Beijing has given the green light to the city's first batch of sole-practitioner law firms. The lawyers concerned will open offices in five residential communities, in an attempt to improve the availability of legal services for ordinary people.
Of the existing 550 legal practices in Beijing, over 90 percent are partnerships with the remainder either State-run or cooperative firms, according to sources with the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Justice.
The lawyers licensed to operate as sole practitioners all have at least six years' work experience. The five offices selected were subject to examination and scrutiny by the justice authority from scores of applicants, said Yang Zhiwen, vice-director of the Beijing Bureau of Justice.
"Individual-run law practices will play an invaluable role in the fields of taxation procuratorial services and financial services to individuals and small-sized companies," said Yang at yesterday's ceremony held to license the first five sole practitioner law firms.
These sole-practitioner law firms are allowed to practice only in urban residential areas, where they will provide citizens with a high-quality legal service at a comparatively low price, said Yang.
"I will provide free services on legal consultation and the writing of legal documents, which usually cost some 100 yuan (US$12) at law firms in the capital," said 52-year-old Ma Yuqiang, one of the five practicing lawyers.
Ma also promised fees that were 50 percent less than the average charged in Beijing. "This is because my costs for office and personnel are lower than that of those partnerships, which are usually located in luxurious office buildings and hotels," explained Ma.
"In the past, it was not very convenient for ordinary residents to travel from their homes to law offices in downtown areas to solve the problems and disputes of their daily lives," said Vice-Director Yang.
"This is a good attempt to widen the organization of law offices and make them more specialized," said Dong Chunjiang, director of the Lawyers Administration Division with the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Justice.
Private law firms are expected to be given a clear legal status in the amendment to the current law concerning practitioners, currently under discussion, according to Zhou Yuansheng, an official with the Ministry of Justice.
The Shanghai Municipal Bureau of Justice publicized a management regulation on individual-run law firms earlier this year, ahead of Beijing.
(China Daily October 17, 2002)