A Bar Council group of experts in commercial and criminal law visited the Chinese cities of Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou and Shenzhen in early November. The first three cities were visited in collaboration with a delegation from the Law Society and the final city by the Bar Council group alone. The delegation, led by Adrian Hughes QC, held well attended seminars and roundtables which focused on international transactions and dispute resolution, and promoted the key role that barristers can play in such work. The Bar Council was pleased to welcome Chinese speakers, to give insight into the Chinese legal market and experience of English law. The barrister team also explained direct access and how to instruct a barrister, messages supported by Bar Council publications available in Mandarin. The delegation’s seminar programme was backed by the local bar associations, the Consul Generals of Shanghai and Guangzhou, the China-Britain Business Centre and the Zhejiang Chamber of International Commerce. The Bar Council is grateful to UKTI for assisting many of the barristers who participated in the visit through its Market Visit grants programme.

The delegation held a Lord Chancellor’s Training Scheme alumni reception in Shanghai which gave an opportunity to catch up with colleagues and network. The excellently attended reception demonstrated the high regard in which the alumni hold the scheme and their enthusiasm to continue building their relationship with the English legal profession. The delegation also enjoyed meeting with smaller groups of alumni in each of the cities they visited. The delegation furthermore met with highly sophisticated Chinese law firms to learn about their international practice areas and explore the potential for working together.

Key learning points from the visit were that although the regional cities have well developed legal markets, with Guangzhou and Shenzhen now coming 3rd and 4th behind Beijing and Shanghai in terms of economic strength, the latter two remain the main centres for international legal work, with firms such as King and Wood and Jun He leading the way. Shanghai has been designated a financial centre by the Chinese Government so we expect to see its legal market grow over the next decade. There remains some uncertainly over the difference between barristers and solicitors and we need to continue to educate Chinese clients about their ability to instruct barristers directly.

Plans are already afoot to capitalise on the opportunities generated by Shanghai EXPO, and we consequently hope to deliver an educational event during the month designated by the UK EXPO team to promote financial services (September 2010). This is planned to coincide with an event which will celebrate all the Chinese professionals who have trained in the UK on government sponsored programmes, including the Lord Chancellor’s Training Scheme alumni.