中国的法律市场正在迅速变化,客户需求增加,中资所也愈加成熟。在竞争如此激烈的环境中,国际所需要策略得当才能成功。在本次圆桌会议上,来自四家国际所的管理人—凯腾律师事务所、高伟绅律师事务所、贝克∙麦坚时国际律师事务所和英士律师事务所—畅谈他们在市场上的所见所闻以及他们是如何应对挑战的。

 

ALB: 过去几年中,在您与客户的关系演变中,您注意到了哪些主要趋势?又是如何适应这些变化的?

吴昊:如今,客户寻求的不仅仅是法律建议。他们不仅需要创新、亲商且性价比高的解决方案来满足业务需求,也在寻找多种方式来购买法律服务。为此,我们正大力投资高端技术和法律运营,以改变我们提供服务的方式。我们正在全球范围内整合业务管理能力、法律项目管理、定价策略、服务设计和其他替代法律服务产品,以便我们能优化客户体验并提供服务让客户获益。

薛峰:过去几年里,部分客户希望我们接受固定收费或灵活收费的安排。一些客户已经开始在某些类型的业务中同时使用国际所和中资所。我们通过调整在中国的收费模式和使用受中国教育且在美国具有执业资格的律师,以保证业务质量且同时达到客户期望。

王彦峰和符国成:客户用我们所,是因为作为一家在五大洲拥有丰富和深厚资源的国际所,我们可以将全球视野与对本地市场的深刻理解结合起来。我们已经深耕中国大陆三十多年。随着中国客户更加国际化,它们面临的法律风险也横跨多个国家和司法管辖区,这就要求律师多方观察并帮助客户管理风险。客户寻找了解其业务和内部要求的外部法律顾问,这些外部法律顾问还要能帮助客户弥合与外国合作伙伴之间的文化差异。同理,国际客户想要的律师必须了解本地市场,能够提供实用的解决方案和细致的建议,具有全球视野并对客户的业务有深刻的理解。

ALB:在过去12个月里,像您这样的国际所的中国办事处面临的最大挑战是什么?您又是如何克服的?

Paul Ho:如果你看看英士过去一年的发展,我们面临的挑战是两方面的,合并前和合并后的挑战。合并前最大的挑战是如何在推进合并的同时,不失去对自身业务和人员的专注力。而合并后的挑战则是如何整合运营,因为合并后我们所的规模实际上翻了个倍。经常向市场和客户传递合并的(正面)效应也是挑战之一。

我坚信英士在中国市场尚有很大待发掘的潜力。我们有战略增长计划和明确的业务多样化方案,但实施这些计划都需要时间。话虽如此,英士中国的收入预计今年将增加60%,因此我们毫无疑问走在正轨上。作为一家上市律所,我们可以获得资金和强大的财务支持以便开展我们地发展大计。同时,我们的扁平管理结构也能让我们迅速作出决策,这对抓住增长机遇很重要。

今天,中国客户的法律需求和中国律所提供的法律服务都愈发成熟。中资所继续增强它们的服务,合伙人和律师中有越来越多的人可以说很好的英语,所以中资所寻求在国际舞台上扩展业务也就不足为奇了。在国际市场上追求有机增长相当困难且耗时,所以我认为中资所会更多地考虑是否可以与其他国际所合作。

薛峰:中美贸易紧张局势正在深刻地影响着营商环境和国际律所。但是,由于我们将注意力集中在关键客户身上,并将业务领域扩展到未来几年将继续增长的领域,我们所的表现还是非常好的。

王彦峰和符国成:总体而言,不断变化的地缘政治和宏观经济动态意味着企业正在经历许多不确定性并遇到新的风险领域。这为我们的律师提供了机会,向客户提供战略性和成熟的建议,以帮助他们更好地管理风险并为未来的一系列挑战作好准备。另一大挑战是在中国竞争激烈的市场中对人才的持续争夺。我们继续专注于吸引、培养和留住最佳团队,并达成我们成为首选雇主的愿景。

吴昊:在中国开展业务的国际所越来越多地受到中国主要律所的挑战,这些本土律所的规模、业务质量和覆盖范围都在不断进步。这影响了国际所的人才储备和客户渠道。

幸运的是,贝克∙麦坚时通过与奋迅律师事务所成立联营办公室缓解了上述一些影响。现在,中国律师能够继续持有他们的中国执业资格并就当地事务提供法律建议。同时,我们的客户可以获得由世界一流的全球平台支持的、整合强大的中国法和国际法专业知识的综合服务。

ALB:像具有您这样规模和业务范围的律所,在中国市场取得成功的关键是什么?在今年剩下的时间里和以后几年,您为业务增长制定了哪些重大战略?

