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Foreign law firms call for more freedom
By Chen Qide (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-09-23 10:16

Foreign law firms working in China are asking for a more open legal service market.

Dorsey & Whitney LLP, one of the largest full-service international law firms in the United States, hopes China will open its doors wider to foreign law firms by allowing them to employ Chinese lawyers.

"We need more freedom in the Chinese legal service market to expand our business faster," said Wesley Fredericks, deputy managing partner of Dorsey & Whitney.

At the moment, foreign law firms doing business in China cannot employ Chinese lawyers to provide legal services.

"The practice has limited our fast-growing business," said Fredericks.

Dorsey & Whitney entered the market on the Chinese mainland by setting up a Shanghai office in April 2001. It now has more than 10 employees, with its business space expanding from 200 square metres to 500.

"We have enough space to hold at least 50 employees to meet the growing business, but we can't get access to excellent Chinese lawyers although there are many in China," said Jay Yan, chief representative of Dorsey & Whitney in Shanghai.

This is because they have no American lawyer certificates. If they want to work as solicitors for China-based foreign law firms, they must first give up their Chinese lawyer certificates and then work abroad for at least two years.

Local insiders said the limit will, to some degree, slow up the business expansion of foreign law firms in China.

Miao Xiaobao, director of the Shanghai Justice Bureau, said: "The opening of the legal service market will take time and it is a gradual process."

"Therefore, we have to send some Chinese lawyers to study and work in the United States for a period of time first and then send them back to work in China," said Fredericks.

Local judicial officials suggested the city should lead the nation to optimize its legal service environment if it wants to sharpen its competitive edge.

Their words were echoed by officials with the Shanghai Foreign Investment Commission, who said legal services provided by foreign law firms are considered a stimulus to multinational investment in Shanghai.

The US law firm is considering opening the second office on the mainland with Beijing as its first choice, said Yan.

Shanghai now has 72 overseas law firms, accounting for 46 per cent of China's total. Of them, 62 come from 13 countries, 10 from Hong Kong.

Last year, their combined sales reached 350 million yuan (US$42.4 million), with each having average sales of 4.86 million yuan (US$588,378).

Local insiders said if foreign law firms were given the same treatment as their Chinese counterparts, the city's legal service market will advance quickly to stimulate its economic growth.

The US law firm's China practice covers a wide range of legal services in business and investment projects as well as resolving disputes on behalf of foreign multinational corporations and Chinese companies.

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