What Chinese Associates Make
“I don’t think there is a need for us to match with others’ salaries,” says Broad & Bright partner Liu Hongchuan, who notes that his firm has not had any problems recruiting good associates. Liu declined to say how much his firm pays junior lawyers but concedes that it is less than larger firms like King & Wood Mallesons and Jun He.
Shi Tiejun, a partner at Jun He, says starting lawyers should think of their early years as an investment. “The first three years, the salary is low because you are here to learn, like an apprentice,” he says. “After three years, if you can keep up, the income will likely be doubled.”
There is no shortage of young lawyers willing to take up that offer. Beijing is home to perhaps the nation’s top law schools: Peking University Law School, Tsinghua University School of Law, Renmin University Law School, University of International Business and Economics School of Law and China University of Political Science and Law. The first four have enrollments ranging from around 300 to almost 700, while the last actually comprises four law schools with possibly as many as 1,700 students.
That means well over 3,000 law graduates come out of those five schools alone. China’s still relatively small cadre of big firms will only hire a fraction of them. Dacheng, the biggest, says it hires between 50 and 100 starting associates a year, with firms like 480-lawyer Jun He perhaps hiring half as many. Beijing-based Haiwen, which has around 120 lawyers, hired 11 new graduates this year.
With so many students vying for jobs, firms have come up with different ways of winnowing down the pool. Firms usually initially sift through résumés according to grades and internship experience. Applicants who advance to the second round will take a written test that usually includes a case analysis and Chinese-to-English translation of documents. Finally, candidates meet with partners for one-on-one interviews that determine whether they get hired.
Individual firms also have their own special requirements. Michael Gu, a founding partner with Beijing’s Anjie Law Firm, says his firm mostly hires entry-level lawyers that are graduates of a top Chinese university and have an overseas LL.M. degree.
“Having two degrees from both top Chinese and overseas universities at least means this student is hardworking and possibly a fast learner,” says Gu. “These are the qualities we believe would potentially make one a better lawyer.” Anjie pays its first-years around the same as King & Wood and Jun He: between RMB 11,000 ($1,811) and RMB 14,000 ($2,304) per month.
Money is an important but not an overriding consideration for Chinese law graduates. The firm that pays the most readily acknowledges that it hardly has a monopoly on the top talent.
“I wouldn’t say all the best students are here,” says Han Kun’s Li. “Graduates have a lot to consider while choosing a firm, and salary is just one of them. If somebody wants to go to King & Wood, they would go regardless of our higher pay.”
Lin Yunzhu is one such graduate. After earning his law degree at China University of Political Science and Law in 2006, he went on to pursue further studies overseas, receiving an LL.M. from Erasmus University in Rotterdam in 2007 and a J.D. from the University of Wisconsin–Madison last year. In October, Lin returned to Beijing and joined King & Wood as an associate earning RMB 12,000 a month, or $1,975.