West Link has just one partner, founder Carrie Chen, who has previously worked at local firms Chongqing firms Solton & Partners and Chonqing Dincen Law Firm, as well as Clifford Chance in London and Hong Kong.
The joint venture will operate under the name Clyde & Co West Link Joint Law Venture. Clyde Shanghai partners Ik Wei Chong and Michael Cripps will both spend part of their time working in Chongqing with Chen. Under the agreement, lawyers from the two firms will share client resources and be able to work from each other’s offices, but both firms will remain legally independent entities. The firms will bill separately and will not share profits.
Clyde will be the first international law firm to have an office in the southwestern Chinese city, which has a metropolitan population of around 30 million. Chong says the firm, which has a large shipping and transportation practice, was drawn to Chongqing because of its status as an emerging transport hub. He notes that new railway lines from Chongqing have made it possible for Chinese goods to reach Europe in 16 days instead of the several weeks such shipments would take by sea.
Chong says the firm also thinks it may be advantageous to be closer to potential clients in that resource-rich part of China. “Many local companies there are eyeing overseas markets in South America and Africa,” he says, “and as the only international firm in southwestern China, we could use our global resources help them invest or buy equipment in those foreign markets.”
Foreign law firms are barred from practicing Chinese law, so tie-ups between Chinese and international firms have had to remain relatively loose. King & Wood Mallesons used a Swiss Verein model, in which financially independent entities operate under a shared brand. McDermott, Will & Emery helped launch MWE China Law Offices, an independent firm that has an exclusive referral arrangement with its Chicago-based namesake.
Clyde’s Chongqing venture took advantage of a series of initiatives launched by the Chinese government in 2003 to foster closer economic ties between Hong Kong and the mainland, including allowing law firms in Hong Kong and China to jointly operate under a single license. Chong says the firm was able to take advantage of this arrangement because its Shanghai office, which opened in 2006, was licensed as a branch of its Hong Kong office instead of its London headquarters.
“If we had applied Shanghai office under London or New York, we wouldn’t be able to do this joint venture,” he says.
Chong says, unlike international firms operating in China under a Swiss Verein structure, Clyde’s joint venture will be able to directly practice Chinese law.
Clyde has offices in Hong Kong and Beijing in addition to Shanghai. Globally, the firm has 1400 lawyers in 35 offices.