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LOS ANGELES-Thelen Reid & Priest received its license to practice in China at a ceremony in Beijing last week, a sign of thawing in what was seen as a freeze on the government’s issuing of licenses to foreign firms. “We have had the engine running for a while, and now we can put the car in gear,” said Stephen O’Neal, the firm’s chairman. “We have not been able to expand the China practice the way we wanted because we were constrained by the lack of a license,” O’Neal said. The granting of Thelen’s license allows the firm to embark on such rudimentary marketing endeavors as putting a plaque on the door and distributing business cards. Memo’s effect unclear The government’s decision comes months after the Shanghai Lawyers Association issued an April memo asking the Ministry of Justice to crack down on the “illegal business activities” of some foreign firms in that city. The memo accused foreign firms of using Chinese “legal consultants” to practice Chinese law-something that’s forbidden for foreign firms. It’s unclear whether the memo stalled any applications, though it was widely circulated among foreign and Chinese lawyers. “It wouldn’t surprise me if something like that would cause the government regulators to pause and reflect on the situation,” said Thomas Shoesmith, the partner leading Thelen’s efforts in China. “It’s pretty exciting that we are in the first group of licenses to be granted to foreign law firms in China since the approval process came to a halt earlier this year,” Shoesmith said. Splitting time Thelen Reid applied for the license last September. At the time, they expected a wait of six to nine months. Along with Shoesmith, Thelen Reid’s Shanghai office will include partner Mary Utterback, several associates who will split their time between the U.S. and China, and two Chinese legal consultants. The firm’s work includes representing Chinese clients going public in the United States, as well as foreign clients eager to take advantage of China’s growing economy. One client, Tele Atlas N.V., is looking to expand its digital mapping expertise in China. Another client is looking to consolidate Internet companies there. Thelen Reid chose Shanghai for its office location partly because the city is exploding as China’s commercial center. Hiring locally Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, which is still awaiting approval for its China office, is looking forward to obtaining the ability to hire locally -a benefit that comes along with the license, said Carmen Chang, the leader of the firm’s China practice. That’s the one standout feature to receiving the official approval, she said. As for Shoesmith, he’s eager to strip the firm’s door of the Chinese New Year’s decorations that have been purposefully obscuring the Thelen Reid plaque. “We’ve had to be respectful of the limits, but now that we have the license, we’re uncovering our name on the door,” Shoesmith.

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