China’s Zhong Lun swoops on rival for City launch

The first Chinese law firm to open in London, Zhonglun W&D, will go through a major restructuring after the departure of its entire London team to help a rival Chinese firm – Zhong Lun – launch an office in the City.

The nine-lawyer team is headed by partners Xue Haibin, Li Linna and Emily Wang. They will join Beijing-headquartered rival Zhong Lun and become the driving force of the firm’s penetration into the UK and European market.

The Zhong Lun London office is registered as a private company limited by shares and is understood to be in the process of leasing an office space of 300 square meters in the City of London. Possible locations include 1 Liverpool Street and Tower 42.

Zhong Lun has been in an expansion mode in the past few years. It opened its Hong Kong office in 2010 and entered into an association with six-lawyer Hong Kong firm Roger Ho & Co. In 2011, it strengthened its Hong Kong foothold by merging with 21-lawyer Hong Kong firm Boughton Peterson Yang Anderson.

The firm has also been on a hiring spree, recruiting a large number of partners from leading local and international firms. Robert Lewis, former Beijing managing partner of Lovells, and Clifford Ng, former partner of K&L Gates’ Hong Kong, are among the high-profile appointments.

In addition to growing in size, Zhong Lun’s efforts in improving its management structure, professional conduct and service quality have been noted by many of its peers and has been increasingly visible in cross-border transactions co-counselling with leading international firms.

“International expansion is on many Chinese firms’ radar, and more Chinese firms will come to London,” said Xue Haibin, who founded Zhonglun W&D’s London office in 2006 and will be Zhong Lun’s London managing partner. “We want to move on to a better platform and become an integrated part of a leading Chinese firm.”

All three partners and lawyers are dual-qualified in China and London. However, Xue stated the firm’s goal is to be a strong provider of PRC legal advice and support that have comparable professional conduct and service standards as City firms.

Zhonglun W&D’s managing partner Chen Wen noted that his firm is committed to continuing its presence in London, but the business model will be changed to a joint venture firm with a local law firm. Chen is currently negotiating with a couple of potential UK partner firms.

Zhonglun W&D and Zhong Lun are two separate firms based in Beijing. However, their names reflect on the historical root they share. In 1992, Zhong Lun was established and changed its name to Zhonglun Jintong following its merger with fellow Beijing firm Jintong in 1996. In 2003 a group of Zhonglun Jintong partners, including the founding partners, left to set up a new firm known as Zhonglun W&D. In 2008, Zhonglun Jintong rebranded itself as Zhong Lun.

Zhong Lun vs Zhonglun W&D

Firm Head office Managing partner Number of partners Number of other fee-earners Number of offices
Zhong Lun Beijing Zhang Xuebing 137 486 8
Zhonglun  W&D Beijing Chen Wen 85 338 13