IFLR1000 is delighted to announce the winners for the inaugural IFLR1000 China Awards.
The awards celebrate the most innovative deals and the best-performing law firms and lawyers across China in 2019 and recognise where firms and lawyers performed exceptionally locally and nationally. The awards shortlists are the culmination of six months' research, analysing hundreds of submissions, surveying thousands of referees and interviewing hundreds of lawyers.
The full shortlists for the awards can be viewed here.
Our methodology and criteria can be viewed here.
The awards research was conducted in conjunction with our ranking research into eight regions in China. You can view the firm rankings, lawyer ratings and firm editorial reviews here.
All IFLR1000 research (awards and rankings) published in calendar year 2020 can be viewed here.
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Firm of the Year (by region, for all regions)
King & Wood Mallesons, headquartered in Beijing, is consistently one of the most highly regarded firms in China by peers and clients.
In 2019, King & Wood Mallesons Beijing provided legal advice on a large number of significant financial transactions. Highlights included Alibaba's Hong Kong SAR IPO and Huatai Securities' IPO, the first on the Shanghai-London Stock Connect. The firm also worked on Ningbo Shanshan's investment in Altura, Bain Capital's acquisition of Xiamen Qinhuai and China Eastern Airlines' mixed ownership reform. Its presence in legally innovative transactions across IFLR1000's practice areas is second to none.
Shanghai-based Allbright Law Offices wins this year's Shanghai law firm award. Established in 1999, Allbright's Shanghai headquarters has about 130 partners and 1,000 lawyers and its total revenue in 2019 reached nearly RMB1 billion ($145 million). In terms of lawyer numbers and income, Allbright ranks first in Shanghai.
At the same time, Allbright has a good historical record in the Shanghai legal market. In 2019, it provided advice on legal work in several practice areas, including M&A, securities and capital markets, banking and finance, and bankruptcy and reorganisation. Many of its mandates are complex, with one of its most significant being the bankruptcy of CEFC.
Grandall Tianjin is this year's Tianjin firm of the year.
Grandall Law Firm's Tianjin office accounts for 70% of the local legal market. In terms of per capita income and number of staff, the office is also among the best in the region.
In 2019, Grandall Tianjin led on several landmark transactions, including an important but confidential acquisition transaction, and several asset management and local public-private partnership projects. Between them the deals navigated several unprecedented issues to set new market standards.
Solton Law Firm wins the 2020 regional firm award for Chongqing. Solton had considerable revenue and market share in Chongqing in 2019. The team advised on China Three Gorges Corporation's issuance of shares to acquire Xinyu Investment's equity stake in United Energy. This project involved difficult negotiations between the acquirer and the listed company and placed heavy demands on the professional ability of the lawyers involved.
In addition to developing its own business, Solton has also been also actively involved with local economic development. In 2019, Solton advised on local government bonds in Chongqing, marking the first time that Chongqing has issued special government bonds for shanty town redevelopment projects.
Zhong Lun Law Firm is noses ahead of its rivals in this highly this competitive category. The firm advised on the procurement project for the power supply system equipment as well as the operation and maintenance services contract for Guangzhou Rail Transit's new line. It is the largest bidding project for power supply systems in the history of Guangzhou urban rail transit. It entailed novel considerations, being a one-off purchase of equipment.
Zhong Lun also advised a joint-venture between China's State Taxation Administration, Guangzhou Guanglian Aviation Services and Shenzhen Shunhe Tiancheng Trading, which was one of the most recent joint-ventures after the new foreign investment law of China came into effect in 2020. Additionally, Zhong Lun was also retained to advise on several investment projects and bankruptcies in Guangdong.
Shandong: Wincon Law Firm
Wincon Law Firm wins Shandong firm of the year, with transactions such as the shortlisted investment project into Shenzhen MGI Tech by the Qingdao government, Qingdao West Coast New District Management Committee and Hong Kong's BGI Group. This was a large project involving multiple entities, target companies, regulatory scrutiny, implementation plans and a complex transaction structure. The firm also provided legal consulting services for industrial parks and universities in Qingdao, which involved complex debt disputes, strict compliance requirements, diversified assets, hidden risks and tight schedules.
These were landmark deals, notable for their size and scope under PRC law.
