Beijing-based boutique firm Kejie Law Office has formed a global alliance with 13 independent firms outside of China under the label of Cathay Associates.

Kejie, which is established in 2009 and has seven partners, is the main initiator of Cathay Associates. Other members are boutique firms of a similar size based outside of China, including French firm Bersay Associés, Hungarian firm Várnai & Partners, Malaysian firm Azmi & Associates, Portuguese firm Sérvulo & Associados and Spanish firm Rousaud Costas Duran.

The 14 founding members of Cathay Associates cover 20 cities across Europe and Asia. The alliance is managed by a global management committee.

Kejie’s founder and managing partner He Jie will serve as the alliance’s global chairman. Two European counsel of Kejie, Rupert Varnai and Pascal Demko, will take on the roles of global chief executive officer and global managing partner respectively.

Varnai is one of the key individuals driving the formation and expansion of the alliance. Prior to joining Kejie, he was a global partner of Chinese firm Yingke and was overseeing the firm’s European network from Budapest. He is a qualified lawyer in Hungary and is also a partner of Budapest-based Várnai & Partners. He splits his time between China and Europe.

“The alliance was born based on proven experience that there is a huge underserved mid market in China,” said Varnai.

“With many supportive policies and incentives by the Chinese government, there is a huge wave of Chinese companies interested in and are investing abroad and taking their businesses global. But many of them don’t necessarily have the overseas investment experience or the right resources, so there is a significant need for Chinese advisor-led one-stop-shop global solutions,” he explained.

He added that boutique firms were ideal to fulfil that need, as they are able to provide more hands-on support and attention from senior partners. 

“It’s more than just a referral network. All the foreign partners will work hand in hand with Chinese advisers for Chinese companies. All overseas partners provide their services and advice through the Chinese advisors who are the main point of contact with clients and who has a deep understanding of clients’ needs,” said Varnai.

The network will also service mid-market foreign clients with their investments and business activities in China.

“In some aspects, it’s easier to do business in China these days. But from the legal and regulatory and competition points of view, China is a more challenging market than before,” said Varnai. 

“The alliance is really about connecting China with the rest of the world,” he continued.

The alliance was officially launched in Beijing on 19 October, and has already added a new member in Italy. According to Varnai, Cathay Associates aims to have 40 members by the end of 2016, covering major countries and regions across the five continents. In addition, Kejie is in the process of opening an office in Shanghai early next year and double its size in China.

Driven by Chinese companies’ ever-increasing outbound investment and M&A activities, a large number of Chinese law firms have started exploring different ways to build out their global reach (see this year’s China Elite report for more details). Some firms like Dacheng and Jingtian & Gongcheng have decided to tie up with a global firm, while an increasingly number of firms are looking to launch their own ‘best friends’ network to service their clients’ needs abroad, such as Zhong Lun and Boss & Young.

We will put the issue of cross-border relationships under the microscope at our Global Collaboration Summit in London on 9-10 March 2016. Click here for more information.