场带来了巨大机遇。薛会长告诉ALB,2019年贵阳律师增速为20%,2020年截至7月增速则为15%,“且律师服务的宽度、高度、深度都增加了……律师开始参与到苹果iCloud落户、贵阳贵安融合发展等大型项目之中,对我们提出了更高要求。”他说。

大成贵阳事务所主任王宁指出:“为大数据产业发展保驾护航,核心在于结合区块链技术确保信息的权利归属,保证信息权利不会被侵犯,以确保信息安全。”为此,大成贵阳设立了专门的区块链法律团队,已经与众多区块链技术公司达成了长期合作。

此类发展频现西部,不一而足。广西的汽车和物流业、陕西的能源和房地产业、昆明的化工冶金、烟草、先进装备和新材料产业、新疆的能源产业、银川的现代物流和电子商务业……它们都将作为各地的“产业名片”,推动当地经济成熟发展。

大城市,大梦想

西部地区近年发展的另一个亮点,则是拥有活跃经济和文化生活的城市圈不断涌现,它们成了带动区域发展的绝对引擎。

在中国,中心城市和城市群正在成为承载发展的主要空间。西部大开发新《意见》中也明确提出:提升并发挥国家和区域中心城市功能作用,推动城市群高质量发展和大中小城市网络化建设。

2020年初,戴德梁行发布《中国都市圈发展报告》,其中纳入了26个都市圈。位于西部的成渝都市圈目前已是中国第四大城市区,西安、昆明都市圈则位列“成长型都市圈”,贵阳、银川、南宁、兰州、西宁、乌鲁木齐位列“培育型都市圈”。

成渝是西部都市圈中绝对的明星。2020年初,习近平总书记特别提出推动成渝地区双城经济圈建设,“双圈”建设如今正在这里如火如荼地展开。

悠闲的成都和火辣的重庆作为都市圈的两极,不断散发出强烈的吸引力。过去几年中,双城每年新增人口都大于20万,2019年,成都则在全国人口流入榜中排名第三。

据麦肯锡预计,到2025年,该都市圈的经济总量将可能超过3万亿元人民币。随着高新产业聚集和年轻人口涌入,它将成为整个西部的创新驱动中心。

这点也将反映在法律层面。重庆市律师协会会长袁小彬说,当地西南政法大学培养的年轻法律人才中,越来越多看好重庆的经济发展前景和政策红利而选择留下,“重庆成为了继北上广深之后最好的选择”。他说。

袁会长说,成渝双圈建设初期更关注两地深度融合,例如进一步加强经贸往来,提升交通便捷度,“马上即将推出双城间一小时高铁火车”。

“经济持续活跃为律师提供了更多参与机会。例如以5G为代表的新基建、重庆的科学城项目……这些项目也吸引来越来越多境内外投资人。”袁会长说。

他说,面对这些机会,“重庆律师有很强的紧迫感”。律协也在三方面加快行动,希望让重庆的法律服务在更好服务重庆经济社会的发展:一是提升律师职业化;二是由律协牵头制定高端商事法律服务标准指引;三是借助五巡、贸仲西南分会等仲裁机构、调解中心在当地的快速发展,把重庆打造为西南地区的司法高地。

西部另一个值得关注的则是西安都市圈。

西安是中国历史最悠久的城市之一,也是古丝绸之路的起点。在今天,它依旧扮演着通往其他西部四省的桥头堡角色。

2018年2月,国家发改委和住房城乡建设部发布《关中平原城市群发展规划》,西安正式成为第9个国家中心城市。
西安近年城市发展加速,房地产行业是最敏感的“温度计”。“自2017年,大量上市房企涌入西安市场,房地产投资及并购十分活跃。”大成西安事务所管理委员会主任杨辉观察道。

金地集团西部区域公司法务总监王理告诉ALB,2006年,金地是第一家进入西安的全国一线房地产公司,而到目前,全国排名前30的地产企业基本都进入了西安,且绝大多数已经有项目落地。