Emerging from another competitive category, Tahota picks up the Sichuan firm of the year award. Tahota was established in Sichuan 20 years ago and has become one of the oldest law firms in the region, with the strong reputation and large market share.
One standout deal from the shortlist was China Chengda Engineering's investment in the Nakhodka Mineral Fertilizer Plant in Russia. This project of social significance sets an benchmark for Chinese companies involved in structuring Belt and Road Initiative projects. In this project, Tahota advised on the negotiation of the overseas engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract, conducted due diligence, and advised on the international sanctions issued by the US, EU, UK and UN. At the same time, Tahota was responsible for providing legal advice on the feasibility and legality of the project.
Tahota Sichuan advises clients in many industries, including finance, real estate, aviation, tourism and artificial intelligence.
Dentons wins the Zhejiang firm of the year award.
Dentons has four branches in Zhejiang province. In 2019, its income and staff size ranked among the top three in Zhejiang. Dentons Zhejiang attaches great importance to finance related work. Revenue from this business sector accounted for more than 50% of last year's total revenue. The firm's main practice areas include M&A, restructuring, capital markets, private equity, investment funds, banking and finance, foreign direct investment and overseas investment.
The firm advised on the listing of Zhejiang Feiyang International on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (HKEX), which was the first variable interest entity (VIE) listed on HKEX from Ningpo. In addition, the office also participated in several few bankruptcy and reorganisation cases as well as local public-private partnership (PPP) projects, including the Hangzhou-Quzhou Railway PPP.
Team of the Year (by practice area, nationally)
Banking and finance
JunHe picks up the banking and finance team award. The team worked on a mix of notable transactions. Among the most complex deals was the financing of the sale of the Dinghao Electronics Building, which needed a bespoke structure to accommodate a different composition of onshore and offshore financing syndicates. The firm also advised on the privatisation of China Huaneng Group, one of the largest privatisations of a Chinese state-owned enterprise (SOE) from the HKEX in 2019. Elsewhere, the team worked on the financing for HillHouse Capital's acquisition of a 15% stake in Gree Appliances. This was one of the largest acquisition financings in 2019, and the equity transfer of Gree Appliances represented one of the most important examples of a SOE share restructuring in the past few years in China.
Fangda Partners wins the 2020 capital markets team of the year award. In 2019, the firm advised on Alibaba's secondary listing on the HKEX, which was the largest public offering globally in 2019. A highlight in terms of legal innovation and potential impact saw the team represent Huatai Securities on its IPO on the London Stock Exchange, a project that involved detailed work on the framework and regulations of the Shanghai-London Stock Connect. The firm also advised the underwriters on the IPO of China Resources Microelectronics on the SSE Star Market, marking the first time in the Chinese capital markets that a Cayman incorporated company is listed in mainland China.
King & Wood Mallesons wins this year's M&A team award. The firm has had a strong record of advising on some of the most challenging M&A transactions in China. A team acted for China Resources Enterprise and China Resources Beer on its wide-ranging, long term strategic cooperation agreement with Heineken Group. The deal required complex cross-border considerations and detailed work on novel public M&A, governance, trademark licensing and other issues. The firm also advised on the public takeover of Grammer AG, which was the first time that a Chinese company has acted as a white knight in a cross-border public takeover.
Restructuring & Insolvency
Fangda Partners wins the restructuring team of the year. The firm played a key role in advising on the bankruptcy of Shanghai CEFC International Group, this year's winning restructuring deal of the year. The firm also worked on the reorganisation of Bestway Marine & Energy Technology and had a key role on the pre-pack reorganisation of ZK Engineering. Fangda Partners showed impressive breadth and depth it its capacity to steer clients through challenging situations.
Deal of the Year (by practice area, nationally)
Banking and finance
The financing of the acquisition of Zhongguancun Dinghao Electronics Building in Beijing by the investment consortium comprised of Ascent Real Estate Investors, Sigma Delta Investment Partners and others
Borrowers' advisers: Zhong Lun Law Firm
Lenders' advisers: JunHe
The acquisition is one of the largest foreign commercial real estate acquisitions in Beijing to date and it may serve as an example on how to design financing structures where the compositions of the onshore and offshore syndicates are different.
