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Legal Life for a Chinese firm in... London

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Yuhua Yang, Partner at Llinks London office tells us what it’s like working for a Chinese firm in London

1)  Tell us about your firm

Founded in 1998 in Shanghai, China, Llinks Law Offices has consistently been at the forefront of developments in China’s legal service market and has extended its reach by opening offices in Beijing, Hong Kong and London. Llinks’ sound track record over the last 20 years, of advising on ‘market firsts’ and a wide variety of cross-border transactions and other matters involving multinational corporations, means that the firm punches above its weight in a number of its core practice areas such as asset management, banking and finance, capital markets, M&A, private equity/venture capital and real estate. Consequently, Llinks has been recognised by most leading international industry publications as well as by peers both domestically and internationally.

This year, as the firm celebrates its twenty-year anniversary, Llinks reaffirms its ambition of developing into an internationally recognised Chinese law firm that assists domestic clients to pursue strategic growth nationally and internationally and also advises Western clients in the challenging task of doing business in the Middle Kingdom. Our one-year-old London office is proof of this ambition.

 

2)    What made you decide to work as a lawyer abroad?

From a personal point of view, I have been very fortunate in having benefited a lot from excellent legal education both in my home country, China and abroad in the UK and the US. Studying, working and living abroad led me to naturally embrace globalisation. Experiencing different cultures and diversity have made my life much more colourful; at the same time complicated international work is always more intellectually challenging, interesting, rewarding and fulfilling.

From a professional perspective, Llinks, as a leading Chinese law firm, has recognised the current market demand and decided to seize the unprecedented opportunities of our era. As a result, Llinks took the strategic decision to set foot in London and I’m privileged to have our firm’s mandate of carrying out this great initiative.

 

3)    How would you describe the current business climate in London?

I have to say Brexit remains an inevitable and constant concern from all aspects of the economy and uncertainties are definitely not favourable to business generally speaking. Nevertheless, as a matter of fact, businesspeople can always find opportunities in the market, mingling risk and speculation. In the near future, Brexit must conclude with a series of acceptable arrangements to safeguard Britain’s competitiveness and long-term prosperity.

My personal feeling is that most foreign investors and businesses believe, and are counting on, the UK government being capable and innovative enough to deliver a decent outcome, and to some extent that explains why foreign investors have been taking advantage of the weak pound. In any case, there are always reasons for being optimistic or pessimistic. I’d tell myself to keep observing and stay alert.

 

4)    What are the main opportunities and challenges for foreign law firms in London?

Obviously London’s legal market has always been a premier global one, truly international and with first-class infrastructure and talent. Dynamic business activities constantly produce market demand for legal services both in mainstream and niche fields. A huge market will never be short of opportunities.

Four decades after China embarked on its economic reform and opening-up policy, a significant world powerhouse has emerged. Being not only the world’s factory, China has been reorienting its economy towards domestic consumption, services, hi-tech and AI etc. Recent further opening-up of the financial sector is a major step forward that  will have far-reaching impact domestically and internationally. Nowadays, almost no UK and EU company trading internationally can afford to ignore the Chinese market. Easier and affordable access to quality Chinese legal services and more generally to Chinese market knowledge is needed not only by major corporations but also small and mid-market players.

Meanwhile, not only China’s sovereign funds and state-owned enterprises, but also a constantly increasing number of private Chinese companies, have been looking for opportunities of trading with and investing in the UK and more broadly in the EU. The latter clients are much more dynamic and market-driven. The scale and level of sophistication of Chinese outbound investment has been developing fast.

The challenge for legal players is to organise, internally and externally, efficiently and effectively in order to offer the best value for money to supply this highly competitive market. For foreign law firms, it’s easy to burn a lot of money before a viable business can be successfully established. A sensible strategy and good execution are essential prerequisites of success, but a bit of good luck does come in handy. For foreign law firms, a well-thought positioning strategy, together with tapping into the right local resources, as well as  effectively integratng the home country’s resources, can definitely help to overcome all the challenge. Llinks spent a lot of time and effort on market research before we took the plunge in 2017. We eventually decided to offer our best comparative advantage, i.e. Chinese law and knowledge of China only, not to touch English law, so remaining focused.

 

5)    What advice do you give to Chinese companies new to the country?

There is certainly much that can  be said for this question. Boiling it down and putting it in an abstract way, I’m happy to share my little motto with Chinese companies – genuinely recognise the steep learning curve, keep observing, be open-minded and respectful, stay alert and act realistically and reasonably.

 

6)    What opportunities are there for co-operation between Chinese and UK law firms?

As I said above, both the UK and Chinese markets are big and most people recognise that closer and deeper Sino-UK legal co-operation is something demanded by the market. More and more UK law firms’ clients require advice on China-related matters and good co-operation with Chinese lawyers who provide extensive, practical and high quality legal services will boost these UK firms’ role as their clients’ trusted advisor. In the other direction, Chinese law firms’ clients need to be well looked after jointly by their home adviser and English lawyers when they are undertaking business in the UK.

It’s critical for both Chinese and UK law firms to realize that good co-operation between independent firms needs mutual investment, not necessarily financially but definitely genuine effort with a view to long-term collaboration. In order to render truly practical and valuable advice, legal professionals in different continents across eight time zones have to overcome cultural and language barriers ahead of their clients to ensure they have a sound commercial awareness

 

7)    Do your clients prefer smaller local firms or larger international networks?

There has never been one size fits all. Different clients’ different mandates need different types of firms as vendors. Dozens of factors can be taken into account, from the perspective of most Chinese clients. I tried my best to list the top ones according to most clients’ priorities:

  • Expertise and experience
  • Efficient working style and effective communication (Chinese speaker and sound China knowledge if possible are much appreciated and credited)
  • Cost effective, certainty and real “value for money”
  • Easily accessible
  • Practical and commercial solution-minded
  • Brand and reputation
  • Size and international networks, especially if a large transaction covering different jurisdictions is involved

 

8)    What are the practice areas you definitely think a foreign law firm would find business in?

For most cross-border matters, the corporate and commercial field is the one most often in demand, but the spectrum has now become very wide, encompassing intellectual property, employment, tax, regulatory compliance, real estate and construction, dispute resolution, and immigration. From a Chinese client’s point of view, advice in respect of different practice areas needs to be co-ordinated by a corporate and commercial lawyer if possible.

 

9)    What recent legal developments you have seen in the UK (that have international implications)? 

For 2018, GDPR across the EU (not only in the UK) is a big issue. Correspondingly, China’s cyber security and data laws have been evolving so fast in the last couple of years. Globally many businesses urgently have to address data compliance issues.

 

10) Are you aware of any changes that may affect or changes that took place and had an impact on the foreign legal profession and practice rights in the UK?

England’s innovative ABS structure has attracted significant interest. It’s worth keeping a close eye on its further utilisation and development, especially when AI plays a more and more active role in the industry.

 

11)  Finally, what are your recommendations for visitors to London?

I started as a visitor to London 14 years ago and I might never be confident enough to call myself a “local”. In my personal view, London and New York are the only two international cosmopolitan cities. Language is never sufficient to describe its richness in all aspects. All visitors to London should enjoy it as much as they can

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