Shanghai bar welcomes first group of special foreign lawyer members

The Shanghai Lawyers Association has admitted the first foreign lawyers to its membership in a new initiative.

Lawyers working in the Shanghai offices of Baker & McKenzie, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Gide Loyrette Nouel and Jones Day are among the first 216 specially invited members of the Shanghai Bar.

It is the first time for a domestic bar association to admit non-Chinese practising lawyers to its membership. The membership certificates were handed to 23 institutional members, including 14 foreign foreign law firms and six in-house departments, in an inauguration ceremony in July 2012.

Among the 216 individual members, 22 are lawyers working in the Shanghai offices of international firms, 76 are in-house lawyers and the remaining 118 are lawyers working in government departments.

The certificates allow lawyers and in-house lawyers working in these nine organisations the right to attend legal training programmes, representative meetings, seminars, conferences and networking events hosted by the Shanghai Bar. Membership does not allow them to practise PRC law as a Chinese lawyer.

The motion to establish the special members division was first raised within the Shanghai Lawyers Association in 2010 by the association’s then vice-president Anthony Qiao, who stepped down from the post earlier this year following two terms. The working committee of the specially invited members division is currently led by committee member Xu Qiang, vice-president Charles Guan and president Sheng Leiming.

“It’s a long and challenging process to finally achieve this groundbreaking project,” said Qiao, who is also the Shanghai managing partner of domestic firm Zhong Lun and has worked with a large number of international firms.

“We’ve had to change the by-laws of the Shanghai Lawyers Association and to ensure these changes are approved and accepted by the Ministry of Justice and relevant local regulators. We’ve also put in significant efforts in persuading our domestic members that it will bring more benefits to them instead of competition.”

Qiao added: “Shanghai is aiming to become a leading international financial centre. Having a robust international legal services sector is important to facilitate the city’s ambition. In addition, the new membership will provide a new platform for lawyers in domestic and international firms to understand each other better and explore more opportunities to work together.”

However several foreign firms’ partners have expressed concerns over talent retention.

“It’s a welcome move by the Shanghai bar. The membership will help deepen foreign firms’ exchanges with local counterparts and local legal authorities through conferences, training and social events. But it’s uncertain whether the initiatives will help local firms to poach our lawyers,” said a partner of a foreign law firm. In recent months, several high profile lawyers have joined domestic firms from international firms in China.

The specially invited members working committee is in the process of inviting more special members to join in the future. It is also understood to offering a discounted individual member’s fee to attract new members. Currently, the annual membership fee for a domestic lawyer is RMB1,500 (£150) while the fee for specially invited members is said to be lower than that amount.