In this deal, Shanghai Rural Commercial Bank took up a large portion of the onshore loan but only a small portion of the offshore debt, while assuming account control responsibilities under the onshore loan. Standard Chartered Bank, the agent bank under the onshore/offshore syndicates, contributed a large amount of the offshore debt but only a small amount under the onshore loan. Given the complicated intercreditor relationship, the legal advisors had to tailor a bespoke account control arrangement and allocation of agents' responsibilities.
Given the special composition of the onshore and offshore syndicates, a first-ranking mortgage over the property was granted to the onshore syndicate, and a second-ranking mortgage was granted to the offshore syndicate, which constitutes a 'Nni bao wai dai' transaction, referring to a cross-border security provided by a non-PRC entity. The legal advisors negotiated and designed the provisions for the borrower side on the registration with the State Administration of Foreign Exchange. The transaction structure is both novel and significant.
Huatai Securities' global depositary receipts (GDR) and listing of GDRs on the London Stock Exchange
PRC counsel to the underwriter: King & Wood Mallesons
PRC counsel to the issuer: Fangda Partners
Reasons for the selection:
This first-of-its-kind transaction required extensive negotiation with regulators from both the UK and China, with the relevant rules under the Shanghai-London Stock Connect regime and the settlement procedures being developed during the progress of the deal. The listing also set standards for the deposit arrangements for Chinese companies to offer GDRs, which differ from the more established arrangements on the international markets, reflecting the special requirements and technicalities under the laws of the PRC and the PRC securities registration and clearing system. In addition, as this is the first offering of GDRs with A shares as underlying securities, the settlement procedures and timeframe for the offering were also explored for the first time in this transaction.
Furthermore, as the first offering of GDRs under the Shanghai-London Stock Connect, this listing sets the standard for future offerings. It was quickly followed by two other proposed offerings under the Stock Connect regime.
The acquisition of H shares in and voluntary withdrawal of the listing of Huaneng Renewables Corporation by China Huaneng, and the related financing
PRC and Hong Kong SAR counsel to China Huaneng Group: Jingtian & Gongcheng
PRC counsel to Bank of China as lender – JunHe
The transaction is the largest privatisation of a Chinese state-owned enterprise listed on the HKEX in 2019.
Restructuring & Insolvency
Bankruptcy of Shanghai CEFC International Group
Joint administrators: King & Wood Mallesons, Allbright Law Offices, Fangda Partners
This was the first case in which bankruptcy proceedings in mainland China were recognised by the Hong Kong High Court, marking a significant breakthrough in cross-border recognition of cases in the Hong Kong SAR courts.
The case is important because the bonds issued by CEFC Shanghai before the bankruptcy proceedings were worth CNY22.1 billion. If it handled improperly, the case may have had a negative impact on the financial markets in China.
Impact Deal Awards (by region)
The financing of the acquisition of Zhongguancun Dinghao Electronics Building in Beijing by an investment consortium comprising Ascent Real Estate Investors, Sigma Delta Investment Partners and others
Borrowers' advisers: Zhong Lun Law Firm
Lenders' advisers: JunHe
The acquisition is one of the largest foreign commercial real estate acquisitions in Beijing to date and it may serve as an example of how to design financing structures where the compositions of the onshore and offshore syndicates are different.
The inconsistency between overseas and domestic syndicates and between Chinese banks and foreign banks, as well the different interests of domestic and foreign syndicates, gave rise to complex and novel considerations.
Shanghai CEFC International Group bankruptcy
Joint administrators: King & Wood Mallesons, Allbright Law Offices, Fangda Partners
This was the first case that bankruptcy proceedings in mainland China were recognised by the Hong Kong High Court, marking a significant breakthrough in the cross-border recognition of mainland China cases by the Hong Kong SAR courts.
The case is important because the bonds issued by CEFC Shanghai before the bankruptcy proceedings amounted to CNY22.1 billion. If handled improperly, the case may have had a negative impact on the financial markets in China.
Bohai Steel Group bankruptcy
Advisers to creditors: Global Law Office, King & Wood Mallesons, Commerce & Finance Law Offices
This bankruptcy involved 47 companies and the total liabilities exceeded RMB200 billion, making it the largest reorganisation case for restructuring assets and liabilities in China.
