Be careful out there.
Be careful out there.

Since 2006, we have been writing about fake China law firms. See China Where Even The “Law Firms” Are Fake. In that post we talked about fake Chinese lawyers taking money from American companies for trademark registrations:

There are those who take money to file trademarks in China and then simply run away. A new client told me he had sent about $750 to what he thought was a legitimate China law firm to have his company’s brand name registered. As soon as the first $750 hit Shanghai, he was asked to send an additional $600 to “cover the filing fees,” which he did.

A week later the website was down and the Shanghai “firm” was gone, “leaving no solid clues, nor trace, only a space in the lives of their friends.”

* * * *

It turns out this scam is actually pretty common and it also turns out that in every case of which I am aware the scammers were neither licensed Chinese lawyers nor licensed Chinese trademark agents. In other words, they are just people who run China trademark registration scams.

This sort of fakery has been going on ever since and every so often one of our China lawyers gets word of an American or European company that paid thousands of dollars to register a trademark in China or to have a China employment contract drafted or to have a company registered in China, only to receive nothing but silence in return and only to learn that the “China law firm”or the “China lawyer” to they paid never really existed. Every so often companies hire us only to learn that their trademarks were never registered in China or that they actually have no company there.

But I am writing about this now because I recently received an email from a China lawyer I know who is working on the worst (because it is the largest) fake China lawyer scam of which anyone at my law firm has been made aware. Here is the email I got on this:

Hey Dan, just read your article about the fake firms.

We are currently running an investigation on behalf of a client who was swindled out of $600,000+. The scammers used a fake law firm with fake lawyers (the profiles were copied from a sample site used by a web design company). The Whois search showed an apparently fake Italian address, and an Israeli cell number. Money deposited into a Chinese bank account.

A real mess…

We have no reason to believe that any licensed China lawyer has had any part in any of these fake China lawyer schemes, and every reason to believe that they have not.

So how can you avoid getting caught up in something like this? Confirm that your lawyer(s) actually have a law license. That alone ought to solve all of your problems. I believe that every U.S. state lists its licensed practitioners online and avvo.com also lists all or nearly all licensed lawyers. Check that for any alleged American lawyer you use.

Do some due diligence before you pay/hire a China lawyer without an American bar license (of which there are many many good ones), especially if you will be paying upfront for something like a China trademark or a China company registration where it may take you years to realize that you have been had.

Once again, we urge you to beware of fake Chinese law firms. They are wreaking real havoc out there.

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Dan Harris

I am a founder of Harris Bricken, an international law firm with lawyers in Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, China and Spain.

I mostly represent companies doing business in emerging market countries. It has taken me many years to build my network and it takes constant communication and travel to maintain it. My work has been as varied as securing the release of two improperly held helicopters in Papua New Guinea, setting up a legal framework to move slag from Canada to Poland’s interior, overseeing hundreds of litigation and arbitration matters in Korea, helping someone avoid terrorism charges in Japan, and seizing fish product in China to collect on a debt.

I was named as one of only three Washington State Amazing Lawyers in International Law, I am AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory (its highest rating), I am rated 10.0 by AVVO.com (its highest rating), and I am a SuperLawyer.

I am a frequent writer and public speaker on doing business in Asia and I constantly travel between the United States and Asia. I most commonly speak on China law issues and I am the lead writer of the award winning China Law Blog (www.chinalawblog.com). Forbes Magazine, Fortune Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Investors Business Daily, Business Week, The National Law Journal, The Washington Post, The ABA Journal, The Economist, Newsweek, NPR, The New York Times and Inside Counsel have all interviewed me regarding various aspects of my international law practice.

I am licensed in Washington, Illinois, and Alaska.

In tandem with the international law team at my firm, I focus on setting up/registering companies overseas (via WFOEs, Rep Offices or Joint Ventures), drafting international contracts (NDAs, OEM Agreements, licensing, distribution, etc.), protecting IP (trademarks, trade secrets, copyrights and patents), and overseeing M&A transactions.

  • FOARP

    Five minutes of basic due-diligence via Google is usually enough to rumble these scams (not that you should assume that everything is A-OK merely because you couldn’t find anything), but a big part of the problem is that for a long time (and perhaps still?) you did not actually require any qualifications at all to become a Chinese trademark attorney. Some people set themselves up as trademark attorneys without really knowing anything about it (see here for more details: http://www.chinaipmagazine.com/en/journal-show.asp?id=538 ) and the result was poor trademark work being done across the board.

    The ultimate solution would be for the Chinese authorities to institute a proper system of exams for trademark agents/attorneys similar to those they have for patent attorneys. They could then publish an online register of trademark attorneys similar to the one that ITMA publishes in the UK ( http://www.itma.org.uk/members/ ) so you could easily confirm whether the person you are speaking to is a registered trademark attorney. Unfortunately, they do not yet do this as far as I am aware.

    An additional thing to keep in mind is that, unlike the United States, in China trademark attorneys are a separate profession to lawyers in general. Just because someone is a Chinese lawyer, doesn’t mean they actually know how to handle your Chinese trademark application.