薛峰:自上海办事处2012年开业以来,凯腾一直专注于以有竞争力的价格服务客户。我们努力在客户和业界中建立我们作为海外并购首选律所的声誉和市场地位。很高兴我们的努力得到了回报。我们还与目前关注不足的中国私营和中型上市公司合作,并在中间市场交易中代表客户。因此,我们可以服务非常庞大的客户群,并保持以健康的节奏扩展业务。

吴昊:对于想要服务中国市场的国际所而言,在中国拥有强大的布局至关重要,因为客户通常希望他们的法律顾问“触手可及”,并且更愿意接受中文的法律顾问服务。通过与奋迅的联营办事处,我们能够通过一个统一的平台为客户同时提供外国法和中国法服务,并全方位帮助它们解决在中国各地的法律需求。

随着中国的经济影响力不断增强,我们将继续提升在中国的交易业务执业能力,特别是在并购和私募股权、银行和金融以及项目融资方面。客户在这些领域的需求旺盛。我们也在加强咨询业务能力,包括中国争议解决服务、税务争议、合规、知识产权、房地产和劳动法业务,这是大多数其他国际律所目前无法比拟的。

王彦峰和符国成:我们在中国有三十多年的经验,业务发展蓬勃:先是1980年在香港开业,1985年我们成为在北京开设办事处的第一家国际律所,1993年又在上海开业。我们能脱颖而出的关键原因之一是我们在中国本土的所有主要业务领域都拥有引领市场的合伙人和强大团队。我们为复杂业务提供建议的能力广受认可,这些业务往往需要不同执业领域的专家无缝协作以提供全套解决方案。

我们的成功仰赖于全体同仁。在过去十年中,我们成功吸引了一批最优秀的毕业生,也在培训和发展中国背景律师方面作出了巨大努力,帮助他们获取国际经验和专业知识并成为世界级的顶尖律师。我们拥有完善的人才培训体系,包括实习律师轮换计划,为中层律师提供的法律硕士学位赞助和海外培训和借调机会,以及为高级律师设立的学术发展中心。我们的员工希望职业生涯充满成就感。我们也致力于投资本土人才,包括晋升本土合伙人。

ALB:您对未来几年中国法律市场的走向有何预测?

薛峰:中国客户将变得更加成熟,而律所将在服务和定价两方面展开竞争。中资所将继续在全球布点。一些国际所可能选择退出中国市场,另一些则会与中资所建立战略联盟以扩大其在中国的业务。律所之间的竞争将在未来几年愈演愈烈。

Paul Ho:在接下来的三到五年里,我相信会有更多的律所选择上市一事实上如果其他律所还没有考虑这一可能性的话,我会感到非常惊讶。作为亲历者,我看到了律所上市的好处,包括有渠道获取资金来支持我们的发展和业务多样化计划。话虽如此,筹备上市确实需要花费大量的时间、精力和金钱,让合伙人同意律所上市也是一个普遍的挑战。此外,我也预计未来会有更多律所之间的合并、联盟或联营,可能是两家外资所之间,可能是外资所和中资所之间,也可能是两家中资所之间。每个人都希望在中国市场分得更大的一杯羹。然而由于不能从事中国法业务,国际所的市场渗透很受局限。

王彦峰和符国成:中国客户对法律服务的需求将变得更加复杂一我们已经看到中国公司开展的跨境交易愈发复杂,而它们必将面临跨多个司法管辖区的日益复杂的监管问题(GDPR和经济制裁就是两例)。这自然会使得中国公司的内部法务团队在业务决策和风险管理方面拥有更大的影响力和话语权。外部律师必须体现出强大的附加价值,才能赢得客户的信任。中资所和在中国的外资所都会越来越多地利用法律科技解决方案与律师协作,共同提高工作效率。例如,使用人工智能技术查找法律或案例、进行法律翻译、支持尽职调查或协助基本的合同起草,或使用区块链技术进行文件签署。科技已经在影响如今律师的工作方式。我们所专注于使用最新科技和创新来提供市场上最好、最高效的服务。我们已经将人工智能或自动化工具应用于多项工作,包括合同自动化、交易管理到大规模尽职调查。

吴昊:中国正在成为法律科技应用的领导者,尽管其法律行业与西方经济体相比还很年轻。中国设立了互联网法院,直播审判流程,让当事人能够在网上起诉、提交证据和解决纠纷。通过整合先进技术和司法系统,中国显然已经跳过了建立法律和司法基础设施的传统道路,实现了跨越式发展。作为律所,我们必须要能够利用新科技来实现法律服务的现代化,以便我们能更好地应对不断变化的客户需求,新的行业动态以及数字化在中国经济各领域中更广泛的作用。

