Matthew Townsend at the China Britain Law Institute (CBLI) shares his views about his Legal life in Beijing and Hong Kong.

Why did you choose a career in law?

I chose law due to the scope for international practice a legal career offers. I enjoyed the transnational component of my Philosophy, Politics and Economics degree and after graduation I went travelling around China. There I realised I wanted to expand my personal connection to China and international business. I now work at Norton Rose Fulbright in Hong Kong and Beijing where I specialise in International Arbitration.

Tell us about your organisation. 

The China Britain Law Institute (CBLI) is an association of lawyers from the legal professions of each country. We partner with organisations such as the Law Society, UK Trade and Investment and the Confucius Institute for Business. Speakers at CBLI events have included a Chinese Supreme People’s Court justice, several lord mayors of the City of London and well-known lawyers such as Cherie Blair QC.

What are currently the main challenges for law firms in China?

Meeting the expectations of PRC clients. Price requirements are strict, instruction can be very ‘hands-on’ and, especially where state-owned entities are concerned, considerable leeway should be allowed for internal authorisation requirements.

What are currently the main opportunities for law firms in China?

Chinese growing outbound investment offers huge opportunities, especially for transactional and dispute lawyers in the construction, infrastructure and energy sectors. The PRC offices of law firms therefore play an important secondary role as marketing hubs for the remainder of their practices.

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

These are significant. Foreign law firms are prohibited from practising law and non-PRC nationals may not qualify for the PRC bar. By contrast domestic law firms do not necessarily have the platform to assist their local clients in foreign jurisdictions. Moreover, there are, and remain, ways in which English lawyers can help the PRC profession develop. We currently run or support various initiatives, including a lecture series at Tsinghua University, a judicial training scheme and others.

What advice would you give to UK law firms or companies doing business in China?

Set concrete, realistic goals and stick to them. Manage expectations both for your clients and your management.

And what are your recommendations for visitors to China?

China is no longer the exotic destination it was when I first came here more than a decade ago and many readers will be more familiar with the key destinations than I am. Personally I enjoy travelling in southern China. National holiday periods are to be avoided at all costs!


The views are the views of the author and not those of the Law Society.