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On Getting Chinese Clients. A Call For Help.

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Ancient as it may seem, this blog still has around 1,000 people who read us via email.  Many of those readers have been subscribing virtually since our inception in January, 2006.  What I have always liked about email subscribers is their ability to respond directly to us (and our posts) simply by writing a responsive email.  The typical email might be something really short, like “I agree” or “I have been seeing the same thing” or even an occasional “this is wrong.”

Anyway, I got an interesting two emails yesterday.  One was from an email subscriber, a solo practitioner who is learning Chinese in Pittsburgh, PA (yes, I know most of you know that Pittsburgh is in Pennsylvania, but as someone who listens to E Street Radio pretty much every day, I can’t say Pittsburgh — even in my head — without adding P.A.), asking us to write about getting Chinese clients.  The other was from a young lawyer in New York City, about to go to China, asking us essentially the same thing.

I responded to the New York lawyer via email and I am going to give a similar response to the Pittsburgh, PA, lawyer here.

I don’t know.  When it comes to China, my firm’s focus is on mostly American (that includes Canada and Latin America) and European companies looking to go into China, looking to do business with China, already in China, or already doing business with China. Less than one percent of our “China work” involves companies from China.  We long ago determined that our time would be better spent focusing on representing companies from these countries than from China.

Though we do from time to time get business from Chinese companies, that work has nearly always come as referrals from Chinese lawyers with whom we regularly work in China or from Chinese (and Chinese-American) businesspeople that we know in the United States. We are certainly not opposed to representing Chinese companies, but we have found far too many of them (including very large companies) to be unsophisticated in how to use American lawyers and unappreciative of what it takes — and, yes, most importantly, what it costs — to practice law in the United States.  Put simply, we have found it to make economic sense (for us) to focus on working with foreign companies going to China, rather than on the reverse.  As a result of that, we are not the people to ask about marketing to Chinese clients.

So people, especially you lawyers out there that represent Chinese clients, can you help?  How do you get your Chinese clients?  Do you market to them mostly in China or in the US?  What are Chinese companies looking for in an American law firm?  Does a solo practitioner have a chance?  What about small law firms?

  • Chinese counsel

    I think one of the key barriers for a US lawyer to wining Chinese corporate clients may be the language. Though more and more Chinese business people can speak fluent English, most of them still feel more comfortable when communicating in Chinese. The other problem might be that, unlike FDI keeping flowing into China, the investment projects carried out by Chinese companies in the US remain much limited. Yes, you could notice many headlines about Chinese firms “going-abroad”, but most of them are state-owned giants and they have their own pool of int’l law firms to adivse on these huge out-bound deals, and undoubtedly–most of them are well-known int’l law firms with many years’ cooperation with these companies and an outstanding track-record of int’l deals. Of course, with tons of cash to shed nowadays, it is not rare for these deep-pockets to hire these firms. Thus, it should be quite difficult–if not totally impossible–for US lawyers to win Chinese corporae clients doing business in the US, at least in the near future when China remains a critial economy to absort, rather than pull out, investments.