New law may allow one-person legal firms
Lawyers throughout the nation may be allowed to set up one-man legal firms if a proposed amendment to the Lawyers' Law put to the National People's Congress Standing Committee on Sunday is approved.
Amendments to the law, first passed in 1996 to regulate the industry and protect lawyers' rights, are going through a first reading before the mainland legislature's decision-making body.
Among the proposals is one that will allow lawyers with more than five years' experience - who have never been suspended from practice and who are willing to bear unlimited liability for their company's debts - to set up firms as individuals.
Li Dajin , deputy chairman of the All China Lawyers' Association and chairman of Beijing's Lawyers' Association, said: 'This would give one-man law firms a legal status and allow practitioners more choices and opportunities.'
Under existing legislation, law firms on the mainland can operate only in one of three forms: state-owned, co-operatives or partnerships. No lawyer can practise without being employed by a law firm.
Justice Minister Wu Aiying was quoted by Xinhua as saying that the co-operative model had more or less disappeared and was no longer provided for in the proposed amendments. The amendments say that a partnership can be set up with a minimum of three partners, each with at least three years' experience.
The new rules were not only in line with international trends and market operations, but also allowed 'legal services to be provided to different groups in society', said Mr Li. They offered flexibility by allowing individuals from different social strata to practise, which might lead to lower costs and fees, he said.
In Beijing, some lawyers have been allowed to open their own firms in recent years, but applicants needed to have a minimum 10 years' experience and the firms had to be named after the applicant, labour rights lawyer Liang Yansong said.
Mr Liang applauded the proposals for relaxing previous requirements on individuals opening law firms, including lowering the minimum number of years of experience needed and easing the naming restrictions. He said he would jump at the opportunity to open his own firm if the amended law came into effect, and that the prospect of more intense competition did not worry him.
'There might be a sudden surge in the number of law firms in the short run, but only with competition will there be development,' Mr Liang said. The minimum asset requirement of 100,000 yuan should not pose a big hurdle for most practitioners of five years' standing.
The new amendments also proposed that lawyers' associations take over more power from the administrative branch in regulating the industry, including a bigger role in the training and career development of lawyers, he said. At the end of last year there were 130,000 lawyers and 13,000 law firms on the mainland, 70 per cent of which operated as partnerships.
Some of the minimum requirements:
Have more than five years of practising experience
Have a clean record with no previous suspensions
Lawyers must bear all liabilities of law firms