Simmons wins practice rights in China

THE CHINESE government has granted its latest batch of licences to foreign firms looking to set up offices in the People's Republic of China.

Sixteen firms were granted licences last week by the Ministry of Justice, bringing the number of foreign firms with licences to around 70.

London practice Simmons & Simmons was the sole UK firm to be granted a licence to set up.

According to senior partner Alan Carr, the firm will open in Shanghai because it is “historically recognised as the commercial centre of the country and a very fast growing part of the world”.

The firm, which was successful on its first application, will staff the office with Hong Kong-based partner Wong Kwai Huen, and an assistant.

Other successful applicants include Hong Kong firm Johnson Stokes & Master (associated with Norton Rose), and Canadian firm Goodman Phillips & Vineberg.

US firm Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom also received a licence for its eight-lawyer consultancy which has been operating in Beijing for four years.

The US firm was unsuccessful on its last application. Resident partner Handel Lee says the licence would make a difference as it means “we are known in China and to the Ministry of Justice as a foreign law office”.

City firm Freshfields did not receive a licence. The firm, which had offices in Beijing and Shanghai, was recently forced to scale down its operations when the Chinese government protested about foreign firms operating in two cities.

Freshfields originally made its debut in China by poaching a number of lawyers from US firm Coudert Brothers. One Freshfields lawyer says the firm was not expecting to receive a licence at this time because the firm would “have to keep its nose clean for a while”.

The Chinese are expected to bring in new legislation this year which will have implications for foreign lawyers. A draft is already in circulation. Foreign lawyers are hoping that there will be some relaxation on the rule that foreign firms can only open in one location in accordance with the terms of the licence, but this is unlikely to be covered by the draft legislation.