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Linklaters is awaiting regulatory approval for a joint operation with Chinese “best friend” firm Zhao Sheng, which is now led by former Linklaters consultant Eric Liu.

The firms struck up a best friend relationship this April, when a team of three partners and 16 lawyers left Linklaters’ China offices to join the Shanghai-based firm.

Liu, senior lawyer Grace Yu and corporate counsel Zhou Zhirong, have all transferred over from Linklaters to Zhao Sheng as of March of this year. According to the Shanghai Bar Association, all have since been made partners of the firm, and Liu was appointed managing partner in August.

Liu, who spent 10 years at Linklaters, was previously based in Beijing and was promoted to senior consultant at the magic circle firm last year.

Zhao Sheng, which was founded in 2010, focuses on real estate, maritime law, intellectual property, construction, competition, criminal defense and corporate work.

In September, the firm moved into new offices in Shanghai’s Mirae Asset Tower, one floor above Linklaters’ Shanghai base.

Under Chinese regulations, international law firms are only permitted to open representative offices in the country and are restricted from offering Chinese law advice. However, the Shanghai free trade zone (FTZ) scheme, which was launched in 2013, enables foreign firms to offer Chinese law advice via an association with a local firm, or by setting up an independent practice in the FTZ.

Linklaters declined to comment.

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