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Top Chinese law firms experience surge in headcount

Posted by: Laurence Simons 24/09/14

The biggest legal firms in China have enjoyed a major increase in their lawyer headcounts, a new survey has found. A study by The Lawyer has revealed that nearly all of the 35 largest firms have expanded their headcount, with the Lawyer China Elite report showing that Dacheng - the biggest firm not only in the country but in the whole of Asia - increased its payroll by 48 per cent over the course of 2013 to a total of 3,247 lawyers.

However, that was not the largest proportional increase, with red circle firm Global Law Office enjoying a 50 per cent rise from 130 to 195 law practitioners.

Other firms to see a significant rise in lawyer numbers include Guantao, which saw its headcount rise by 38.1 per cent after opening new offices in Guangzhou and Hangzhou. This firm has connections with UK firm Ashurst.

The study also found that many of the leading firms managed to hire some top talent at the expense of their rivals. Examples of this included the recruitment of 20 partners and more than 100 lawyers by red circle firm Zhong Lu from legacy Beijing firm Kaiwen.

Another successful poaching mission was carried out by Tian Yuan, a Beijing-based firm that expanded with the opening of new offices in Shenzhen and Chengdu. In the first of these two cities its new team included ten lawyers who moved from rival Jingtian & Gongcheng, while its arrival in Chengdu saw it pick up three partners and 20 lawyers from local operator Tahota.

The growth of the top firms is just the tip of the iceberg. According to the National Bureau of Statistics and the All China Lawyers Association, they operate in a sector that is now worth the equivalent of $7.6 billion (£4.6 billion). This is spread across 21,000 domestic firms, while 263 international legal companies are represented in the country. Between them, they employ 250,000 lawyers.

Of these, 2,877 currently work for the red circle firms. These range in size from 773 lawyers at Zhong Lun to 101 at Haiwen and Partners.