Chinese govt rules out hiring by foreign firms

THE CHINESE government has dashed hopes that it is preparing to allow international firms to exploit the potentially huge Chinese market by hiring local lawyers.

China is under pressure from the US and EU to lift its ban on the employment of locally qualified lawyers by international firms before it can join the World Trade Organisation. And there had been hopes that it was preparing to give ground.

But a senior official in the Chinese WTO delegation told The Lawyer last week that it was not prepared to countenance the “brain drain” of legal talent that would follow such a move.

“We have very few lawyers and cannot allow them to move to foreign firms,” he said.

However, the Law Society remains diplomatic. International director Jonathan Goldsmith said: “We understand the concerns of the Chinese authorities but hope they will be persuaded of the advantages to both them and us of allowing Chinese lawyers to work in foreign law firms.”

But partners at the 13 English law firms with licences to practice in China are less sanguine. One Beijing-based partner predicted it would be 10 years before his firm could hire a Chinese lawyer.

Hopes of change were raised in December when China agreed to relax the restrictions governing the location and number of firms able to set up in China.

See Focus pages 18-20