王理在西安生活了很多年,他明显感受到了城市面貌的提升,以及在“一带一路”和“ 关中-天水经济区”等国家战略影响下,城市版图的迅速扩张。“以金地为例,去年我们分别在空港和国际港务区拿到两块建设用地。这两个地方曾经位处偏远,它们都是作为国际码头和国际保税区发展起来的。”他说。

城市发展不仅限于基建,还有生机勃勃的城市文化。杨辉律师说:“西安文化行业的发展体现在与其他行业的融合、文化元素及形象的推广等方面……今年大成西安新增了科技与文娱部门,就是年轻律师在当前文化市场背景下开拓的新领域。”

其他西部城市也感受到了都市魅力在再造活力层面的重要性,加快了城市“文化名片”的打造。

例如大成昆明事务所主任马巍告诉ALB,云南省将大力发展生物医药和大健康产业、高原特色现代农业产业、旅游文化产业、新材料产业、信息产业、先进装备制造业、物流产业、食品与消费品制造业八大重点产业,全力打造“绿色能源”、“绿色食品”、“健康生活目的地”“三张牌”。昆明气候和文化条件优渥,这几年正在加速打造“中国健康之城”,“春城”昆明未来将更加轻盈,不但拥有“互联网+教育”“互联网+医疗”“互联网+旅游”等新业态,还将成为中国西南的航空口岸和枢纽。

另一座同样以怡人环境著称的“林城”贵阳也愈发受人青睐。金地西域公司同样负责西南项目开发,王理说:“近两年众多房地产企业把目光集中到了贵阳……做项目前,我们会对当地的经济环境、发展指标进行调研,如果大地产企业都集中在这里,说明大家对于贵阳的前景十分看好。”

“一带一路”带来新机遇

未来,“开放”将成为3.0版本西部大开发的关键词。实际上,在过去几年中,很多西部省市已经受益于“一带一路”倡议带来的机会,这不仅体现在西部企业的“走出去”,也体现在外资的“引进来”。

以2019年为例,前三季度西部12省市区外贸增速为11.8%,高出全国整体增速9个百分点;当年1-7月,西部地区实际使用外资399.4亿元人民币,同比增长25.2%。

然而开放带来的不仅是更多的涉外贸易机会。一方面,曾只在沿海港口做的加工贸易未来将转移到西部的中心及口岸城市,直接面向周边市场;另一方面,中国将投入巨额资金打造西部交通枢纽和运输网,在陆上和海上形成连接亚欧非的大通道,从西侧彻底“打通”中国。

许多西部省市已提前布局,准备好迎接新机遇的到来——云南就是典型的一例。

“在‘一带一路’倡议带来的重大发展机遇中,云南省从曾经的末梢走向了前沿。” 大成昆明主任马巍说,“云南位于‘一带一路’的必经之路上,正着力打造连接南亚东南亚大通道的重要节点。”

马主任告诉ALB,为此,中国(云南)自由贸易试验区在云南设立,2020年4月,自贸区昆明片区第一批13个建设项目开工,涉及电子信息、生物医药、装备制造、医疗物资生产、总部经济等领域,总投资92.7亿元人民币。
在这样的背景下,拥有国际触角的律所就具备了天然优势。

马主任说,过去几年,大成就“一带一路”建设过程中的国际投融资等领域为企业提供了诸多服务,其中大成昆明协助云南能投集团在国际资本市场发行了境外第四期美元债,还参与了万万高速公路BOT项目、柬埔寨暹粒吴哥国际机场BOT项目等的投融资。

谈到这些项目中客户需求的变化,马主任指出,“国际化项目增多的情况下,企业将面临新型风险和挑战,对律师风险管控和合规管理的能力要求也逐渐提高,对涉外业务熟练度,以及律所涉外资源和对接能力的要求也会增高”。
与此同时,在长期受自然资源匮乏、交通物流不便困扰的银川,对外开放正使这座西北城市成长为西部“电子商务之都”。

实际上,早在2012年,国务院就批准建立了宁夏内陆开放型经济试验区和银川综合保税区,2014年,海关总署则批准银川为跨境电子商务试点城市——这类创新政策为银川发展铺垫了基础。

