Dickinson Wright establishes China practice group



Dickinson Wright recently hired Lingyan Yan — to serve as the law firm’s director of China business development.

Yan will work out of the firm’s Troy office.

Yan was previously the executive vice president of the Detroit Chinese Business Network. She has accumulated extensive experience working with American and Chinese companies in identifying market opportunities. 

In her new role with Dickinson Wright, she will focus on attracting new Chinese companies and building and maintaining relationships, as well as providing non-legal services to clients.

“As we see more Chinese companies coming to the U.S., to this area, we would like to attract more and work with more Chinese companies,” Yan said.

China Practice Group

Dickinson Wright has an established a China Practice Group that consists of Yan and two other attorneys.

The group is supported by the firm’s extensive roster of international attorneys.

Peter Pang, of counsel at Dickinson Wright, is currently based in the firm’s Washington, D.C., office, but spent many years working for the firm in China, establishing relationships and attracting clients.

Though the firm does not currently have an attorney based in China, it has partnered with a Chinese firm. Yan said the partnership is working out well, and she doesn’t foresee an immediate need for an office in China.

Americans in China

Yan said the practice group is not limiting its focus on Chinese businesses coming into the United States, but also on American companies that want to do business in China.

“Also, we have outbound to China,” Yan said. “Our local U.S. companies do the same thing. They go to China, are new to China or already have business in China and need help on international law. We work both outbound and inbound.”

The most typical legal services that Chinese and American companies are looking for are mergers and acquisitions, new company establishment, labor, intellectual property, tax issues, immigration and contracts.

But Yan said companies also are looking for help beyond legal services.

She points to the many cultural differences clients from both countries must navigate. That is where Yan feels she is uniquely situated to help, having a deeper understanding of both cultures that she can share with clients.

“They don’t know anything about this environment,” Yan said. “We can provide the legal service and also give them other help.”

Michigan law firms and China

“Most companies are thinking about China,” Yan said. “I was with Detroit Chinese Business Network — we had four law firm sponsors. . . . They are all, even small-sized, thinking about attracting Chinese clients, because we see more and more Chinese businesses coming to the U.S.”

Bruce Courtade, president of the State Bar of Michigan and an attorney with Rhoades McKee, said that a focus on Chinese business by larger firms is not new.

Detroit-based firms Butzel Long and Miller Canfield have long had international law practices, Courtade said, including lawyers who represent Chinese corporations and U.S. corporations doing business in China.

But Courtade believes that interest is growing, and as a result, firms are investing in different ways to attract Chinese businesses and enter the China market, whether by developing practice groups, committees, partnerships or hiring attorneys with backgrounds in Chinese business and culture.

“I have not personally witnessed this growth, but have heard of it anecdotally, and it seems to make sense, particularly for those firms which represent large multi-national clients who might be expanding into China,” Courtade said.

“In addition, with the ‘flat world’ perspective shared by most — recognizing that the world is flat, and our economy is more and more interconnected with our global trade partners than ever before — it seems to make sense to focus on the world’s largest population mass and second largest economic engine as the source of legal work as more and more Chinese entities look to open or expand their U.S. operations," he said.

“I am aware of at least two large multi-national corporations, one based in China and the other based in Europe, with a significant presence in China, which have recently begun looking to begin or expand operations here in West Michigan," Courtade said. "To the extent that a law firm has someone on board who can communicate with Chinese clients or counterparts in those efforts, I can understand how that could be seen as an advantage when the client looks to retain local counsel.”

Yan sees the investment by Chinese companies in the United States, and particularly in Michigan, as good for the economy.

“We work with some larger Chinese clients,” Yan said. “They create jobs, and they make investments. . . . Even after they bought the company, year after year, they add more investment here, also hiring. We think of Chinese companies coming here as a positive. It did help Michigan’s economy. They buy houses. It’s a really good thing.”

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