Chongqing Rural Commercial Bank A-share IPO
Legal counsel: JunHe, Commerce & Finance Law Offices
The A-share listing of Chongqing Agricultural Commercial Bank on the Shanghai Stock Exchange has made it the leader in the Chinese capital markets. It was the first A + H-share listed agricultural commercial bank in China; the first A + H-share listed bank in western China; the largest A-share IPO issued in China since 2017 by a financial institution; and the largest A-share IPO on the main board of the Shanghai Stock Exchange since 2019.
China Merchants Shekou Industrial Zone Holding, Qianhai Land Resumption joint-venture with Shenzhen Qianhai Development Investment
Legal counsel for China Merchants: JunHe
Legal counsel for Shenzhen Qianhai Development Investment: DeHeng Law Offices
This project was unprecedented. It provided a benchmark through its creation of a mechanism enabling strategic cooperation between the government and enterprises for the purpose of land preservation during the transformation of a city.
The project broke a multitude of records in the real estate and securities markets. It involved three state-owned companies listed in China and abroad to form an entity with a value exceeded RMB146.8 billion, making it the largest real estate transaction in 2019. The investment project lasted for four years and concerned a development area of 2.9 square kilometres.
The overall legal workload for the project was vast, with complex interdisciplinary legal issues and tight schedules which are unusual in both the real estate and capital markets.
Zhejiang Hailiang's acquisition of KME
Buyer's legal counsel: Haiwen & Partners
The target company, KME, is a global leader in the copper industry. This acquisition helps Zhejiang province to further its expansion in the non-ferrous materials industry.
The transaction was large in scale, valued at €119 million ($141 million), and was also an important cross-border M&A transaction. In addition, the deal had to overcome unexpected challenges which demanded innovative solutions. The deal was also important for Zhejiang province; it attracted the attention of the local government because of its huge transaction value and contribution to local economic development.
Hualu Holdings' acquisition of Shandong Xinhua Pharmaceutical
Buyer legal adviser: DeHeng Law Offices
The transaction is the one of the very first instances of a state-owned enterprise, supervised by the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council (SASAC) of Shandong, absorbing and directly holding a controlling stake in a listed company. It was implemented in accordance with a SASAC of Shandong policy to reduce the number of shell companies.
Yinji Entertainment And Media bankruptcy
Legal adviser: East & Concord Partners
This case is China's first listed company to apply to the court for bankruptcy settlement, at a time when the debtor was facing a delisting. For such cases, there are unclear regulations at the current level of China's regulatory and judicial practices. For example, China only allows listed companies to apply for bankruptcy and reorganisation through the approval of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, but it has not clarified bankruptcy settlement rules for listed companies. This case had no precedent to follow.
Lawyer of the Year (by practice area, nationally)
Banking and Finance
Liu Fei – Jingtian & Gongcheng
Liu Fei is a partner of Jingtian & Gongcheng's banking practice. Although Liu only joined the firm in early 2018, he advised on many of its significant cases in 2019, including an acquisition financing between Blackstone and Goldman Sachs, which was a significant deal between the world's largest private equity firm and investment bank. In the transaction, there was a cross-collateralisation onshore arrangement, with high complexity in both its design and implementation. In 2019, Liu also advised on PAG's financing of its offshore acquisition of an office building in Beijing, which required an array of legal complexities.
Shi Tiejun- JunHe
Shi Tiejun is a key partner of JunHe's capital markets practice. He joined the firm in 1994.
Over the years, Shi has advised on the issuance and listing of dozens of H shares, red chips, A shares, and domestic and overseas ChiNext stocks, providing legal services for domestic and foreign companies. He is exceptionally experienced and well-reputed within the capital markets.
In 2019, Shi advised on Wingtech Technology's investment in Nexperia. This was a complex transaction due to its restructuring plan, high value and rigorous approval process. Shi was the lead lawyer for the listing of Bayi Space, the first company which successfully transformed from a New Third Board listed company to a Shanghai Sci-Tech Innovation Board (STAR) listed company.
Liu Jinrong – Global Law Office
Liu Jinrong, admitted in the PRC in 1998, is the managing partner of Global Law Office and has served the firm for 18 years.
Liu specialises in M&A and capital markets and has advised both Chinese and international companies on about 2,000 M&A and investment transactions. Recent highlights include the acquisition of the Canadian-listed First Quantum Minerals, the acquisition of a 80% stake of Carrefour Chin by Suning.com and the acquisition of the Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge and the Northern Marmara Motorway in Turkey.
