Just as everyone else is scrambling to set up in China to get a piece of the country’s booming economy, French law firm Thomas, Mayer & Associés (“TMA”) finds itself comfortably taking advantage of the legal security and expertise Hong Kong offers to clients doing business in the region.
Steadily growing its prescence in Hong Kong since 1995, the firm specializes in providing legal services to French and continental European entrepreneurs looking to explore the Asian market as well as assisting Asian clients hoping to set up in Europe.
As Eric Mayer, partner at TMA explains, there’s simply no need to directly venture into China in order to tap into that market. “In fact, our competitive edge lies in the fact that we are based in Hong Kong where we make use of the unique legal, financial and economic advantages offered by the city as a platform where China linked investments can be structured, and in our connections with other firms and professionals in the city and in mainland China, which enables us to handle complex cross border legal issues in clients best interests in a hostile and complex environment” he says.
Servicing mainly French clients or those with business links in France, TMA is one of the few, if not the only, firm in the whole of Asia with such a large team of French native lawyers. “All but one of our Hong Kong based team of twelve lawyers are French,” he says. “Often, French firms in China will only have one or two French lawyers heading a Chinese team. Our advantage is that we have a very good understanding of the French business culture and that enables us to gain the complete trust of our clients.”
And the clients that are trusting TMA for legal advice ranges from small exporters to leading French and European groups and manufacturers. “A lot of these clients understand that it is important to establish themselves in China. But legal agreements pertaining to the setting up of a business such as a wholly foreign owned enterprise and the actual completion of important investment deals are preferably and often done in Hong Kong because of the legal security and advantages that the city offers.”
“We are very familiar with the legal community in Hong Kong and we have good relationships with different firms,” Mayer explains. If a client needs assistance in a field where other firms expertise might be more valuable and necessary in light of what is at stake, the firm always has the right connection to make things work. “We know how to assist best our clients and get when necessary the best help available out there and use our connections to their advantage.”
Hong Kong will most often be the stepping stone into the Chinese market.
This is why Mayer simply does not see the need in setting up in China. “We are ‘the’ French firm in Hong Kong. There’s no need for us to compete with similar firms in China. To many, China is still seen as extremely pragmatic and it’ll be years before the new generation of lawyers who are not exposed so much to legal system of the common law can catch up to the international standards and global expertise of those in Hong Kong.”
In fact, firms in China often enlist TMA and its team of lawyers when they need help structuring an investment which is linked to China, Asia, or Europe. “Implementing business plans and setting up foreign investment vehicles in mainland China does not prevent the investors from securing their investment deal in Hong Kong with all the benefits such an approach brings. This is why businesses like to secure their investment agreements with our help in Hong Kong : they do not want to involve Chinese officials and authority,” says Mayer as he explains that Hong Kong will unlikely be replaced for some time by China as a top international business hub because of the rule of law and flexibility of business environment it offers.
Mayer attributes the firm’s success also to its group of loyal staff, on which client loyalty is partly built upon. “We have a very low staff turn over rate. Our expertise and what Hong Kong has to offer as a platform is one thing, but there is another factor helping TMA keeping and following up its clients : they are comfortable working with the same lawyer they are familiar with over the years and this is one of the reasons why they keep coming back to us; they’ve benefited from being regularly advised by the same people and have therefore trusted us over the years and they continue to trust us.”
Because of their French-centric culture, the firm is able to cultivate new clients that value their approach and culture which is both French and international. “Many times, in an acquisition deal in which we act for the vendor, the purchaser has their own team of lawyers, but after the acquisition is done, we often end up becoming their lawyers because they trust that we can do a good job following up on the development of the company,” explain Mayer.
The firm’s reputation is something Mayer takes very seriously; and he’s not about to change client’s perception of the firm. “We don’t want to expand too quickly as it has been the case in the past 10 years; at present we can comfortably deal with all our clients on a personal level and that’s one of the reasons why they like working with us.”
• The firm celebrated it’s 15th anniversary in 2011
• The Paris office, which opened in September 2010, is a subsidiary of the firm’s head office based in Hong Kong
• Practice areas: International business law, mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures, company and commercial law, international tax law, international arbitration, private international law, and immigration law.
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