Foreign Law Firms Registered in China

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BEIJING – The ability to practice law and provide opinions on matters of Chinese law is regulated and overseen by the Chinese Ministry of Justice (MOJ). Foreign law firms who wish to advise on such matters must obtain approval from the MOJ and obtain a license to practice in order to do so.

That said, there is a tendency amongst less professional or trustworthy firms to jump on the China bandwagon and indicate that they have a law ‘practice’ in China. Such ‘practices’ typically sub-contract client work to a local firm which can create problems in terms of quality standards, not to mention the obvious markup in China fees that the middleman firm is making from the client. Most businesses would prefer to deal with a lawyer and a law firm based in China directly, not through what amounts to an essential China middleman, even if they are posing as a “China lawyer.”

In fact, advising on matters of Chinese law is strictly regulated by the Chinese MOJ. While they do not have the jurisdictional power to prevent overseas firms from pretending to have a China presence, clients that use such ‘practices’ for China work face potential issues with insurance claims and quality of work as such practices are not mandated to actually provide these services. This can have serious implications if the firm provides incorrect or substandard advice – they are not governed by the code of conduct that the Chinese Ministry of Justice insists upon, and there would be no client recourse against the firm as a result. If a business uses a firm not actually authorized to practice, insurance claims may be invalidated in the event of any malpractice suits.

There are three ways to check whether a law practice has a real office in China or not. Firstly, one can view the practice’s website, and see if it lists such an office, its address and partner in charge. If they do not list such an office, they do not have a presence in China as it is illegal to advertise the provision of services or to list an office without being approved and licensed to do so in that pertinent country.

The second way is to refer to the Chinese Ministry of Justice Foreign Law Firm list, with the most recent edition available online here. If a firm does not appear on this list then they are not registered or licensed to practice on matters of Chinese law according to the Chinese Ministry of Justice. The list is accurate as of six months ago – meaning firms that have been granted licenses after this date may not appear until the next updated is conducted.

The third option is to simply ask the firm concerned for a copy of their Chinese business license. It will list the name of the firm in English, together with their address, the name of the China Registered Partner and the date of validity.

Foreign law firms that do suggest they ‘practice’ or can advise on Chinese law and cannot provide these details are operating in jurisdictions they are not permitted to. Unfortunately, it is an occasional problem, and is actually illegal. Foreign law firms that have not registered with the MOJ either have not bothered to do so, cannot do so, or have been rejected or barred from practicing Chinese law by the Chinese authorities for misdemeanors. It does happen.

The Foreign Law Firm list provides details of all foreign law firms authorized to practice in China. It makes far better corporate sense to use such a firm, rather than any of the imposters, or third party middlemen practitioners that are also attempting to charge fees for China law work, yet are without the real authority, licensing approvals, China infrastructure or financial commitment to do so.

Dezan Shira & Associates 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 emerging Asia. Since its establishment in 1992, the firm has grown into one of Asia’s most versatile full-service consultancies with operational offices across China, Hong Kong, India, Singapore and Vietnam in addition to alliances in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand as well as liaison offices in Italy and the United States.

For further details or to contact the firm, please email, visit, or download our brochure.

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6 thoughts on “Foreign Law Firms Registered in China

    Tony Whitten says:

    Wow. I checked the list. Some firms prominently on blogs saying they are in China are not actually registered with the MOJ. Interesting.

    Tony Kerr says:

    Excellent and timely article. One of the issues I have seen is where a foreign law firm does have a registered office in China but the key advisers on China matters sit in the US. The China office can be staffed with some local lawyers yet the majority of the China and Asia related advice comes from the lawyers in the US who only visit the region occasionally. I have also been in a position where a foreign law firm with no presence in Asia has used third party local law firm as their on-the-ground advisers for their client. That client ended up with a rather costly and complex issue due to the advice provided being incorrect.

    Tim says:

    It was my understanding that foreign law firms with a presence in China were in fact not allowed to practice Chinese law but rather advise on international law. Even local lawyers who wish to work at a foreign firm in China must give up their license to practice Chinese law during their tenure at the foreign firm. The website you link to seems to suggest these are firms allowed to practice offshore legal advice.

    Has this changed recently?

    @Tim: This standard disclaimer says it all really:

    “Please note that we are a foreign law firm registered with the Ministry of Justice of the People’s Republic of China. Under current Chinese regulations, we are allowed to provide information concerning the effects of the Chinese legal environment, but we are not authorized to practice Chinese law or to render legal opinions in respect of Chinese law. We work in cooperation with a number of Chinese law firms and would be happy to assist you in working with them should you require a legal opinion in respect of any Chinese law matter or other assistance from a Chinese firm.”

    This tells it all really. Having said this, there is a trend to the use of JV law firms and with the Shanghai FTZ as the first location (Guangdong province is following). I think you will find that most foreign law firms with roots in China will set up JVs to expand their business activities.

    Being on the ground in China and being licensed by the MOJ is rather different though in terms of expertise, commitment and attention to detail than using firms who are not licensed in China. If you want quality and accurate work, clients need to work with firms who are physically in China, not wannabes who are not. Unfortunately there are some out there including as Tony Whitten points out at least two who are highly prominent on their blogs about China law.

    If a law firm isn’t actually extant within the country yet is promoting itself as being so, and writing about China law on blogs to generate exposure for their practice back in the US or elsewhere, what does that tell you about the ethics, actual commitment to China or quality of the lawyers behind it?

    Best wishes

    Cecil says:

    Informative, thanks.

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