大成银川事务所高级合伙人高凤江观察到,过去几年,“现代物流、电子商务、健康养老等迎来迅速增长……以‘互联网+农业’‘互联网+金融’‘互联网+医疗’为典型的新业态也呈快速增长态势”。

此种背景下,当地企业需求的法律服务也发生了变化。高律师指出了其中三点:“其一是知识产权保护;其二,企业的融资需求,特别是境外上市法律需求增多;其三,合规也是当地企业的一大需求,企业逐渐抛弃了‘规范生产是绊脚石’的老旧想法,‘合规生产等于节约生产成本’的观念成为了新指南。”

在不断开放的背景下,西部地区的企业总法律顾问又对外部律所产生了怎样的新需求?

总部位于重庆的中冶赛迪是一家为冶金工程提供工程技术服务的国企,总法律顾问周艺梅告诉ALB,赛迪早在2004年就已经有大量海外业务,在她看来,“一带一路”带来的最大变化,是让企业的“走出去”变成了“走进去”。

“以前我们的海外业务相对简单,主要是以大型设备设计、制造和出口为主。(现在)更多要到海外去把出口的大型设备安装、建造、甚至承揽整个工业工厂的建设,就避免不了和海外当地国的施工、劳工、税收、以及政府部门打交道。2018年前后,研究海外法律和寻找海外法律资源成了法务部门的工作重点。”她说。

去年,赛迪承建的台塑越南河静钢厂和马中关丹产业园联合钢铁项目先后投产。周律师坦言,目前赛迪还没建设好完整的海外合规体系,执行这类项目时,他们更倾向于直接采购项目当地的律所资源。

“我们经常遇到的问题是很难去获悉海外优秀的律所资源。”周律师说,“我们往往要靠重庆的律所进行推荐,但是重庆律所受制于地域条件,信息量也有所限制。”

“对我们而来,未来和中国律师直接沟通,然后由中国律师去整合国内外资源,可能是最有效的办法。”周律师说,“但怎么在法律服务具备地域性的情况下,解决信息传递不完整的问题,也需要思考。”

面对这个问题,大成兰州的做法也许提供了一种新思路。裴延君主任说,大成兰州目前已经成立了涉外业务部,依托于大成的全球法律网络,并针对甘肃有特点的外贸型企业和银行提供服务。未来,“宽网络+强专业”,或许才能为需求不断升级的西部企业提供更好的法律服务。

机会与挑战

面对上述诸般变化,法律服务准备好了吗?

参与本次采访的西部律所管理者普遍拥有十余年的当地执业经验,他们向ALB坦言,过去几年,西部法律市场确实发生了巨大变化,这让他们感受到机会,也遭遇了挑战。

“法律服务市场的活跃度增加了。”大成西安主任杨辉说,“其实行业竞争一直存在,但现在的竞争更加理性、个性。所谓理性,即低价竞争等不合理现象不多见;所谓个性,即律师竞争结果不再是单一的经济回报。” 

“此外,除了律师个人专业素养的竞争,也存在律所综合实力的竞争。”他说。

大成南宁事务所执行主任熊潇敏则观察到法律服务市场不断向细分化、专业化转变。“有些原来在综合性律所工作的专业团队自己成立了专注于某一领域的律所,小而精的律所不断涌现,不断瓜分市场,(并导致)客户选择专业律所服务的观念有所转变。”他说。

除了本地大型和精品律所的发展,西部法律市场近年来另一个重要的变化动因,则是“外来者”的不断到来。
以贵阳为例,薛军会长告诉ALB,2015年以前,外地律所在贵阳设立分所的只有5-6家,现在这个数字则变成了22家。目前贵阳律所中规模超过百人的有4家,其中只有1家是纯本地律所。

薛会长对于“外来者”带来的竞争加剧抱持着乐观态度:“假如没有外来者,本地律师可能会一直待在舒适区中……竞争水平是否能提高,也和你对手的水平有关。”

