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More Chinese law firms serve expats

2015-01-21 09:42 Global Times Web Editor: Qian Ruisha
The Legal Service Center for Foreign Individuals (LSCFI) strives to meet the growing demand for legal services for expats. Photo: Courtesy of LSCFI

The Legal Service Center for Foreign Individuals (LSCFI) strives to meet the growing demand for legal services for expats. Photo: Courtesy of LSCFI

As China barrels towards internationalization, the demand for legal services concerning foreign affairs is on the rise. An increasing number of law firms have begun to include foreign legal affairs as a part of their business.

One of these domestic law firms is Beijing Pang Biao Law Firm, established in 2006. The firm is dedicated to providing legal consultation for both Chinese and foreign clients. Their clients come from diverse employment backgrounds, including embassies, foreign companies and joint ventures.

Pang Biao's business has expanded in recent years, and in order to better serve foreign clients, they teamed up with Whole Guard Law Firm in Shanghai to jointly open the Legal Service Center for Foreign Individuals (LSCFI) in 2009. The center is set up to cover a wide range of legal services, including consultation, personal legal affairs and a regular, free legal training service.

Since June 2009 when they accepted their first case from a foreign client, a trademark dispute, they have accepted more than 300 legal cases concerning foreign individuals and companies.

Fang Shanshan, the head of the LSCFI, who is also a lawyer, said there is always something to learn and room to grow in this field.

"Now, legal services for foreign affairs cover a broad range of situations in China, including marriage, heritage, adoption, property damage, investment, housing, and criminal defense," Fang said.

Lawyers in this business are normally required to not only be knowledgeable in extensive legal affairs but also specialize in a foreign language and have the ability to communicate with clients of different cultural backgrounds.

Fang said the firm has a full-time English translator and interpreter on hand, but cultural differences between expat clients and Chinese lawyers can still be an issue.

"Under Chinese law, when expat individuals or foreign companies and organizations need a lawyer to sue or respond to a lawsuit in any domestic courthouse, they must entrust a Chinese lawyer to do it," she said. "However, some clients, especially those who are the victims of a legal dispute, will not give their full trust to a Chinese lawyer unless there is a lawyer of foreign nationality who is their assistant."

Fang said this misunderstanding due to cultural differences requires both parties to take time to establish trust and cooperation.

Because of the depth of experience lawyers at the center have, the cost to hire them is higher than other firms. Despite that, Fang still considers the legal services for foreigners to be a promising business.

"As China moves forward in opening up to foreign business and investments, more and more expats will come to China to work, live, study or travel," Fang said. "Beijing, as the economic and cultural center of the nation, will have a larger market for legal services concerning foreign affairs."

Wang Xuehua, the head of Beijing Huan Zhong Law Firm, who has experience in legal services for foreign affairs, said in an interview with haiwainet.cn in November 2014, that China's Ministry of Justice and the All China Lawyers Association have recently updated training programs for lawyers wishing to provide legal services concerning foreign affairs.

"In order to catch up with this fast-developing field, education for this type of lawyers must catch up," Wang said.

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