Many of the projects that Liu has worked have involved complex legal issues, but he has a proven record of leading teams through challenging obstacles and of proposing practical and creative solutions in structuring.
Xu Shengfeng – Zhong Lun Law Firm
Xu Shengfeng, an equity partner of Zhong Lun, has been with the firm since 2006. Xu has led a large number of complex bankruptcy cases with nationwide influence in China. He had a lead role advising on the pre-reorganisation of Shenzhen Protruly Electronics, the first case of pre-reorganisation of an enterprise within the system of listed companies in mainland China.
Xu advised on the reorganisation of Liaoning Huishan Dairy Group and its 108 associated companies, which raised complicated legal questions and attracted the attention of the government of Liaoning province and the Supreme People's Court.
Rising Star of the Year (by practice area, nationally)
Xu Chunlong – King & Wood Mallesons
Xu Chunlong is part of King & Wood Mallesons' banking and finance practice.
In 2019, Xu was a lead associate on the financing of New Frontier Corporation's $3 billion acquisition of United Family Healthcare. He was also lead associate for the team representing the syndication arranged by China Merchants Bank, Bank of Communications and China Guangfa Bank for the acquisition of Century Link Mall. A third notable role saw him again assisting a financial institution with the financing and restructuring of a listed company.
Tan Xiao – Dentons
Tan Xiao is a junior partner at Dentons' Chongqing office. She had a key role in the team that advised Chijia Cultural Tourism Group's issuance of Covid-19 bonds. The timeline of the project was extremely tight. Among the shortlisted deals this year, Tan worked on the acquisition of Haier Money. Clients praise her for her efficiency.
Huang Qingfeng – Commerce & Finance Law Offices
Huang Qinfeng is a non-equity partner of Commerce & Finance Law Offices.
Huang has received plenty of strong feedback throughout the IFLR1000 research and was part of the team that advised on Pingan Asset Management's strategic acquisition of China Fortune Land Development. He also had roles on the acquisition of Xiaochen Technology, which involved more than 10 counterparties and a demanding negotiation process.
Restructuring & Insolvency
Hou Yunjian – Global Law Office
Hou Yunjian qualified in 2015 and is a partner of Global Law Office's restructuring and insolvency practice. In recent years, Hou has acted as an administrator and agent of creditors, and participated in important liquidation and reorganisation cases.
In 2019, he was the lead partner in the bankruptcy case related to the Bohai Steel Group. This case won this year's Tianjin deal of the year award. His standout cases also include the liquidations of Huanqiuzhida Technology and Beijing Pengcheng Aviation Service.
IFLR1000 China Hall of Fame
Gong Mulong-King & Wood Mallesons
Gong Mulong is the managing partner of King & Wood Mallesons' Beijing office and has served in that role since 2001.
Gong has been a pioneering advocate for the financial and corporate practice of the legal market in China since the 2000s and specialises in onshore and offshore IPOs, private equity fund formation and downstream investments, and M&A.
Over the years, Gong has represented numerous state-owned and private companies in their onshore and offshore IPOs. He has also advised many Chinese companies and foreign investors in their inbound and outbound M&A transactions. Furthermore, Gong has extensive experience in representing PE funds in connection with their fund formation and cross-border and domestic investments.
Among the many milestones under Gong's leadership in 2019, the King & Wood Mallesons' team advised on Huatai Securities' IPO – this year's capital markets deal of the year – which was the first under the Shanghai-London Stock Connection.
Gong is also dedicated to public service and has served as a member of the Beijing Youth Federation for many years.
In-house Team of the Year
Winner: China International Capital Corporation （中金公司）
China International Capital Corporation（CICC）played key roles on high-impact transactions throughout the year. The in-house team had underwriter-side roles on Alibaba's Hong Kong SAR IPO, the biggest IPO in 2019.
CICC also served as the sponsor for the listing of China Resources Microelectronics, the first red-chip to be listed on the STAR market.
Some of the firm's other key deals include the CRSC IPO and the CGN IPO, where CICC assisted issuers to adopt market-based inquiry methods, so the pricing was no longer restricted by the amount of raised investment and the price of H-shares, allowing it to move towards a more market-based issuance.
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