目前许多大型律所在进驻西部时,选择了“翻牌”当地律所的方法。“最初大家比较怀疑,认为这不会给本地市场带来太多变化。”薛会长说,“但慢慢发现,加盟大型所后,本地律师的服务理念、业务技能、资源运用能力、把握机会的能力等,已经和原来不同……外地所还带来了更成熟的法律服务模式,比如专业化、团队化,跨界多角度为客户服务,这都是我们原来感觉不太深刻的。”

“强品牌+本地资源”的模式也保留了法律服务的在地性。以大成新疆为例,其以贾新辉律师、杨舒雯律师为代表的团队常年深耕新疆市场,与新疆各级人民法院乃至最高人民法院长期沟通协作,已经形成了良好的司法协作典范。
金地西域公司的王理也指出了律所扎根本地的重要性。以西安的房地产市场为例,“市场竞争激烈,大家共同关注的还是投资、拿地,我们在这方面和外部律所的合作也很紧密。大成西安的杨辉主任在这方面给我们很大助力,因为他熟悉地产行业,拥有许多信息、资源”。

谈到律所未来在西部市场的胜出之道,大成成都主任刘守民提出了三点:品牌实力、专业引领、人员素质。在服务模式和理念层面,西部律所甚至已经和北上广深的律所持平,例如刘主任就指出,大成成都目前已经跨行业、跨专业为客户提供综合性法律服务。可以期待,未来西部的产业化和法律服务专业化将并肩发生。
在薛军会长看来,未来西部法律市场发展仍大有空间。他举了规模化的例子:当一线城市律所的规模化之路日益趋缓,西部律所的规模化红利还亟待释放。

“顺应时代的发展,做好规范管理和品牌打造,这些未来都会产生红利。”他说。


ALB China Regional Report: West China

The year 2020 marks the 21st year of the implementation of China's “Go West” strategy. West China consists of 12 provincial-level units. With its area accounting for about 70 percent of the country's total area and its population accounting for 27 percent of the total population of China, this vast region contains huge opportunities for development. In May, the Chinese government released the new guidelines for advancing the development of West China, and the legal services market in the region sees new opportunities.

 

On May 17, the CPC Central Committee and the State Council issued the Guidelines on Advancing the Development of the Western Regions in the New Era to Form New Patterns, and "West China development" once again becomes a buzz word in China's regional economic development.

Most of West China remains comparatively underdeveloped due to geographical conditions and historical reasons. The 21-year implementation of Go West strategy has resulted in positive changes to the economic situation in the region. According to statistics, from 1999 to 2019, the provinces in the region has achieved an average GDP growth of about ten-fold, and among them, Guizhou, Shaanxi and Tibet saw a growth of more than fifteen-fold.

In a previous interview with Reuters, Chen Yao, vice president of the Chinese Association for Regional Economics, summarized up West China’s development into different stages: efforts during the first decade were focused on infrastructure construction, including transportation facilities, gas pipelines, and the enhancement of ecological environment, while during the second decade, it emphasizes on fostering advantageous industries with local characteristics.

Entering the 3.0 era, the key phrase for the development of the western region is "opening up."
According to the above report, foreign investment is gradually shifting to West China amidst the implementation of the Belt and Road initiative, transforming the region into the front end of China's opening up and making it a new momentum driving China's economic development.

Bordering 13 other countries, with 91 percent of China's land borders and 1/11th of the country's mainland coastline, West China has good conditions for opening up. According to data of the Ministry of Commerce, in the first half of 2019, the actual use of foreign capital in the western region was 34.96 billion yuan ($5 billion), up by 21.2 percent compared to last year.

The goal of the long-run development is to make the western region a "new window" for China's opening up, thus many measures supporting the innovations and reform will be implemented here.
"Under the BRI, an upgraded version of Go West strategy is forming," a government official who participated in the drafting of the New Guidelines says.

NEW INDUSTRIES, NEW DEMANDS
After 20 years of development, industrial clusters with local characteristics have been formed in many cities or areas in West China, including traditional and high-tech industries, which now are strong economic growth points in the region. New legal service demands are seen amidst the development of new industries.

Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan province, has become a new "first-tier city" for young Chinese people because of its cozy atmosphere and the gathering of IT companies.

In 2017, Chengdu released its 13th Five-Year Plan for the Development of Strategic Emerging Industries. "Emerging industrial projects involving the new generation of information technology industry, high-end equipment manufacturing, energy conservation and environmental protection industry and biological industry, new energy, new materials and new energy vehicles are gathering in Chengdu," Liu Shoumin, director of Dentons Chengdu Office, tells ALB.

"With the transformation and upgrading of traditional industries, especially the new infrastructure, Chengdu is constantly upgrading in the fields of 5G infrastructure, urban rail transit, new energy vehicle charging piles, big data centers, and artificial intelligence field," he says.

According to Tencent Research Institute, in 2018, Chengdu's new economic vitality index ranked third in China, and its Internet-plus index ranked fifth. Electronic information, equipment manufacturing, medicine and health, new materials, and green food have become the new pillar industries in Chengdu, contributing to more than 82 percent of its economic growth.

"Enterprises in the new industries call for more specialized legal services," Liu says, pointing to STAR Market IPO services and consultations provided by Dentons Chengdu to local enterprises in industries such as new energy and new materials, energy-saving, environmental protection, bio-industry and high-end equipment manufacturing.
The same changes have taken place in Chongqing, the other major city in the Chengdu-Chongqing Economic Circle, where smart manufacturing, semiconductors, and digital culture industries have experienced rapid development.

Chongqing is an important manufacturing town in China. According to Chen Youkun, director of Dentons’ Chongqing Office, intelligent transformation has revitalized traditional industries. "The application of digital technology has enabled enterprises in traditional industries such as steel, textiles, electromechanical, and automotive to realize intelligent development in all operation processes," he says.

According to statistics from the Chongqing Economic and Information Technology Commission, in 2019, 1,280 intelligent transformation projects, 115 digital workshops, and 25 intelligent factories were built in Chongqing, which on average increased production efficiency by 68.7 percent and reduced operating costs by 20.8 percent.
Intelligent transformation has also brought along the landing of "hardcore" industries such as semiconductors and new display technologies in Chongqing.

Meanwhile, the development of digital culture industry is also adding charm to the city. Currently, Chongqing is building four digital cultural industrial parks to "promote the development of Internet information services, media, software and computer services, creative design, network culture, animation and games," Chen says.

New industries indeed pose new challenges to legal services. "Our clients are faced with increasingly complex legal issues. We must better understand the related industries to better serve our clients," he adds.

In e-commerce, lawyers must better understand the effectiveness of electronic contracts, electronic signatures and electronic evidence; and in the games industry, law firms need to strengthen services in copyright, IP protection and infringement, online game enterprise compliance, etc., Chen indicates.

New industries development brought about by the technological revolution is also seen in other parts of the western region.

For example, internet-based industries such as the Internet of Things, cloud computing, and big data have taken shape and gathered in Lanzhou, Pei Yanjun, director of Dentons’ Lanzhou office, tells ALB. And live streaming e-commerce has brought new opportunities to the logistics and storage industries there.

With the rise of those industries, legal service demands in network security and data protection surged in Lanzhou, requiring lawyers’ assistance on related compliance issues, Pei observes.

Meanwhile, Guizhou has become the "home to big data" in China. According to the Guizhou Province Internet Development Report 2019, by the end of 2019, there were 360 Internet companies in the province, and Guizhou's big data industry development index ranked third in the country.

China's three major telecom operators, as well as Tencent, Huawei and Apple iCloud have all set up their data centers in Guizhou, Xue Jun, president of the Guiyang Lawyer Association, tells ALB.

This surely has brought huge opportunities to the local legal market. According to statistics, the number of lawyers in Guiyang, capital city of Guizhou, increased by 20 percent in 2019, and by 15 percent as of July 2020. "Lawyers began to participate in important projects like the iCloud one and urban development, which poses higher requirements to us,” Xue says.

