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Overseas Law Firms to Open Second Offices
Eleven overseas law firms Wednesday won approval to open their second representative offices on the Chinese mainland. And three Hong Kong law firms were also awarded approval by the Ministry of Justice to open their doors on the mainland for the first time.

The announcement brings the number of Chinese mainland representative offices set up by overseas law firms to 163.

China started a pilot scheme to allow overseas law firms to enter the Chinese legal service market in 1992. However, before China's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO), each overseas law firm could only set up a representative office in one of 15 cities on a Ministry of Justice list.

"The overseas law firms in China's legal service market have promoted overseas investment in China and economic and technical cooperation between overseas and Chinese businesses," said Vice-Minister of Justice Duan Zhengkun. "They have also promoted exchanges and cooperation between Chinese and overseas lawyers."

He pledged that his ministry would continue the policy to open up the domestic legal service market.

After China's WTO entry, overseas law firms were given the green light to provide clients with advice on overseas laws and entrust Chinese law firms to deal with Chinese legal affairs, according to a regulation issued by the State Council at the end of 2001.

However, the former bans that prohibited the establishment of jointly funded law firms have not been lifted since China's WTO accession. And representative offices of overseas law firms in China are still barred from recruiting lawyers who are Chinese nationals.

"The approval (to open up a second representative office) not only reflects the initiative of the Chinese Government in honoring its commitments, but has also shown its courage and insight in pushing ahead the opening-up of China's legal service," said Danian Zhang, chief representative of the Shanghai office of the Chicago-based law firm Baker & McKenzie, which got approval Wednesday to set up a new office in Shanghai.

Zhang hailed Wednesday's approval as "a new and firm step" towards the opening-up of China's legal service market but called for greater access in the future.

(China Daily January 9, 2003)

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