|Lei Wun Kong||Calvin Tinlop Chui|
Regional providers of legal services have to keep pace with a growing number of domestic and international clients in an increasingly globalised world. Several have created joint-venture law firms for a particular region and some have even merged with others from different jurisdictions, as a way to remain in step with the growth of their clients and tap into new geographical markets.
This phenomenon becomes more complicated when contemplated by the authorities of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in its southern regions, where the Hong Kong and Macau Special Administrative Regions (SARs) and the province of Guangdong are located. When firms from these regions join together, they will face similar issues that firms from different jurisdictions would experience, but with additional idiosyncrasies. Firstly, they have to overcome legal-system differences in their rules and court systems, because under the principle of 'one country, two systems', the British and Portuguese legal traditions remain strong in the Hong Kong and Macau SARs, respectively; secondly, they need to operate in different languages: Mandarin (and Cantonese), English and Portuguese; and lastly, they must resolve the equally important cultural differences of their lawyers and their ways of doing business.
Last year, as an extension to the 2013 CEPA, the PRC offered to the law firms of the country and its two SARs, an opportunity to capitalise on their unique relationship with the mainland and the international community. With the enactment of the 'preliminary measures for the operation of joint law firms formed by law firms of the Hong Kong SAR, the Macao SAR and mainland law firms in the province of Guangzhou', law firms of Hong Kong, Macau and China can together form a partnership-like joint law firm in three testing district points in Guangdong: Qianhai (Shenzhen) Nansha (Guangzhou), and Hengqin (Zhuhai). Through this arrangement the joint firms can benefit from pledged support and benefits in relation to work, immigration, office space, accommodation, tax, and so on.
The PRC is on top of steering the phenomenon of legal-market globalisation, by providing the right economic incentives. Now it is time for law firms to take up the task of shaping the treacherous legal landscape and building bridges that will connect the PRC to Anglophone and Lusophone countries, and vice-versa.
Finding the solutions to the difficulties mentioned above may require some time, but the result would be immeasurable in the future of legal services in these regions.
Lei Wun Kong and Calvin Tinlop Chui