"To ensure healthy development of big data industry, the core is combining blockchain technology to identify the ownership of information rights, protect data security, etc.," Wang Ning, director of Dentons’ Guiyang office, points out. The firm has therefore set up a blockchain team and formed long-term cooperation with blockchain technology companies.

Many parts of West China have made their own "business cards for their local industries." Guangxi's automobile and logistics industries, Shaanxi's energy and real estate, Kunming's chemical metallurgy, tobacco, advanced equipment and new materials, Xinjiang's energy industry, and Yinchuan's modern logistics and e-commerce, just to name a few, which will promote the mature development of the local economies.

BIGGER CITIES TO HOLD BIGGER DREAMS

Megalopolises are another highlight in West China, and they are definitely the engine driving the regional development.

In China, central cities and megalopolises are becoming the main space for development. The New Guidelines clearly stipulates to enhance and give full play to the role of national and regional central cities, and promote the high-quality development of megalopolises and the network construction of large, medium and small cities.

According to Cushman & Wakefield’s 2020 Report on the Development of China's Metropolises, which enlisted 26 metropolitan areas in China, the Chengdu-Chongqing area is the fourth largest in China, Xi'an and Kunming are in the "growth metropolitan areas", and Guiyang, Yichuan, Nanning, Lanzhou, Xining, and Urumqi are among the "metropolitan areas under cultivation."

The Chengdu-Chongqing area is not doubt a shining star in West China. In early 2020, President Xi Jinping specifically proposed to promote the construction of the Chengdu-Chongqing economic circle, which triggered a big round of undergoing development projects. 

The coziness of Chengdu and “spicy” Chongqing provide layered flavors to this region. Over the past few years, the population growth in both cities was over 200,000 each year respectively. In 2019, Chengdu ranked third in the national population inflow list.

McKinsey predicts that by 2025, the total economic output of Chengdu-Chongqing area will possibly exceed 3 trillion yuan. The city cluster will become the innovation center of the entire western region with the flowing-in of young people and new industries.

This is also reflected in the legal market. According to Yuan Xiaobin, president of Chongqing Lawyer Association, more young legal talent graduating from the Southwest University of Political Science and Law choose to work here because they're confident about the economic development in Chongqing and the preferential policies for the region. "Chongqing has become the best choice, next only to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen."

 “The construction of Chengdu-Chongqing economic circle in the first stage will focus on the ‘deep integration’ of the two cities by enhancing trade exchanges and facilitating the transportation." Yuan says.

"The economic activity gives more opportunities for lawyers to participate in projects such as 5G infrastructure and Chongqing Science Park, which have attracted many domestic and foreign investors," Yuan adds.

These opportunities have given "Chongqing lawyers a strong sense of urgency." The Chongqing Lawyer Association is working to make Chongqing's legal services stand out in the western region by enhancing legal services’ quality, formulating standards for conventional commercial legal services, and accelerating the development of legal services related to litigation, arbitration and mediation.

Xi'an is another area worthy of attention in West China. Xi'an is one of oldest cities in China, the start of the ancient Silk Road, and now a hub for the BRI.

In February 2018, Xi'an officially became a national central city according to the Development Plan for City Clusters in the Guanzhong Plain. Since then, Xi'an has been accelerating its urban development. "Since 2017, many listed real estate companies have poured into the Xi'an market," Yang Hui, director of the management committee of Dentons Xi'an Office, observes. 

Wang Li, legal director of Gemdale Group's western regional real estate company, tells ALB that when entering Xi'an in 2006, Gemdale was the first national first-tier real estate company to do so. Now most of the top 30 real estate companies in China all have projects in the city.

The BRI and Guanzhong-Tianshui Economic Zone witness profound changes in and rapid expansion of Xi'an, Wang says. "For Gemdale, we obtained two construction lands in the airport and international port areas last year, which were once remote areas in Xi'an."

Urban development involves infrastructure as well as cultural development. "Dentons Xi'an Office has set up a new department – technology and entertainment department – to echo the cultural developments locally. It's a new field developed by young lawyers in the current cultural market," Yang says.

