Despite the hype, law firms are seeing limited upside so far
from the new Shanghai Free Trade Zone.
A Long Way From Liberalization
When the Chinese government announced last August it was opening the country’s first
Free Trade Zone in Shanghai, Premier
Li Keqiang said the move would help
turn the city into a world-class financial
center on par with New York and Hong
Kong. Companies that opened there
would enjoy free convertibility of China’s
currency, the renminbi, and streamlined
customs and administrative procedures.
Put on a fast track,
the FTZ opened in September. But, over nine
months later, the benefits of locating there
are still far from clear for
many businesses, including law firms.
Many law firms had
hoped the FTZ would
bring an easing of restric-
tions that bar foreign law
firms from practicing
Chinese law. In January,
China’s Ministry of Justice approved a
plan to test two models for cooperation
between Chinese and foreign law firms
in the FTZ: joint ventures and mutual
Local officials hailed the move as
a step toward the full liberalization of
China’s legal market. But to some foreign
lawyers working in China, the policies
don’t seem all that groundbreaking.
The problem with the FTZ, says Wan
Li, a Seyfarth Shaw partner in Shanghai,
“is that, at the moment, it doesn’t offer
you anything you can’t
do outside the FTZ.”
firms are barred from
law, they are allowed
to advise on “the Chi-
which can mean virtually anything short
of appearing in court,
signing official forms
or issuing legal opinion letters. Wan notes
firms have been hiring Chinese lawyers—who must surrender their practice licenses when they
join foreign firms—for decades now.
The trouble with
the FTZ, says a
partner, “is that,
at the moment,
it doesn’t offer
can’t do outside
SHEELA MOOR THY
Ex-head of DLA Piper’s Singapore corporate
practice, Moorthy focuses on cross-border
M&A in Southeast Asia and India.
WAYNE McMASTER & ROBERT COOPER
King & Wood
The pair led a 10-lawyer intellectual property
team from King & Wood Mallesons, where
McMaster was formerly Australia IP head.
The litigator launched a Perth office for Jones
Day in April, focusing on projects and project-
related disputes in the energy sector.
Finance specialist Allchurch relocated to
Singapore from White & Case’s London
office in 2009.
Before moving to Hogan Lovells, Burke head-
ed the Southeast Asia dispute resolution
practice for Herbert Smith Freehills.