The legal profession in China has rapidly grown since the establishment of the current Chinese legal system in the early 1980s, when the Ministry of Economy and Trade publicised regulations (see below) permitting consulting firms to bridge foreign trade into China. As a result, many foreign law firms, including a number of British firms, had established subsidiaries to provide legal services in China.
International professionals are permitted to join firms in the UK to interpret both English law and international law; these professionals are prohibited from referring to themselves as solicitors or barristers. The same applies in China. To trade under the title of ‘律师’ or lawyer in China, you have to actually be Chinese.
However, according to the Regulation on the Administration of Foreign Law Firms’ Representatives Offices in China, a foreign law firm in China (established with permission of the Judicial Administration Department) may only be engaged in some activities that do not involve the affairs on Chinese Law.
So what can these representative offices actually do? Under Article 15A of the aforementioned regulation, representative offices are permitted to provide clients with the ‘consultancy’ on jurisdictions other than Chinese law and may ‘provide information on the impact of the Chinese legal environment’.
But when it comes to Chinese law, representative offices are instead required to entrust Chinese law firms to deal with affairs concerning Chinese Law on their client’s behalf. Chinese domestic law therefore has the added layer of protection whereby domestic firms have to act proxy to deals concerned under Chinese law.
On the other hand, English law is becoming a popular jurisdiction for many international commercial contracts, and the Law On The Application Of Relevant Laws To Civil Relationships With Foreign Parties allows contracting parties to explicitly * select a law applicable to regulating foreign-related civil relationships.
In fact, in 2010 the Solicitors Journal reported * that Bar Council chairman Nicholas Green QC had urged barristers to distance themselves from legal aid work and forge markets in areas such as China and the Middle East. The report claimed that England and Wales already has a 40 per cent market share of international commercial contracts.
Many critics have suggested for decades that the legal profession is doom and gloom, and I am sure many would agree now that Britain has decided to leave the European Union. Lawyers will surely be required in the medium term * to untangle the legal mess that the BREXIT will leave behind.
China has an open attitude toward signing a free trade agreement with Britain
Chinese Commerce Ministry
In the long term, it is certainly clear that Britain and China, who have both expressed their intention of having a free trade deal * in future, will become ever closer in the decades to follow. I would therefore suggest that the law students wishing to broaden their horizons should gain an international dimension to their CV.