Other cities in West China are following the steps of Xi'an, creating their own "cultural business cards."
"Spring City" Kunming is also a famous cultural city in China. The city is getting a move on building a "city of health," and it's becoming an aviation port and hub in Southwest China with new business formats such as "Internet + education", "Internet + medical", and "Internet + tourism", Ma Wei, director of Dentons’ Kunming office, tells ALB.

Another environment-friendly city - "Forest City" Guiyang – is also becoming increasingly popular. "Many large real estate companies are gathering in Guiyang … it means that people are very optimistic about the prospects of the city," Wang of Gemdale says.

BRI BRINGS NEW OPPORTUNITIES

The key phrase of the 3.0 version of the Go West strategy is "opening up." In fact, many provinces and cities in the region have already benefited from the opportunities brought about by the BRI, which is manifested in enterprises "going out" from the region, as well as the introduction of foreign capital into the region.

During the first three quarters in 2019, foreign trade in the western region grew by 11.8 percent; and from January to July that year, the actual use of foreign capital in the region was 39.94 billion yuan, up 25.2 percent year on year.
Opening up brings more than foreign-related trade opportunities. The processing trade that was once only done in coastal ports will be transferred to central and port cities in West China, driving the development of the surrounding markets. And China will make huge investments to build transportation hubs and networks in the region, forming a great path connecting Asia, Europe and Africa.

Many provinces and cities in the region are making arrangements to embrace the new opportunities, among which Yunnan is a good example.

"Taking the unique development opportunities brought about by the BRI, Yunnan is building an important node connecting South Asia and Southeast Asia," Ma Wei, director of Dentons’ Kunming office, tells ALB.

Yunnan has established a free trade pilot zone, Ma says. The first batch of 13 construction projects has just started in this April, involving electronic information, biomedicine, equipment manufacturing, medical materials production and headquarters economy, with a total investment of 9.27 billion yuan.

In this context, law firms having international connections enjoy particular advantages.

Ma says that Dentons has already served many companies in international investment and financing fields during the BRI construction, for example Dentons Kunming has provided legal services to Yunnan Provincial Energy Investment Group in its issuance of U.S. dollar bonds in the international capital market, and the firm also participated in the investment and financing activities of the Vangvieng – Vientiane Expressway BOT project and the Cambodia Siem Reap International Airport BOT project.

Ma points out: "With the increase in international projects, companies are facing new risks and challenges, requiring lawyers to have better risk control and compliance management ability, and relying more on law firms for their foreign-related resources and connections."

Thanks to the opening up, Yinchuan, the capital city of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, is becoming the "e-commerce capital" of West China.

In 2012, the State Council approved the establishment of the Ningxia Inland Open Economic Pilot Zone and Yinchuan Comprehensive Bonded Zone. In 2014, the General Administration of Customs approved Yinchuan as a cross-border e-commerce pilot city. These innovative policies laid the foundation for Yinchuan's development.
"Modern logistics, e-commerce and health and elderly care have seen rapid growth … and 'Internet + agriculture', 'Internet + finance', and 'Internet + medical services' have become the typical new business formats and gained momentum," Gao Fengjiang, a senior partner at Dentons’s Yinchuan Office, observes.

Local companies in Yinchuan now pose different requirements for legal services. Gao points to three aspects: "(1) IP protection; (2) financing needs, especially the needs of legal services for overseas listings; and (3) compliance, 'the compliant production means saving cost' has become a new guide for the local companies."
With the continuous opening up, what new demands do general counsel of companies in the region have for external law firms?

CISDI Group is a Chongqing-based State-owned enterprise that provides engineering and technical services for metallurgical projects. Zhou Yimei, the general counsel of CISDI, tells ALB that the biggest change brought about by the BRI is changing companies from "going out" to "going into."

"Our overseas businesses were relatively simple, mainly the manufacture and supply of equipment. Now most of our businesses involve construction of projects overseas, requiring us to communicate with overseas construction, labor, taxation, and even government departments, therefor our work focus has shifted to studying laws of foreign countries and finding overseas legal resources," she says.