Managing Partner Roundtable: The International Firms’ Perspective

The Chinese legal market is rapidly changing, with client demands increase and domestic firms becoming increasingly sophisticated. Amid this competitive environment, international law firms need to have a proper strategy to succeed. In this roundtable, leaders from four international law firms -- Katten Muchin Rosenman, Clifford Chance, Baker McKenzie and Ince – talk about the developments they have seen in the market and how they are tackling challenges along the way

ALB: What are some of the key trends you’ve witnessed in how your relationships with clients have evolved in the past few years? How are you looking to adapt to these changes?

Howard Wu: Nowadays, clients are looking for more than legal advice. They not only want creative, business-minded, cost-efficient solutions that meet their business needs, but they are also looking for multiple ways to buy legal services. In response, we are investing heavily in advanced technology and legal operations to transform the way we deliver our service. We are integrating our business management capabilities, legal project management, pricing strategy, service design and other alternative legal services offerings on a global scale, so that we can optimise the client experience and deliver our service in a way that provides value.

Feng Xue: Over the past couple of years, some clients want us to accept fixed fees or flexible-fee arrangements. Some clients have started to use both international and Chinese firms for some types of work. We try to maintain the quality of our work while accommodating the expectations of the client by modifying our fee model in China and using locally trained U.S.-qualified lawyers.

Tim Wang and Terence Foo: Our clients come to us because as an international law firm with significant depth and range of resources across five continents, we can marry our global perspective with our strong understanding of the local market, which stems from being on the ground in Mainland China for more than three decades in the region. As Chinese clients become more international, their legal risk exposure extends across borders and jurisdictions, and requires advisers to look around the corner and help them with risk management. They look for external counsel who understand their business and internal requirements and who can help bridge cultural differences with foreign partners. Likewise, international clients look for advisers who understand the local market, and can deliver practical solutions and nuanced advice, with a global perspective and solid understanding of their business.

ALB: What have been the biggest challenges that China-based offices like yours have faced in the past 12 months? How have you as a firm looked to overcome them?

Paul Ho: From our perspective, if you look at the last twelve months for Ince, the challenges are two-fold, being pre-merger and post-merger challenges. The biggest challenge pre-merger was, whilst having one eye on the merger, not losing our focus on our practice and our people. Post-merger, the challenge is in integration, as we have effectively doubled in size following the merger. There are also challenges in keeping the market and our clients informed regarding the (positive) effect of the merger

I firmly believe that there remains a lot of potential in the Chinese market that we have not tapped into yet.  We have a strategic growth plan and a clear path to diversify our practice but it is going to take a little time to implement those plans; having said that, the revenue of Ince China is projected to increase by 60% this year, so we are very much on the right track.  As a listed law firm, we have access to capital and strong financial support to enable us to execute our growth plans; at the same time, by having a flat management structure we are also able to make decisions very quickly which is important when seeking to capture growth opportunities.

Both Chinese clients and Chinese law firms are becoming increasingly sophisticated nowadays, in terms of the services they demand and provide.  Chinese law firms continue to improve on the quality of their services, and a lot more of their partners and lawyers can speak good English, so it is no surprise that they are also seeking to expand in the international arena. Organic growth internationally is likely to be challenging and time-consuming, so I think more and more they are seeking cooperation with other international law firms.

Xue: The China-U.S. trade tension is affecting the business community and international law firms profoundly. However, we have been faring very well by focusing on key clients and diversifying our practice areas into those that will continue to grow in years to come.

Wang and Foo: In general, the evolving geopolitical and macro-economic dynamics means businesses are navigating a lot of uncertainty and encountering new areas of risk. This presents opportunities for our lawyers to provide strategic and sophisticated advice to clients to help better manage risks and prepare them for a range of future challenges. Another challenge is the continuing war for talent in a highly competitive market in China. We continue to focus on our ability to attract, develop and retain the best team, and to realise our vision to be the employer of choice. 

Wu: International firms in China are increasingly being challenged by the major Chinese law firms, which are growing both in size as well as quality and reach. This has impacted the talent and client pipeline in international firms. 

Fortunately for Baker McKenzie, we have been able to mitigate some of these impacts through our Joint Operation office with FenXun Partners. Chinese lawyers are now able to keep their PRC licenses and advise on local matters; and at the same time, our clients have access to an integrated service offering that offers strong domestic and international law expertise with the support of a world-class global platform.

