Success with China takes time and effort

Firms can tap into opportunities to win work with Chinese clients, but some investment is required, Brisbane law firm Bennett & Philp has said.

The single-office firm recently sent a delegation of lawyers, including Mandarin speaker Sandy Zhang, to regional Chinese cities to further develop its connections with law firms on the ground.

“The message about Chinese business investment in Australia is that they are here now, and growing, and we need to be working with them and maximising opportunities for work in China too,” Mr Zhang said.

However, he warned that engagement with China required investing both time and effort into building up networks.

“This is not a business relationship that is established overnight,” he said. “You need to build a trust and that takes time in China.”

Mr Zhang also urged firms to consider having Mandarin-speaking lawyers available, suggesting a shared language would “greatly aid” in building trust.

Bennett & Philp director Ken Philp said regular contact between Australian firms and their Chinese counterparts was critical since it “shows the Australian parties are serious about building a relationship”.

"It is crucial for Western businesspeople to realise that it can take several years to build a business relationship and get referrals," he said.

"Western businesses seem to expect deals to be struck quickly after the minimum of protocols are observed. In China, they do things very differently and it’s a crucial lesson for Australians to learn."

He also advised firms looking to break into this market to take their time to fully understand the local protocols.

“Often, Australians’ knowledge of China is meagre and influenced by historical events,” he said.

“China today is a vibrant and exciting commercial environment, but we have to be respectful in building the relationship. We need to melt any barriers, not break them down.”

Bennett & Philp, which has around 30 lawyers, first sent a delegation to China in 2014 in a bid to develop contacts with both Chinese firms and local businesses.

During last month’s visit, the firm visited four cities in regional China.

The objective was to secure a slice of legal work for the firm’s commercial practice and pursue opportunities in residential property transactions, mergers and acquisitions, international law and the growing area of aged care in China, according to Mr Philp.

"China also has a special interest in developing aged care services there and the firm has successfully connected Australian aged care experts with Chinese interests for commercial advice and is well advanced in numerous other business development connections," he said.


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