Mandarin Skills

Be at the heart of a global law firm.

Overview

It’s no secret that the global influence of China is continuing to grow.

To achieve its desired position as a powerhouse of the global economy and become less dependent on other major trading partners, Chinese corporations need to continue winning in new markets and making strategic acquisitions that strengthen their hand across the world. At A&O, we’re already one step ahead in capturing the opportunities that this brings. 
     
The growth of China globally has a fundamental impact on our strategy and the way in which we structure our China-focused operations. No longer is it just the domain of our Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong offices. To future-proof our Chinese business, we need to build and strengthen our relationships with Chinese clients from right here in London, in Europe and around the world.
 
We pride ourselves on being skilled for today and tomorrow. That’s why we need Mandarin speakers to join us and work across a variety of practices, tackle complex legal issues and exciting large cross-border transactions and provide strategic advice in the boardroom of our Chinese clients in their own language.

Richard Hough - Corporate Partner, London

Why do I think the China strategy is important?

In terms of the economics, we know that non-UK clients are very interested in UK assets. Chinese companies in particular find it easier to expand into Europe and the UK than other continents. The regulatory environment is relatively benign and assets are cheaper than elsewhere. It’s a compelling strategy. What we need are people who are intellectually and culturally attuned to the client.

The two clients I’ve worked with specifically are Huawei, the Chinese telecoms company, and Anbang, the Chinese insurance company. With Huawei, they’ve grown in the UK – investing in the internet of things and AI and building telecoms presence in the UK.

A key thing I’ve learnt is that Chinese clients go about doing deals in a specific way, so we need people in the London office on the same wavelength as they are. It’s not just speaking the language, it’s understanding the culture too. It’s important we recruit the right people in London to deliver on the China strategy, to serve the work as it comes through from the Chinese offices and from the network generally.

Some firms hire Chinese speakers just to interact with Chinese clients on a transitional basis. We want more than this - we want people to be client facing lawyers and to fulfil their potential as part of our China strategy.

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Jane Jiang - Litigation Partner, Shanghai

What really makes our China strategy stand out is the combination of inbound and outbound work.

Helping clients move into China, and helping Chinese clients expand internationally. It could be an arbitration relating to a Chinese client’s US$10 billion dollar project in Latin America or it could be defending a Chinese financial institution. You get to see the complete landscape: both sides of the matter and both sides of the culture.

High calibre legal skills are as critical as ever, but the ability to speak Mandarin and deliver technical advice in a culturally sensitive way really differentiates you. You can sit and talk to clients in their own language, making it easier to build trusted relationships, breaking into new markets together. It’s incredibly rewarding. Nothing beats reading the law in its original language. You’re privy to all the contextual implications and can glean a lot more insight. Exposure to our entire global network and multiple cultures, working styles and personalities is very enriching. I started my career in the Shanghai office, worked for four years in our Hong Kong office, then nine years in our Beijing office before returning to our Shanghai office. I frequently work from our London, Paris and New York offices when I travel. Working with five different offices on two matters with A&O specialists in IP, antitrust, restructuring and banking is a typical deal for me.

As a bilingual and bicultural lawyer, you can double your value in the firm which puts you leaps and bounds ahead in your career. A&O reward based on your value, merit and abilities, so it’s exactly the right place to accelerate your legal career.

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Pierre-Olivier Mahieu - Corporate Partner, Brussels

If you look back just 12 years ago, it was a novel concept to focus your practice on Chinese clients conducting deals in Europe.

Now, part of our firm-wide international strategy is to promote A&O to Chinese clients and deepen our relationships with them. It’s been a significant change, but it reflects the increasing number of Chinese investors in Europe. We’ve had some top-tier partners join us from other firms because they can see what we’re doing with China and they want to be involved.

Developing relationships with Chinese clients presents its own unique challenges. For example, if a Chinese client invests in Belgium, you need to know the legal implications in China as well as Belgium. There’s also a risk of losing a lot of the conversation that goes on internally with clients in Mandarin. Lawyers who can speak the language, read the local law and understand the culture can really develop their client and transactional skills and at the same time give us the advantage.

Budding trainees who can demonstrate the skills we are looking for yet combine them with language and cultural understanding are game changers for us. They will drive our China strategy forward and develop into first rate international lawyers as a result.

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