How to choose your China lawyer

Our China lawyers have probably a thousand combined times had a foreign company seek help with a China problem for which we cannot economically help them because the contracts on which they wish to sue do not give them any protections. For some reason, we tend to get an increase in these sorts of problems at the end and the beginning of every year and this year seems even worse than years past.

Of those approximately thousand times, the foreign company absolutely never used a good law firm for help with their contract. They instead did the following:

1. Drafted the contract themselves, without a lawyer.

2. Used the contract provided to them by their Chinese counter-part, usually without any changes to it.

3. Used a domestic American, European, or Australian lawyer not fluent in Chinese and not at knowledgable about Chinese law to help them with their China transaction.

4. Used a consultant or an accountant or a “China expert” to help them with their China transaction.

My usual advice to these companies is that they consider hiring the right lawyer to look into suing the lawyers for malpractice and the non-lawyers for practicing law without a license.

What is with these companies, anyway?  I realize that lawyers truly qualified to draft contracts with Chinese companies are expensive, but these costs pale in comparison to the costs eventually incurred by not using the right people for the legal job.

And lest anyone at this point think this is a calloused call for you to retain my law firm, you would be mostly wrong. We’ve never written a post like this, but if I can help just one foreign company not lose its shirt to China, this post will have been worth it. For that reason alone, I cannot resist.

This is a call for you to retain any qualified law firm to help you with your China legal matters and to do so before you encounter big problems. There are many qualified such law firms, in the United States, in China, in Europe, in Australia, in Canada, in Latin America, etc. How do you find such a firm?

  1. Ask your existing lawyer to find you the right lawyer for China.
  2. Ask around about the right lawyer for China. Ask other companies you know that have done business in China. Ask your consultants and your accountants to refer you to the right lawyer and if they claim that they are the right lawyer, you should probably start wondering whether they are the right consultant or accountant for your business.
  3. Search the Internet, but very carefully. See China Lawyers: The Fakes and the Quasi-Fakes and China Lawyers: The Fakes and the Quasi-Fakes, Part 2.

In searching for the right lawyer for your China transaction, you need to realize that there is no free lunch, or even anything close to it. If you get a $8,500 estimate or flat fee from one law firm and a $350 flat fee from a “virtual” lawyer on the Internet, there is almost always something very wrong with the $350 lawyer and, in most instances, you would actually be better off not having a contract than paying (or even not paying) someone to draft a bad contract for you.  See e.g. Why Your NDA is WORSE Than Nothing for China.

What are you seeing out there?

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Photo of Dan Harris Dan Harris

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

He primarily represents companies doing business in emerging market countries, having spent years building and maintaining a global, professional network. 

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

He primarily represents companies doing business in emerging market countries, having spent years building and maintaining a global, professional network.  His 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.

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

Dan is a frequent writer and public speaker on doing business in Asia and constantly travels between the United States and Asia. He most commonly speaks on China law issues and is the lead writer of the award winning China Law Blog. 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 Dan regarding various aspects of his international law practice.

Dan is licensed in Washington, Illinois, and Alaska.

In tandem with the international law team at his firm, Dan focuses 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.