On 1 April 2010, exactly 10 years ago today, we opened R&P for business. With the challenges that the world is currently facing, this is not the best time for celebrations. Still, this milestone should not go by unnoticed. We therefore would like to take a moment to look back and share our story.
Any law firm is only as strong as its human capital. In early 2010, the founding team consisted of three lawyers, one intern, two administrators, and myself. Over the years, I have come to realize that HR is the biggest challenge for a small, ambitious law firm that is trying to compete in a growing legal market: the talent pool is limited, and the competition for talent is fierce.
I am delighted that five of the seven founding team members are still with us. Yet over the years we have also lost more than a few valued colleagues, though we remain proud that many of these are now working for some of China’s top law firms. A particular challenge has been to keep young lawyers who, after some years, feel the need to try something different before it is too late; their curiosity and ambition make them good lawyers but also drive them away. By necessity, we have learned to embrace this challenge; and in more than one case, we convinced old friends to return with their new-found experience.
Despite the occasional hick-up, we have grown our team to 60 staff of senior, mid-level and junior lawyers; paralegals and translators; accountants and administrators. We value them not only for their talent but also for their diligence, their eagerness to learn, and their ability to be part of the team. Above all, we love the fact that they buy into our culture of always wanting to support our clients in the best possible way.
Finding new clients and developing new business have always been a strength of R&P. Our focus on international business in China has been an excellent choice. Foreign investment remains an important cornerstone of Chinese economic policy, and foreign investors continue to need strong legal support to navigate the unfamiliar and often perplexing legal landscape.
Above all, it has been the quality of our work and service that has won us loyalty and reputation. Our clients continue to operate across a broad range of industrial sectors, and our ambition remains to support them in all areas of law. We have always believed that our clients do not just need a legal expert but also a business-savvy lawyer with the right attitude and with broad experience navigating Chinese legal issues; advising on the law is paramount but offering pragmatic solutions to legal problems is equally important in a fast-moving economy such as China. As one client told the Chambers & Partners in 2019: “I personally appreciate they’re walking the extra mile and that you get straightforward answers instead of ‘it depends’”.
Several things have changed over the years: we now serve much larger companies, including many listed enterprises; we have built more sector-expertise to complement our general practice focus; and we are frequently involved M&A deals, large-scale compliance projects, and big litigation cases. At the same time, we happily continue to support smaller businesses that arguably need our assistance even more. We hate to see even smaller potential clients go to competitors, which may be driven by R&P’s DNA: always providing our best work no matter the background of the client or the project. The result has been a strong team, a business that continues to grow, and many loyal clients who see us as their trusted confidants in China.
With a Bit of Luck
It may sound as if we had it all figured out from the beginning. We certainly made some good choices, but we also had luck on our side. In 10 years, we faced no major recession – neither in China nor in any of our key markets. China has continued to be open to foreign investment, and the rise of China as a consumer market has transformed our practice and spurred much of our growth in recent years.
We have expanded our business by delivering quality and maintaining strong relationships. But several clients came by at just the right time to help us reach the next level. In our first year of operations, a Belgium company in the feed-sector represented 60% of our business. In 2013, a client in fast-fashion introduced us to the retail sector, and our work for them gave us a country-wide network to support other clients. Subsequently, a LinkedIn introduction led to our biggest client yet – a global retailer that selected us as its sole legal counsel to support its development in the Chinese market.
Most important: we were lucky enough to have some very talented individuals join our team. We offered them a good environment and the right kind of support, and they repaid us by becoming key contributors to our success.
We enjoyed 10 years of prosperity, but what will the next 10 years bring us? What are the prospects of a foreign-managed law firm that supports international companies in China?
- Some predict that China’s legal market will come to resemble those in Europe and the United States, but I am not convinced. The legal challenges that our clients face are not unique to China, but they certainly have “Chinese characteristics” that are unlikely to go away soon. Meanwhile, multinationals continue to play an important part in the Chinese business environment.
- As we continue to expand, we will increasingly compete with much larger Chinese law firms. Yet this competition will force us to reach the next level. We have already proven that large companies increasingly prefer to work with us, also for their key projects.
- At the same time, we want to keep our culture and identity. We do not want to become a big law firm; we believe deeply in strong, long-term relationships with our clients, in being their China counsel, in supporting their business with pragmatic solutions, and in providing service excellence.
I take this opportunity to thank our team for their contributions to R&P’s development over the past decade. You made it happen.
We are also ever grateful to all our loyal clients and business partners for teaching us about their business and trusting us with their problems. Thank you!
R&P China Lawyers
Shanghai, 1 April 2020