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Taiwan's parliament has sanctioned a law permitting overseas lawyers to set up practices providing advice on local law.
The move comes as part of the country's push to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO). New regulations would not only allow partnerships between foreign and local firms, but also let foreign firms hire locally-qualified lawyers. Few international firms have a permanent base in Taiwan, but Baker & McKenzie, Squire Sanders & Dempsey and Jones Day Reavis & Pogue all have a presence there. Foreign lawyers currently in receipt of Ministry of Justice permission to act as consultants will be approved automatically. But only foreign-qualified lawyers with a practice history of more than five years overseas will be able to set up practices in Taiwan. Founder and senior consultant at Taiwan firm Qi Lin International Law Offices Robin Winkler said of the change: "It will make the legal services market more competitive and bring it closer to international standards." The Taiwan government agreed a number of points in its bilateral negotiations with the US as part of a campaign to join the WTO. These included steps to relinquish its protectionist attitude towards the provision of legal services. Until now, regulations prevented partnerships between domestic and foreign lawyers. Taiwan has actually proceeded further than its agreed commitments. WTO entry conditions could have been complied with had the government merely allowed lawyers from WTO member countries the opportunity to take the local bar exams. Responses to liberalisation have been mixed. The local bar association is understood to be concerned about an influx of foreign firms into its market. Other local practitioners argue that the proposed changes will enhance the quality of Taiwan's legal market. Winkler speculated that the local bar could raise its objections when the Ministry of Justice unveils the implementation rules for its reforms.