It is a mere 40 years since Australia opened diplomatic
relations with China. In that short time China has become
Australia's largest trading partner and an important
contributor of foreign direct investment to our
The growing business connections between our nations
offer clear opportunities for Australian law firms, but are they
ready and willing to engage with Asia?
The Law Institute of Victoria recently visited China on
Australia's largest ever trade mission. Led by Victorian
Premier, the Hon. Ted Baillieu, the Super Trade Mission attracted
more than 600 individuals from over 400 Australian companies and
visited 13 cities in China over 5 days.
The record numbers of participants reflects a growing
appreciation among Australian businesses of the significance of
China – and Asia more generally – to Australia's
China's legal sector is, in per capita terms, tiny when
compared to Australia. While the State of Victoria has around
17,000 practitioners for a population of 5.6 million, the city of
Beijing has about the same number of lawyers for a population that
is almost 4 times as big. There is very little danger of China
being 'over-lawyered' in the near future, and clearly a
role for Australia's legal profession to facilitate this cross
border economic and commercial activity.
For the Law Institute, the trade mission was invaluable in
re-connecting and invigorating the relationship with local Chinese
Through our revived networks, the Law Institute can now assist
members to engage with China through local contacts, foreign
delegations, legal presentations and lawyer exchanges.
The last of these is particularly important for Australia's
young lawyers. There needs to be a mind shift away from the
"traditional" London stint to gaining experience in the
most dynamic economic region in the world. Through cross-cultural
exchanges we can foster real understanding and a deeper
appreciation of our Asia Pacific peers. Comments from local law
societies in China make it clear we are behind our European and
American competitors in doing this.
Of course, there is only so much that the Law Institute can do.
Individual lawyers and firms must develop and commit to their own
strategies if they wish to grasp the opportunities that Asia
Take the example of Mina Guli, formerly a lawyer in Corrs'
energy practice, who moved to Beijing to tackle the issues of
climate change. Mina is now an Executive Director and Chief
Investment Officer of Peony Capital, a firm devoted to investing in
sustainable development projects and managing the associated carbon
Another example is Michael Chin, a law student from Monash
University, who won the Prime Minister's Australian Asian
Outgoing Postgraduate Award in 2012 and is now an exchange student
studying Chinese law – including human rights law – at
Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Following his studies, Michael will
work with a number of international law firms in Shanghai to get
first hand experience of working in a Chinese legal
With the imminent release of the White Paper on Australia in the
Asian Century, there is no better time for us to reflect on the
rise of Asia – and China in particular. While opportunity
abounds for Australia's law firms to capitalise on growing
trade and investment flows, success will be elusive in the absence
of proper engagement.
Engagement is not merely the signing of a memorandum of
understanding or the like. It requires a wider and deeper
commitment to the relationship from both parties. That is what the
Law Institute is looking to foster with China's law societies
and what Corrs is pursuing through its China Business Group in
partnership with like minded premium independent law firms in
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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