China is in the process of issuing new laws and amending present ones to push forward the opening of the legal service market in a move designed to improve the legal environment to satisfy World Trade Organization rules.

Foreign attorneys to expand roles in China
China’s constant improvement of its legal environment will further open the sector and allow foreign lawyers to become direct beneficiaries, a senior justice official said over the weekend.
China’s constant improvement of its legal environment will further open the sector and allow foreign lawyers to become direct beneficiaries, a senior justice official said over the weekend.

The country’s admission into the World Trade Organization (WTO) has expanded the business scope of foreign lawyers and offered them greater opportunities, according to Zhou Yuansheng, director of the department in charge of administration overseeing lawyers within the Ministry of Justice.

Zhou said the implementation of the Law on Administrative Licensing on July 1 will bring about fundamental changes for administration and offer a better legal environment for the overall society.

China started opening its legal service market in 1992 when the Ministry of Justice launched a pilot scheme allowing overseas law firms to set up one representative office in one of the 15 cities on a list it provided.

Upon its WTO entry at the end of 2001, the nation pledged that it would further open up its legal service market, gradually lifting the geographic and quantitative restrictions on representative offices for overseas law firms.

Shi Jinlan, a division chief in Zhou’s department, said China has so far faithfully honoured its commitments to the WTO in opening its legal service market.

The Chinese Government has lifted the ban on foreign law firms setting up representative offices as well as lifting limitations on where those offices can be set up.

Foreign law firm offices in China are allowed to develop long-term clientele with domestic law firms while the requirements for their chief representatives has also been relaxed.

So far, 129 representative offices of overseas law firms have been established on the Chinese mainland, 41 more than the number before China’s entry into the WTO, and 16 have second offices in China. Most of them are in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

“Opening the legal service market is a gradual process of liberalizing and the ministry will do further research on it,” Shi said at a seminar on the impact of China’s admission into the WTO. The event was held on Friday and Saturday in Beijing.

She was responding to complaints from foreign lawyers that China should open the market wider and relax restrictions on their business including practicing law.

Foreign law firms are now prohibited from engaging in litigation in China in the capacity of a lawyer or from furnishing opinions or certificates in relation to contracts, other documents, or any activities governed by Chinese laws.

In the field of recruitment, a registered foreign law firm is presently prohibited from directly hiring China-licensed lawyers.

Harold Paisner, president of the Foreign Investment Commission of the Union Internationale des Avocats, complained that the definition and regulation on Chinese legal affairs are unreasonably broad.

Paisner said further opening the legal service market in China will benefit the country’s economic development by attracting more direct investment. He said the interests of foreign law firms in any market stems from the interests of their international clients.

Scroll to Top