Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) has extended its Belfast-headquartered alternative legal services business to China, launching a 13-lawyer legal services centre in Shanghai.
The centre will consist of Mandarin and English bilingual lawyers and legal analysts who have been recruited locally and are all PRC nationals.
The China launch comes less than a year after HSF piloted a similar project in Perth, Australia to focus on document review.
Both the Perth “pop-up” office and the new Shanghai centre will be run from HSF’s 240-lawyer global alternative legal services hub, which opened in Belfast last year.
The new China hub will provide a low-cost base to process high-volume or document-intensive work and support transactional and dispute matters in Asia.
According to China’s “state secrets” regime, the transfer of certain documents or data outside the country is deemed unlawful, making it tricky for law firms to run disclosure processes abroad.
HSF global head of alternative legal services Libby Jackson said: “A complex transaction or dispute can involve the review of millions of Chinese-language documents that often must remain in China.
“By equipping this new team with the technology and processes proven at our existing legal hubs in Belfast and Perth, we can offer clients a cost-effective way of tackling the document-intensive elements of these projects on the ground in China,” Jackson added.
Mandarin language capability is also increasingly important in high-end transactions and dispute resolution, not only for China-based legal work but also for matters across Asia Pacific, Jackson said.
“When we were doing due diligence for the launch we spoke to a range of disputes and transactions partners who have identified the need for Mandarin capability as material to grow business in the region,” she said. “It’s really key to continue to unlock the potential of these jurisdictions.”
HSF launched its global alternative legal services centre from its Belfast office in June 2015 and has grown the team to have than 350 legal and technology staff in Belfast, Brisbane, London, Melbourne, Perth, Sydney and now Shanghai.
Last year, the team processed 63 million documents, reviewed more than three million documents and 5,000 property leases, and managed the administration of more than 500 funds.
HSF’s UK rivals Allen & Overy and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer also offer low-cost legal services from Belfast and Manchester respectively, although HSF is the first to extend such services to China.