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Foreign Law Companies Open Branches

Another 11 foreign law firms joined the family of overseas legal outfits in China yesterday as the Ministry of Justice granted them permission to open branches on the Chinese mainland.

That raised the number of foreign law firms on the Chinese mainland to 103, with another 28 from the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

The 11 newcomers are from the United States, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Brazil, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates. They will set up branches in Shanghai, Beijing and Chengdu, capital of Southwest China's Sichuan Province.

That marks the first time since China opened up its legal services market in 1992 that a foreign law firm is establishing an office in China's western regions, a development that comes hand-in-hand with the increase in foreign capital in that region after China introduced policies to boost the economy in the western regions.

"China provides bountiful opportunities for foreign lawyers, as it is now focused on developing its western regions, stresses on modern science and technology and works to restructure its industries," said Minister of Justice Zhang Fusen as he passed the certificates to the representatives from the 11 law firms yesterday.

He encouraged foreign law firms to continue their role of helping China's western regions land more foreign investment.

Foreign lawyers are increasingly involved in non-litigant services in China. At present, they are allowed only to open one branch in one of the 15 cities in Chinese mainland approved by the Ministry of Justice. That restriction will be lifted after China enters the World Trade Organization.

Some existing foreign law firms have started to prepare to open more branches when they are permitted.

With the further opening of the Chinese market and the huge influx of foreign capital into China, Chinese and foreign lawyers will be faced with more complicated legal issues and will both compete and cooperate more extensively, said David Ben Kay from the British law firm Dentonhall. That law firm was one of the first foreign law firms to enter the Chinese market.

Peter Hendrixson with the US law firm Dorsey & Whitney said close business cooperation between the US and Chinese lawyers is an indispensable part of the legal exchanges between the two countries. His firm is one of the 11 to receive the OK yesterday to set up outlit.

The exchanges will help lawyers from both countries learn the legal practices and system of the other country, he said.

(China Daily 04/13/2001)

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