Two of China’s top law firms—Jun He Law Offices and Zhong Lun Law Firm—are discussing a potential merger.
Anthony Qiao, a senior partner in the Shanghai office of Zhong Lun Law Firm and member of the firm’s management committee, disclosed the talks in an interview Tuesday discussing his firm’s acquisition of a smaller Beijing firm, Kaiwen.
Zhong Lun has around 800 lawyers, while Jun He has nearly 500 lawyers. The two Beijing-based law firms are generally considered to be among China’s top three, with King & Wood Mallesons.
Qiao declined to comment on the specific rationale behind a merger, what stage talks were at or how likely a deal was. Other partners at Zhong Lun and Jun He did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment, though another source inside Zhong Lun also said talks were taking place between the firms.
“Anything is possible,” said Qiao, adding: “Every firm is different. It took us only a little over a month to complete the merger with Kaiwen. But with other firms, it may take a month, or two years, or it may never go through.”
But Qiao said he expected a wave of mergers among Chinese firms over the next decade as the country’s legal market becomes one of the largest in the world and its domestic law firms emerge as major international players. He pointed out that even if Zhong Lun merged with Jun He, the combined firm would still be considerably smaller than Western firms like Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, which has over 1,700 lawyers.
“Compared to them, we are only midsize firms,” he said, adding: “In 15 years, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a single Chinese firm with 8,000 to 10,000 lawyers.”
Zhong Lun has taken a step toward that vision with its acquisition of 140-lawyer Kaiwen. The latter firm is splitting off from an earlier merger partner, Beijing’s Grandway Law Offices, in order to combine with Zhong Lun. Lawyers from Kaiwen will join Zhong Lun’s offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Chengdu. Zhong Lun will also gain a Chongqing office through the merger.
Qiao says Kaiwen is a good fit, as it focuses on capital markets, real estate and construction matters, while Zhong Lun is a full-service firm.