ALB: What are the keys to succeeding in the China market for a firm of your size and scope? What are some of the big strategies you’ve put in place for business growth for the rest of the year and beyond?

Xue: Since the opening of the Shanghai office in 2012, Katten has focused on client service and offered competitive pricing for our clients. We endeavour to establish our reputation and market position as a go-to firm for outbound M&A firms among our clients and the community, and our efforts have paid off. We are also looking to work with those underserved Chinese private and mid-size public companies, and represent clients in middle-market transactions. As a result, we can serve a very large client base and keep healthily expanding our business.

Wu: For international firms that would like to serve the China market, having a strong presence in China is critical, as clients typically value having their legal representatives “within arm’s length” and prefer to obtain counsel in Chinese. Through our Joint Operation office with FenXun Partners, we have been able to serve clients with a global and PRC law capacity from a single and aligned platform, assisting them with their legal needs across China on a full-service basis.

With the increasing economic clout of China, we will continue to enhance our transactional practice capability in China, particularly in M&A and private equity, banking and finance, and project finance, where there is strong client demand. We are also strengthening our advisory service offerings, including PRC dispute resolution services, contentious tax, compliance, IP, real estate and employment, which most other international firms currently cannot match.

Wang and Foo: We have a successful and thriving practice in China built over more than three decades, opening in Hong Kong in 1980 and then becoming the first international law firm to open an office in Beijing in 1985. We opened in Shanghai in 1993. One of the key differentiators for us is that we have market-leading partners and strong teams across all major practice areas on the ground in China. We are widely recognised for our capability to advise on complex matters, which often requires experts across different practice areas to collaborate seamlessly to provide holistic solutions. 

Our success is defined by our people. Over the last decade, we were able to attract some of the brightest graduates, and we made great efforts in training and developing our PRC background lawyers, helping them gain international experience and expertise, to help them become world-class lawyers. We have a well-established talent training system, including rotation program for trainees, LLM sponsorship and overseas training and secondment opportunities for mid-level associates and the Academy Development Centre for senior associates. Our people want a rewarding career. We are committed to investing in our local talent, and that includes partner promotions.

ALB: What are your predictions for the next few years for the China legal market?

Xue: Chinese clients will become more sophisticated and law firms will compete in terms of services and pricing. Chinese firms will continue to expand globally. Some international firms may choose to exit the Chinese market, and some will enter into strategic alliances with Chinese law firms to broaden their operations in China. Competition among law firms will become more intense in the next few years.

Ho: In the next three to five years, I believe we will see a lot more law firms seeking to list – and I would be surprised if other law firms are not already exploring this possibility. I can see first-hand the benefits of being a listed law firm, as amongst other benefits we have access to capital to support our plans to grow and diversify. Having said that, one does need to spend a lot of time, effort and expense to do so, as well as the common challenge in obtaining the required partnership approval. Further, I also expect to see more mergers and/or alliances/associations between law firms in the future. These could be between two foreign law firms, between an international firm and a Chinese law firm or between two Chinese law firms. Everybody wants a bigger slice of the Chinese market, but there is a limit on how much an international law firm can penetrate the Chinese market when they cannot practice Chinese law.

Wang and Foo: The demand for legal services in China will become more sophisticated – we are already seeing Chinese companies embark on more complex cross-border transactions, and they will face increasingly complex regulatory issues that span across multiple jurisdictions (GDPR and economic sanctions as examples). This would naturally lead to in-house legal teams at Chinese companies having greater influence and voice in business decisions and risk management. External counsels will have to demonstrate strong value-add to win the confidence of clients. 

Both international law firms and domestic law firms in China will increasingly look to use legal tech solutions to work alongside lawyers to improve efficiency, for example, the use of AI for searching legislation or court cases, to do legal translation, to support due diligence or facilitate basic contract drafting, or the use of blockchain technology for document signing. Technology is already impacting the way we work as lawyers today. We're focused on using the latest technology and innovations to deliver the best and most efficient service in the market. We are already applying AI or automation tools to a variety of tasks, from contract automation, transaction management to large scale due diligence exercises.

Wu: China is emerging as a leader in the use of legal technology even though its legal sector is comparatively young when compared to the western economies. It has set up internet courts, which offer livestreaming of trials and enable claimants to file cases, submit evidence and resolve disputes online. China is clearly leapfrogging through the traditional path of building legal and judicial infrastructure by integrating advanced technologies and judicial systems. For law firms, we need to be able to harness new technology to modernise how we deliver legal services so that we can be better at addressing changing client needs, new industry dynamics, and the broader role of digitisation across the Chinese economy.

 

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