The opening up of the mainland's legal sector to foreign law firms will help improve human rights, Law Society president Anthony Chow Wing-kin said yesterday. 'It helps to enhance the opening up of China, the upholding of the rule of law and respect of human rights,' Mr Chow said. He said Beijing's entry into the WTO would bring economic benefits to Hong Kong's legal sector. Under the deal reached by the mainland and the United States, American lawyers and accountants will be allowed to practise in China. But Mr Chow hoped the mainland legal sector would be opened up to those from Hong Kong and Macau first. 'We have an edge in language and culture over foreign law firms,' he said. Existing restrictions on foreign law firms, which also applied to Hong Kong solicitors, should be relaxed or lifted, he said. They include only one branch per firm being allowed to set up on the mainland. The firms are not allowed to employ Chinese lawyers. In the short term, more foreign law firms might set up branches in Hong Kong which has the legal infrastructure to prepare them for business on the mainland, where it might take time to lift the restrictions on foreign firms. Since Hong Kong opened up its legal sector in 1994, foreign firms have been allowed to set up offices to advise clients on the laws of their countries. Foreign lawyers can also sit an examination to transfer to practise as a local lawyer. Mr Chow said: 'Similar changes may also take place on the mainland. The mainland law firms could tap our experience on the opening-up process.'