After 11 years at Holland & Knight, partner Ying “Geneve” DuBois has jumped to DLA Piper after her Chinese clients indicated they were under pressure to use more global law firms.
DuBois, who moved to DLA Piper’s Miami office last week, said Holland & Knight’s lack of a China office made it harder to represent Chinese investors. She said 90 percent of her clients are Chinese investors in a variety of industries seeking to purchase or sell large commercial real estate projects, or be part of joint ventures with local developers for large commercial projects. Some of the investments have an EB-5 component, she said, referring to the visa program that enables foreign entrepreneurs to apply for permanent residence if they make a sizeable investment in a commercial enterprise in the United States.
“Their higher-up management is pressuring the vice presidents to go with more global firms for the reason that they look at investment markets globally and not just in the United States,” DuBois said. “They are being pressured to go to more global firms and they have a good relationship with me.”
DuBois said more and more Chinese companies are looking at whether a firm can provide legal services from different markets. She said at present all the work she does is within the United States, but she expects that will change at her new firm.
“Chinese investors are not just looking at investing in the U.S. but they are looking to invest in other parts of the world,” DuBois said. “We can provide a holistic view of the world market, and we can do the comparison of the different legal systems from different parts of the world because DLA has 80 offices around the world.”
Law firms, recognizing the huge potential for work presented by Chinese clients, have been keen to hire more attorneys who are fluent in Mandarin and familiar with Chinese culture.
In last the five years, Chinese companies have started looking more seriously at diversifying their investments, DuBois said. In addition, more private companies are investing outside of China. That makes the evolving Chinese investor market more challenging for law firms because many Chinese are investing outside of the United States for the first time.
DuBois, whose clients include Sunshine Insurance Group and Chinese wealth management companies, is fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese and is a founder of the China Council Florida Inc., a nonprofit whose mission is to draw Chinese investors to the Florida marketplace. DuBois said she travels to China about five times a year, as her parents and extended family still live in China and Hong Kong. But she said she travels even more frequently to major U.S. cities, accompanying clients and advising them on large projects.
DuBois grew up in China and moved to Texas as an exchange student at 17. She earned undergraduate and law degrees in Texas, working before law school as a computer engineer at the software company EDS. Even as a young employee, she helped executives pursue business deals involving China.
Last year DuBois was one of two Holland & Knight partners who represented Sunshine Insurance Group, one of China’s largest insurance and investment firms, in the $230 million purchase from Starwood Capital Group of the flagship Baccarat Hotel New York. The team was a finalist for Dealmaker of the Year.
The deal was Sunshine’s first in the United States and the sale was the second-largest hotel sale in U.S. history, on a per-room basis. It valued the rooms of the midtown Manhattan hotel at more than $2 million each.
Chinese buyers became the biggest foreign purchasers of U.S. homes in 2015, outspending Canadians by investing $28.6 billion in U.S. real estate from April 2014 to March 2015, according to the National Association of Realtors. Chinese investors also made up 85 percent of recipients of EB-5 visas for immigrant investors in 2014, up from 81 percent the year before, according to real estate services firm Savills Studley.