The two overseas projects construction by CISID, the Formosa Plastics Group's Steel Plant in Vietnam and the Malaysia-China Kuantan Industrial Park steel project, have been put into production last year. Given CISID has not set up a complete overseas compliance system, it would prefer to purchase services from local law firms of the places where the projects are carried out, Zhou admits.

"But it's difficult for us to have a good knowledge of those resources. We need to rely on law firms in Chongqing for recommendations; but they sometimes are not very resourceful because of their geological limits," she says.
"It would be the most efficient way if we can tell Chinese lawyers our needs directly, and then the Chinese lawyers help us integrate domestic and foreign resources. But we still need to mind to possibilities of misinterpretations between various parties," Zhou adds.

Dentons’ Lanzhou office proposes a possible solution to the problem. A foreign-related business department has been established at the firm, which, relying on Dentons global legal network, offers tailored services for foreign-related companies and banks in Gansu. In the future, only with extensive network and strong expertise, can lawyers better serve clients in West China.

OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES
Is the legal market ready to respond to these rapid changes in West China?

Lawyers tell ALB that the legal market in West China has experienced tremendous changes over the past few years, and they've seen both opportunities and challenges. 

"The legal service market has become more active. There's always been competition in the industry, but the competition has become more rational and individualized – low-price competition is rarely seen now, and economic return is no longer the only competition result pursued by lawyers," Yang of Dentons Xi'an says.

"And the competition exists in aspects of the professional qualities of lawyers, and the comprehensive strength of law firms," he adds.

Xiong Xiaomin, executive director of Dentons’ Nanning office, observes that the legal service market is shifting towards segmentation and specialization. "Some professional teams who used to work in comprehensive law firms have established boutique firms that focus on certain niche markets, giving clients different options when choosing service providers," he says.

Law firms arriving from outside the western region are another important driving force for the changes in the local legal market.

Take Guiyang as an example. Before 2015, there were only five or six branch offices established by law firms from other regions, but now the number is 22, Xue tells ALB. Among Guiyang’s four law firms with headcounts of more than 100 people, only one is a local firm.

Xue remains optimistic about the increased competition brought about by "outsiders.” 
"If there are no 'outsiders', local lawyers may stay in their comfort zone ... Good competitors can be a catalyst for changes, and eventually success."

Many large law firms enter the west region by "re-branding" local firms. 

"This was doubted greatly by local lawyers at first … but we gradually realize that by joining large firms, local lawyers indeed grow in aspects of service concepts, business skills, resource utilization capabilities, etc. ‘Outside’ law firms have also brought about mindset revolutions by introducing new business models and higher level of services," says Xue. 

The "strong brand plus local resources" model retains the locality of legal services. Dentons Xinjiang sets a good example in this regard. Jia Xinhui and Yang Shuwen and their teams in the firm have remained committed to developing the Xinjiang market and maintained long-term cooperation with the people's courts in Xinjiang and even the Supreme People's Court, setting a good example of judicial cooperation.

Wang of Gemdale also points out that it's important for law firms to take root locally: "For example, the real estate market in Xi'an is highly competitive, focusing on investments and land acquisition. We collaborate closely with external law firms in this regard. Yang Hui from Dentons Xi'an has been very helpful because he is familiar with the market and has many resources."

According to Liu of Dentons Chengdu, brand strength, professional leadership and qualities of personnel are three important factors for legal firms to succeed in the market of West China. Dentons Chengdu now provides comprehensive legal services to clients across industries and disciplines. It is foreseeable that the industrialization of economy and the specialization of legal services in the western region will be realized together in the future.
Xue believes that there's much room for the legal market development in West China. When the expansion of law firms in first-tier cities slows down, firms in the western region will pick up the momentum, he notes.

"Staying adaptive to the trend of the times, standardizing management and building good brands, these will help law firms to gain momentum in the future," he says.

 

To contact the editorial team, please email ALBEditor@thomsonreuters.com.