Economic Crisis Creating Opportunity for Some?

The economic crisis has hit the US very hard, that's obvious, but for those in China who may not get back to the States much, its hard to realize how bad things really are, though the horror stories online and from family and friends bring it home. The crisis has quite obviously hit many Chinese factory towns, especially places down south like Dongguan or on the east coast in Zhejiang and Shandong. However, in Beijing and Shanghai, despite it being a regular topic of conversation, the reality is that its only seen in small ways (ie less expats at restaurants/bars). For the most part, white collar workers in these cities have gone (more or less) unscathed up to this point.

While companies aren't desperate to hire new talent, they also aren't laying off people. If you are a Chinese law firm these days, the economic crisis can actually serve as a sort of blessing in disguise. There are some rumors floating about that two of the biggest firms have laid off some attorneys, but these firms are heavily reliant on IPO work and that has all but dried up. Yet at most Chinese firms, things are churning along and lawyers are pretty safe (unless you work at this firm but that has nothing to do with economics). For firms that are more diverse, while work is slow for many Corporate associates, they aren't at risk of being laid off and most ended up receiving a bonus and a (slight) raise, not great, but far better than what their counterparts at foreign firms in Beijing and New York are getting.

Chinese firms typically have more limited expansion plans than their foreign counterparts and the top ones can offer the same service quality you would get at one of the biglaw foreign firms in China. The difference is, of course, they charge about half what biglaw firms do and pay their attorneys even less.

Expect things to get a lot worse for foreign law firms in China over the next year or two. While their home offices are in complete disarray, layoffs (or even the threat of them), will lead top associates (often Chinese citizens) to consider making the move to Chinese firms. Hours are similar at Chinese and foreign firms, but there is a far greater chance for advancement at a Chinese firm for a Chinese native, especially one with experience at a top foreign firm. At the same time, clients are bound to reconsider their firm affiliation and make the economic choice by moving their business to a Chinese firm.

The shift from foreign biglaw firms to Chinese firms has been a slow process since the early 2000s and the crisis could be a major blow that reorganizes the legal market in China.