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Firms Court Lawyers as WTO Impact Felt

Lawyers in Beijing's high-tech hub, Zhongguancun, are set to be among the first winners of China's entry to the World Trade Organization (WTO) as nervous enterprises rush for legal help.

Fears that competition from foreign companies entering the domestic market will prove too strong have led many business chiefs to seek expert advice.

"Lawyers are deeply involved in the development of enterprises with their resources and good suggestions," said Wei Xin, with the Beijing Beida Founder Group Corporation.

"It is an outdated notion that lawyers are only needed when the enterprises are in big trouble."

Wei's enterprise - one of the world's largest providers of typesetting software - has been toasting success after a courtroom battle on pirated products.

Wei stressed the role of his legal team in deciphering rules and regulations for the company and pitching in with legal advice regarding its business strategies.

A recent survey conducted by the Judicial Bureau of Haidian District, where Zhongguancun is located, revealed that the more mature the enterprises, the more attention attached to the role of lawyers.

"Most of the mature high-tech enterprises have their own legal consultants or have special departments within their enterprises to handle legal matters. Some have even showed a certain degree of specialization," said Liu Hong, head of the Haidian Judicial Bureau.

But the large market is not all good news for Chinese lawyers. China's commitments to the WTO mean more foreign lawyers will be allowed into China's legal services market to provide clients with legal consultations.

Liu said Chinese lawyers in Zhongguancun still have much room for improvement.

"We noticed that the major business for lawyers, though they are providing legal service to high-tech enterprises, is still restricted to traditional fields, and have only limited involvement in such new legal services as venture capital and limited partnership," said Liu.

She also urged lawyers to do more to help start-ups in Zhongguancun, which the bureau's survey found are still managing to survive and barely have time to consider legal matters.

An improvement in the quality of legal services is expected to be the focus of work of the judicial departments next year. Zhang Fusen, minister of justice, urged a national conference for improved training of high-calibre lawyers proficient in laws, foreign languages and other fields such as high-tech and economics.

But the primary task for Chinese lawyers now, according to Shen Sibao, law professor with the University of International Business and Economics and himself a lawyer in Zhongguancun, is to study the rules of the WTO and help enterprises understand their rights and duties under China's WTO membership.

(China Daily January 7, 2002)

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