Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM

This summer, Goodwin Procter launched a unique hiring program designed to ensure that within a few years, the firm will have a steady supply of native Mandarin-speaking, U.S.-trained lawyers for its Hong Kong office.

The program, dubbed Asia Track, is an attempt to create a pipeline of associates who meet two prerequisites: They should be native speakers of Mandarin Chinese who grew up in China, and home-grown Goodwin Procter associates familiar with the firm’s culture.

As China’s investment activity around the world continues to grow and Asia’s legal market expands, demand for U.S.-qualified lawyers who speak Mandarin has increased. Many global law firms are in need of Chinese-speaking lawyers who can handle cross-border litigation, or can counsel clients on antitrust, securities, and anti-corruption laws in the United States and in China. And it helps if those lawyers can move easily between different legal, cultural and ideological worlds, bridging cultural divides for clients.

But quality associates with training at a U.S. firm can be hard to come by in Asia, said Goodwin Procter’s Asia chair, Yash Rana. And it can be hard to persuade lawyers already settled in the firm’s U.S. offices to move to Hong Kong. “We came up with a program with an agreement that these recruits will ultimately work in the Hong Kong office,” he said.

In May, two Chinese J.D. students whom Goodwin Procter recruited last fall from Cornell Law School and Columbia Law School, respectively, started a 10-week summer program at Goodwin Procter’s Boston office. As part of the Asia Track, both also traveled to Hong Kong in August, where for two weeks they worked alongside lawyers there to help on M&A transactions.

Under the Asia Track program, overseen by Boston-based hiring partner Ken Gordon, both of these summer associates will join the firm as full-time associates in Boston after they graduate from law school in 2018, and two years later, they will move to Hong Kong, the firm’s only base in Asia.

Goodwin Procter opened its office in Hong Kong in 2008, focusing primarily on private equity, funds, and mergers and acquisitions work from China and India. Last year, after departures of several partners hired laterally in Hong Kong, the firm relocated corporate partner Qing Nian from Boston.

Nian, a Chinese native, graduated from the prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing and earned a J.D. from the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis in 2009. She is also a home-grown associate at Goodwin Procter, having been hired as a summer associate in 2010.

Gordon said that while the firm has hired several Chinese-speaking lawyers like Nian over the years, partners at Goodwin Procter wanted to build a pipeline of similar talents to support the Hong Kong office and the international client base.

“Those opportunistic hires were great, but we want to have a more structured way to continue to support the office as it continues to expand,” Gordon said.

Rana and Gordon emphasize that the Asia Track hires will not only give Goodwin Procter a stronger presence in Hong Kong, but also will be able to transfer the firm’s culture to its Asian office. Allowing for cultural differences from country to country, Goodwin Procter lawyers see themselves as a single firm with like-minded lawyers across the world, they said,

“We have a collaborative and collegial environment,” Gordon said. “We want them to experience it in the U.S. and bring that experience over to Hong Kong as well.” 

Rana said that if associates in Hong Kong are familiar with the firm’s culture, processes and people, they are better integrated with other offices. “You have a more fulfilling experience and are less likely to move laterally,” he said.

The Asia Track is part of Goodwin Procter’s summer associate program but targets only native Mandarin-speaking J.D. graduates from U.S. law schools. Because it is new, lawyers coming through the program won’t arrive in the Hong Kong office until 2020 at the earliest. But Goodwin Procter wanted to jumpstart the program, Rana said, so the firm has established an informal extension of the program, hiring three full-time lawyers in 2017.

One of these new hires is New York-based Haili Ding, who previously worked at Davis Wright Tremaine’s Shanghai office before attending a one-year LL.M. program at Columbia Law School. Ding and two additional LL.M. graduates are not technically associates at Goodwin Procter yet, but instead bear the title “international legal consultant.” If they perform well, they may be promoted to associate in a few years, Gordon said. And after that­—just like associates who joined through the summer program—they will relocate to the firm’s Hong Kong office.

Gordon, who has recruited lawyers for 26 years, said he has noticed that many foreign law students ultimately want to return to their home countries and practice law there. “We are capitalizing on the globalization of the legal industry,” he said.

Indeed, Goodwin Procter is hoping that when the firm’s U.S.-trained Chinese lawyers move to Hong Kong, their language skills and familiarity with Chinese culture will be a huge asset to the firm. “The fact that many of them have grown up in China can help them relate to those clients more easily than someone who hasn’t grown up in that environment,” Gordon said.

There is more. The Asia Track program also has a side benefit even before these lawyers return to Asia, Gordon said.

“Sometimes we deal with Mandarin-speaking clients who might be doing transactions [in the U.S.],” he said. “Having a diverse group of lawyers working with us across cultures and languages is a huge plus.”