Lovells jumps feet first into China with Sino-global alliance

Lovells has hailed the launch of its 10-way Sino-Global Legal Alliance as the first of its kind in the key Asian jurisdiction.

Lovells has hailed the launch of its 10-way Sino-Global Legal Alliance (first reported on www.thelawyer.com, 3 September) as the first of its kind in the key Asian jurisdiction, boasting that it offers an “unparalleled” capability, with more than 1,000 domestic and international lawyers.

Lovells already has offices in Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai, although regulations prevent lawyers there from practising Chinese law. Via the tie-up with nine domestic firms, the firm can now easily access local law capability in Shenyang, Tianjin, Qingdao, Wuhan, Chongqing, Hangzhou, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, as well as in the key centres of Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Managing partner David Harris says Lovells has seen huge growth in China, driven primarily by client demand, with the alliance being formed to take advantage of that.

However, as Asia regional managing partner Crispin Rapinet points out, the alliance is non-exclusive, meaning its members are at liberty to pass work to any of Lovells’ competitors. Harsh, particularly when Lovells is investing time and energy training lawyers from across the alliance.

“As part of our commitment to the Chinese market we’ve taken an interest in the development of the Chinese legal profession,” says Rapinet. “We’ve said to the alliance firms that we’d like to help them in their development as law firms and part of our commitment includes training opportunities.”

Initially these training opportunities will see lawyers in the alliance spend time in Lovells’ Chinese offices, although Rapinet says it is not beyond the realms of possibility that those secondments could extend to other offices worldwide. In terms of referrals, Rapinet says Lovells will not hand work to firms just because they are part of the alliance, but will continue to look for lawyers that will best serve their clients in any given region.

This may call the point of the alliance into question. However, while the alliance firms are free to refer work to any firm they choose, in practice, if they do their position on the panel will be jeopardised. Which sounds like Lovells wants to have its cake and eat it too.

Certainly, the alliance is set to work in Lovells’ favour, with the firm’s Dubai practice expected to benefit from the increased access to Chinese clients.

According to Rapinet, the firms in the alliance are all significant players in major regional cities, something that is expected to be a selling point for clients of Lovells’ other offices across the globe.

The job of actually managing the relationships between the alliance firms will fall to Beijing office managing partner Robert Lewis, who unlike Rapinet is based in China and can speak Mandarin.

Lewis has been instrumental in the establishment of the alliance, with a Beijing-based team undertaking the year-long task of selecting firms for the panel.

“We did a pretty thorough due diligence exercise,” says Rapinet. “First of all we asked the Chinese market which firms they rated in each region; then, once we’d done our research in an objective way, we identified three to five of the top firms in each city. There was a clear list and we went to speak to all of them, then formed our own view as to which we thought would be the best to have as a partner in the alliance.”

Although Lewis is heading the alliance he will be helped in this task by a management committee that features a representative from each firm on the list. A major part of that committee’s role will be matching clients up to lawyers within the network.

“The committee will work with the client to identify a relationship partner in the preferred member firm who can act as a single point of contact to coordinate the joint services, either on a practice area basis or across multiple practice areas,” says Lewis.

Whether the alliance will be mutually beneficial for the firms involved remains to be seen. In the meantime, Lovells is seeking to expand it further and is already in talks with a number of other Chinese firms about coming on board.