China’s Largest Foreign Law & Tax Practices by Geographic Scope

Posted by Reading Time: 6 minutes

Op/ed by Chris Devonshire-Ellis & Nicolas Hentrich

There are many ways to measure the size of professional services suppliers in China: numbers of partners, staff, clients, and turnover. Another important way to choose a practice truly committed to China is to look at firms with multiple offices – these are the practices that really understand the country and have seriously invested in it. This is becoming increasingly important as China becomes internally more competitive.  Foreign investors now need practices familiar with the cities and provinces beyond the main core of Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangdong Province.

Another area in which professional services in China have developed slightly differently from, say, the United States, is that China, to some extent, allows the existence of ‘hybrid’ firms which can offer both legal and tax services. In fact, tax planning for foreign investment into China is one of the key areas of expertise in demand – a service not provided or understood by many pure law firms.

In this list, we identify the largest practices able to assist foreign investors in China. Their offices are all real, not just promotional, and fully operational. We only included the larger firms with more than ten operational China offices, and omitted networks. If you feel we have missed anyone, please feel free to add in the comments section below.

Allbright Law Offices

Founded in 1999 from the merger of three Shanghai-based law firms, Jin Lian, Tianhe, and Great Wall.

Offices in Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Qingdao, Shenzhen, Suzhou, Taiyuan, and Xiamen

Crowe Horwath

Part of the US Crowe Horwath Accounting network.

Offices in Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Qinhuangdao, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, Liaoning, Dalian, Jilin, Changchun, Heilongjiang, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Suzhou, Nantong, Zhejiang, Ningbo, Anhui, Fujian, Xiamen, Jiangxi, Shandong, Qingdao, Weifang, Henan, Hubei, Yichang, Hunan, Guangdong, Foshan, Zhuhai, Shenzhen, Guangxi, Chongqing, Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou, Shaanxi, Gansu, Qinghai, and Xinjiang

Da Cheng Law Firm 

A multinational practice formed in 2015 as a result of a merger between Da Cheng and Dentons.

Offices in: Beijing, Changchun, Changsha, Changzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing, Dalian, Fuzhou, Guangzhou, Haikou, Hangzhou, Harbin, Hefei, Hohhot, Huangshi, Jilin, Jinan, Kunming, Lhasa, Nanchang, Nanjing, Nanning, Nantong, Ningbo, Qingdao, Suzhou, Shanghai, Shenyang, Shenzhen, Taiyuan, Tianjin, Urumqi, Wenzhou, Wuhan, Wuxi, Xiamen, Xi’an, Xining, Yinchuan, Zhengzhou, Zhoushan, and Zhuhai

De Heng Law Offices 

Founded in 1993 as a spin off from the Chinese Ministry of Justice.

Offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Jinan, Dalian, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Changchun, Changsha, Shenyang, Xi’an, Chongqing, Hangzhou, and Wuhan

Deloitte

Part of the multinational accounting franchise.

Offices in Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Dalian, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Harbin, Hefei, Jinan, Nanjing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Suzhou, Tianjin, Wuhan, and Xiamen

Dezan Shira & Associates 

China’s largest privately foreign owned practice, formed in 1992.

Offices in Beijing, Dalian, Dongguan, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Ningbo, Qingdao, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Suzhou, Tianjin, and Zhongshan

EY China

Part of the multinational accounting franchise.

Offices in Beijing, Changsha, Chengdu, Dalian, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Qingdao, Shanghai, Shenyang, Shenzhen, Suzhou, Tianjin, Wuhan, Xiamen, and Xi’an

Grandall Law Firm

Established in 1998 in a merger between three other Chinese firms.

Offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, Kunming, Tianjin, Chengdu, Ningbo, Xi’an, Nanjing, Nanning, Fuzhou, and Jinan

Grant Thornton 

Part of the multinational accounting franchise.

Offices in Beijing, Changchun, Chengdu, Dalian, Fuzhou, Guangzhou, Harbin, Haikou, Kunming, Luoyang, Nanjing, Nanning, Ningbo, Qingdao, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Suzhou, Taiyuan, Wenzhou, Wuhan, Xiamen, and Xi’an

Jun He Law Firm

One of the pioneering Red Circle law firms formed after the liberalization of China’s law services in 1992.

Offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Dalian, Haikou,  and Hong Kong

King & Wood Mallesons

Established in 2012 from a merger between King & Wood (China) & Mallesons (Australia).

Offices in Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Jinan, Qingdao, Sanya, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Suzhou.

KPMG 

Part of the multinational accounting franchise.

