Law Firms Waving Farewell to China Law Practices
Linklaters has reduced its lawyer numbers in China following what the firm calls a ‘prolonged downturn’ in China, following the retreat from the China law market of fellow big law firm Dentons.
The job losses are in all three of Linklaters’ offices in Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, with approximately 30 positions expected to be affected.
Linklaters has one of the largest legal teams of any international firm in China, with a current headcount of 220 individuals, including 38 partners and 16 counsel, as indicated on its website.
Most of the firm’s lawyers are in Hong Kong, which remains a major hub in Asia for law firms.
However the implementation of a contentious national security law by Beijing in 2020, aimed at quelling the pro-democracy movement in the Special Administrative Region.
In a statement, the firm said: “In response to the prolonged downturn in the China market, we have decided to make a modest reduction to the number of lawyers in our Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong offices. China continues to be an important market for Linklaters.
The firm is fully committed to the China market and continues to have the strong capabilities required to service the ongoing needs of our global clients in that market.”
The scale of the slowdown in legal work in China is underscored by research published by Law.com, which reported that more than 85 percent of China’s top 45 firms experienced significant declines in fee income.
Factors contributing to this decline include extended Covid-19 lockdowns, Beijing’s focus on domestic economic growth, heightened data and national security regulations, and ongoing tensions between the United States and China.
These developments are part of a broader trend where international law firms are re-evaluating their strategies for operating in China where economic headwinds, a changing regulatory environment and the difficult East/West dynamics that dominate world affairs are all having an effect on law firms operating in the massive Chinese market.
Among the recent developments in Asia have been –
- In July, Eversheds Sutherland’s international arm and King & Wood Mallesons’ (KWM’s) China business formed an exclusive alliance.
- In August, Dentons terminated its relationship with its China arm due to Chinese cybersecurity and data protection laws.
- Latham & Watkins announced the closure of its Shanghai office, opting for a strategy shift to operate its mainland China team from a consolidated hub in Beijing.
- Proskauer Rose, Ropes & Gray has scaled back their operations in mainland China.
The shifting dynamics in the global landscape have led law firms to reconsider traditional strategies for operating in China. The evolving relationship between the United States and China, coupled with changing regulatory and economic conditions, has prompted a reassessment of the most effective approaches for legal firms in the region.