French firm UGGC & Associés has formed an exclusive partnership with Chinese firm Concord & Partners as it ramps up its presence in the country.
UGGC has its own offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, but partner Olivier Lefébure said the partnership with Concord is an effort to expand its client base in China.
Lefébure said the two firms plan to work together as closely as China’s strict regulations allow.
Although the firms will have to operate from different offices, Lefébure revealed that UGGC is looking to move into the same tower block as Concord in Beijing.
“It’ll be a success if we’re more integrated, with our respective teams working more closely together,” Lefébure told The Lawyer. He added that “in a few years” he hopes that a Chinese lawyer will be working with UGGC in Paris.
Lefébure said UGGC had seen an acceleration in competitiveness in the Chinese market for foreign law firms in the past five years.
He added: “Whereas you had very few Chinese law firms able to work to international standards 10 years ago, you now have 30 or 40 that are totally qualified to assist overseas enterprises in their investments in China. This means that for all foreign law firms the market’s become difficult.”
He said that partnering with a Chinese firm gives UGGC access to Concord’s contacts as well as its local clients.
Lefébure explained that Concord was a similar age and size to UGGC. Concord has offices in Beijing and Shanghai as well as the southern Chinese city of Shenzen.
According to Lefébure, UGGC is “convinced that sooner or later all foreign law firms will have to look for this kind of partnership”.
Apart from its much bigger domestic rival Gide Loyrette Nouel, UGGC is the only French firm to have pursued an aggressive international strategy. As well as its three Chinese offices, UGGC also has presences in Morocco, Qatar and Ras Al Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates.
A small number of other firms have single international offices, generally in Brussels or North Africa, but most have remained solidly French.
Lefébure noted that the small size of most French firms limits the possibility of their expanding overseas.
“Investing abroad costs a lot of money. It’s a long-term investment and it takes a bit of time to make it profitable,” he explained.
However, China, and Asia in general, is becoming a popular destination for European firms to look for relationships. In recent months two Portuguese firms, Morais Leitão Galvão Teles Soares da Silva & Associados and PLMJ, have signed partnership agreements with Asian firms.
Although Gide has carried out a review of other regions, closing offices in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, it is continuing to build its Asian practice, with recent hires to its Hong Kong office.