Offices in Beijing, Beijing Zhongguancun, Chengdu, Chongqing, Foshan, Fuzhou, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Qingdao, Shanghai, Shenyang, Shenzhen, Tianjin, and Xiamen

Longan Law Firm 

Founded in 1992 upon the liberalization of legal services from the Ministry of Justice.

Offices in Beijing, Shenyang, Shenzhen, Tianjin, Jinan, Zhuzhou, Taizuan, Shanghai, Huangzhou, Nanjing, Suzhou, Nantong, Dalian, and Hangzhou

PWC China

Part of the multinational accounting franchise.

Offices in Beijing, Dalian, Nanjing, Shanghai, Suzhou, Xiamen, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Ningbo, Shenyang, Tianjin, Xi’an, Chongqing, Hangzhou, Qingdao, Shenzhen, and Wuhan

Shinewing

Formed in 2005 from a merger between Ho & Ho (Hong Kong) and Shinewing (Beijing).

Offices in Beijing, Changchun, Changsha, Chengdu, Chongqing, Dalian, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Jinan, Nanjing, Nanning, Qingdao, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Taiyuan, Tianjin, Urumqi, Wuhan, Xi’an & Yinchuan

Zhong Yin Law Firm 

Founded in Taiwan in 2009.

Offices in Beijing, Chongqing, Guiyang, Jinan, Fuzhou, Xi’an, Suzhou, Quanzhou, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Chengdu, Nanjing, Changsha, Yinchuan, Xiamen, Taizhou, Tianjin, Zhouhai, Shenyang, Hangzhou, Nanning, Qingdao, Ganzhou, and Jixi.

Background

Both China’s legal and audit professional services industries have relatively recent backgrounds. A number of foreign law firms had been permitted to operate in mainland China as Representative Offices, with a handful of foreign individuals also being allowed to liaise directly with the Chinese Government and law courts as recognized “Legally Responsible Persons”, which required sitting a perfunctory examination. Our own Chris Devonshire-Ellis was one of these at the time.  For law firms, this changed in 1992 following the decision to liberalize services previously only provided by the Chinese Ministry of Justice. As a result, that year saw the formation of numerous local Chinese firms, with only Chinese nationals permitted to practice law in China, a situation that continues to this day. The first Chinese – and now most prestigious local law firms – were established in 1992 and are referred to today as the Red Circle firms.

The accounting and audit industries were also liberalized in a similar manner in early 1994. Foreign audit firms were only ever granted limited joint-venture licenses in China, a situation now eased further following the demise of Arthur Anderson in 2002. Pending additional regulatory shifts, only China qualified auditors may conduct audits in China. At present this qualification is only open to Chinese nationals.

Professional Services Development

Many of the large, blue chip international firms operating in China are limited to providing services in just a handful of cities and tend to concentrate their operations in Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. Although they may have a significant China practice per se, they have not been allowed to develop other branch offices. This is a controversial regulation, often deemed as inhibiting the standard of Chinese legal practice in the country’s second tier cities. The majority of the international firms now practicing in multiple locations in China have either developed from a local China law or tax firm base, or are well connected.

The Chinese Government requires all local lawyers to swear a pledge of loyalty to the Communist Party of China in order to practice, and maintains its sole authority as arbiter of the law. This also impacts upon legal issues pertaining to audit.

Operational Issues

A profound and deep legal and tax knowledge is required to properly service foreign investors in China. Businesses seeking advisory services are strongly recommended to pursue professional consultation from any of the firms above. Using a local firm in the U.S. or Europe who then subcontracts that work is generally not considered an especially wise move. Advice can be incorrect, lost in translation, or perfunctory at best. It also tends to be very expensive for the quality offered. Using professional firms operational in China for decades remains the lodestone for international businesses requiring professional services in China. The firms listed above are amongst the most prestigious, largest and experienced today with an unrivalled wealth of pan-China knowledge.


About
Us

Asia Briefing Ltd. is a subsidiary of Dezan Shira & Associates. Dezan Shira is a specialist foreign direct investment practice, providing corporate establishment, business advisory, tax advisory and compliance, accounting, payroll, due diligence and financial review services to multinationals investing in China, Hong Kong, India, Vietnam, Singapore and the rest of ASEAN. For further information, please email china@dezshira.com or visit www.dezshira.com.

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1 thought on “China’s Largest Foreign Law & Tax Practices by Geographic Scope

    Alan Shultz says:

    Chris,

    The problem with this list is that it leaves out most of the top American and British law firms which mostly just have offices in Beijing and/or Shanghai, because most of China’s other cities are not worth their time. Why don’t you run a list of the best or even the biggest by number of people firms with offices in China, instead of those that just happen to be in ten or more cities.

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