Feb 8 (Reuters) - When lawyers from King & Wood, one
of China's largest law firms, gathered to celebrate its merger
with an Australian law firm late last year, the firm's two
namesakes -- Messrs. King and Wood -- never showed up. And for
good reason: They don't exist.
"There was no Mr. King and no Mr. Wood" when the firm was
founded in 1993, Mark Schaub, an attorney at King & Wood, said
in an email.
The practice of making up law firm names out of thin air is
broadly prohibited in the United States, where legal-ethics
rules generally require that the surnames in firms reflect those
of partners who work there -- or did before they retired or
died. No such strictures exist in China, where firms are free to
pick any name they imagine will resonate in the international
King & Wood is just one of many Chinese law firms that have
embraced that creative freedom, selecting names that might be
more comforting than Chinese names to international clients and
Western law firms seeking to affiliate with them.
This desire, apparently, explains the surplus of firms named
for that venerable but imaginary Chinese barrister Mr. "Bright."
The name Bright, said Joseph Chan, a partner in the Shanghai
office of Chicago-based Sidley Austin, is a popular choice
because it connotes prosperity. "As in 'bright future,'" he
So at Bright & Right, a 12-lawyer firm based in Beijing,
there is neither a Bright nor a Right anywhere in sight. Michael
Liu, the firm's founding partner, explained that he chose the
name to represent "talent, rich knowledge, magnificence and
Then there's Broad & Bright (no relation), which has always
been Broadless and Brightless. There's never been a Bright at
AllBright, a 100-lawyer firm with several offices across China,
nor at Ever Bright in Shanghai.
CREATIVE NAMING CAN BE GLOBAL ASSET
China's private legal community is still relatively small,
since Chinese law only began allowing for private law firms in
the mid-1980s. According to the All China Lawyers Association,
there are now 200,000 attorneys in China, or one for every 6,500
Chinese residents. By comparison, there are 1.2 million American
lawyers serving a population of just over 300 million -- or one
lawyer for every 257 residents.
Like most firms with Western names, King & Wood also has a
Chinese name, Jin Du, but those words are not identified with
people either. Jin means gold, and Du can mean earth or wood.
According to King & Wood, the firm's logo also contains
references to fire and water, so that all five Chinese elements
"I do not know if I believe it myself, but it is
consistently told this way," King & Wood's Schaub said.
Even native Chinese speakers sometimes get perplexed. Simon
Fang, a partner at the Grandall Law Firm, said in an email: "I
don't know where (Grandall) is from, but for sure it is not any
attorney name. Maybe it is just the basic meaning from 'Grand +
In any event, an evocative law firm name can be a big
asset. King & Wood's name choice was "a very smart move," said
Stuart Fuller, global managing partner of Mallesons, the
Australian law firm that is merging with King & Wood to form
King & Wood Mallesons; it will be one of the 10 largest firms in
the world when the merger is completed next month.
"It was symbolic of King & Wood's approach to position
itself as a firm with a heavy international focus," Fuller said.
Mallesons's clients are comfortable with the appellation,
Fuller said, because King & Wood has strong name recognition in
the region. Under Australia's legal-ethics rules, Mallesons is
not prohibited from using the King & Wood name.
RHYMING IS 'IMPORTANT FACTOR'
There has so far been no outcry over how Chinese firms name
themselves, but some practitioners say the permissive approach
reflects the wide gulf between China and the West in legal
practice and ethics.
For instance, out-of-court communications that would be
clearly unethical for U.S. lawyers and judges are part of
"Guanxi," the Chinese business culture in which relationships
are central to getting things done. Gifts from lawyers to
officials that would be barred in the United States are not
"Ethics in China are still in an early stage of
development," said Tony Angel, global co-chairman of DLA Piper,
which has offices in Hong Kong and Shanghai.
Ethics aside, Chinese firms that want to advertise with a
Western name often must consider multiple factors, including
greater ease of pronunciation and familiarity to non-Chinese
clients. Law-firm marketing professionals are rare in China, so
choosing names, logos and website content is basically a
function of what the lawyers dream up.
Bright & Right's Liu explained that his firm's Chinese name
is composed of three characters, each of which has multiple
meanings, including "good virtues and high moral standards" and
"flourishing water and enhancing water."
In an email explaining the naming process, Liu said, "The
rhyming between 'Bright' and 'Right' has been an important
factor in the English word choice." And "right," he said, "has
many meanings in English and it plays the key role in the legal
(Reporting by Leigh Jones in New York)
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