Greetings from the Managing Director:
In 1987, when I landed in Shanghai, all Chinese lawyers were working for the State and few had any formal legal education (Chinese nationals were merely assigned by the government to work at a law firm, patent or trademark agency upon graduation from university regardless of whether they had studied law). These professionals essentially learned on the job as they went along. The national bar exam was created only one year prior and the intellectual property laws were codified just two years before. So in the early days I had only encountered one Chinese person who had actually taken and passed the Chinese bar examination, and less than a handful who had even studied a single law course.
In my first few years in Shanghai, there were only two other foreign lawyers in what was and remains one of the largest and most dynamic cities in the world. These lawyers were the intelligent, witty and urbane Mr. Norman Givant (Lao Gu 老虎 to those of us who knew him) who worked at Coudert Brothers (later Freshfields and much to my dismay has now retired) who arrived in 1985, and the other was the charming, capable, musically inclined, and forever youthful, Mr. Fred Burke (who now heads Baker McKenzie’s Vietnam practice) who became resident in the city sometime in 1988. All the other leading China experts lived outside of Shanghai [with the exception of some brave souls in Beijing, like Mr. Doug Markel; Clarke “Sandy” Randt; Tim Stafford; Tao Jinzou; bon-vivant and Mandarin-descendant Handel Lee; Jamie Horsley (now at Yale Law School) and the "father" of all China legal experts in my humble opinion, the indomitable Jerome Cohen (now of NYU Law and of Counsel with Paul Weiss in New York). Everybody else "parachuted" in and out of China in those days; few stayed here over the long haul day after day and year after year, to attempt in a Quixotic way to improve the system on the ground.
Brilliant or stupid, insightful or silly, ignorant or arrogant I stayed and did my best to scrounge out a living and make the practice of law and management of Chinese law firms my calling. I have managed this firm for the past 15 years, with some miscalculations and some success. I learned “on the fly by the seat of my trousers" in a pre-internet information age where a lawyer here was required to know just about everything on any aspect of Chinese law, culture and language. We were challenged every single day and I looked at it as an adventure rather than an obstacle.
When the foreign law firm in which I worked as an associate pulled out of China after June 4, 1989, I stayed and went to work as the first foreigner since 1949 to work with a local Chinese State-run law firm. There were few people to learn from at that time. At the State-run firm, the director never studied law a single day in his life and the only other person who had any legal education besides myself was an older gentleman who had studied law before 1949. However, I did my absolute best with the limited resources and a willing group of Chinese nationals to make this Chinese State-run firm and later when they permitted private Chinese firms (my present firm) to utilize and employ Western law firm management skills to better serve all of our clients.
I founded the firm, along with two well-known Chinese lawyers, Mr. Jason Lee and Mr. Xu Jia Li after a meeting on the campus of Beijing University in which we sat next to Weiming Lake across from the "No-name" tower which we later incorporated into the firm’s logo. We met at “BeiDa” because this is where the two had attended university and had some "guanxi" to assist us in establishing a small office on campus (our office was next door to another start-up Legend Computers which is now known as Lenovo and was one of our first clients).
After working at both a large, well-known international law firm and a Chinese State-run firm in Shanghai, I felt I that I was ready for the new experience. We worked hard to foster and develop a creative approach to corporate commercial work, foreign direct investment, complex litigation, intellectual property and transactional matters, and were rewarded with well-known clients, unique and challenging cases and a responsibility which remains the same to this day. Over the years, the firm has undergone many changes but the vision and principles we were founded upon remain the same: “To do our very best to build a world class Chinese law firm, serve clients, make a living and serve China (if only in a modest way)”. The people who have struggled with me over the years and shared the vision are people who have become more than just colleagues, but in most cases friends, and fellow dreamers as well.
Through the years, I have seen the firm grow in size and practice, and I have served as the managing director of this firm longer than anyone other managing director in the country (foreign or domestic). While LEHMAN, LEE & XU has grown to meet the changing needs of our clients and the ever changing legal market in China, it has retained the important attributes on which the firm was founded back at Beijing University: high quality legal work and client service; high level of responsibility and experience for associates; formal and informal training and mentoring which promotes professional development and advancement; and the welcoming, supportive environment in which colleagues build lifelong friendships.
In the year 2000 our firm was voted by our peers and a legal publication as the Best Law Firm in China. But we viewed that award as just the beginning if we worked together and utilized the best technology, system and human resources. Today, I am pleased to report that many Chinese firms are dynamic and international, which is positive for consumers of legal services and good for the foreign and Chinese Bar, where "all boats rise to a high tide". I like to think we have a friendly hard working group of professionals who are trying to do their best for clients and promote the rule of law in China in an ethical and thoughtful way on a day to day basis.
I still view the journey as incomplete and that it is a wild adventure for all those who wish to make a difference. That is why I am glad you are considering our firm. The times have changed, the legal market has changed and the system has changed all for the better.
We are searching, as are a number of other leading Chinese firms to expand. We need the "best and the brightest" as we look to hire at least 100 more professionals to our firm over the course of the next twelve months.
I encourage you to look through our site to see why we think our firm is such a unique and special place to practice law.
As you research different law firms, you probably will have a number of questions in mind - if you can’t find the answers here, I encourage you to contact our Human Resources Department with any questions or concerns you may have.
My view of the firm is one shared by other members and that’s reflected in the fact that LEHMAN, LEE & XU has been named as one of the Best Law Firms to Work for in the China in 2005, 2006 and 2007. I hope your look at LEHMAN, LEE & XU provides you with an understanding of the respect, trust and loyalty our attorneys and staff feel for the firm, and what makes our firm a truly special place.
Edward E. Lehman
Web site: www.lehmanlaw.com
For more information on our managing director Edward Lehman and his experiences in China, please click here.