China: Land of Imaginary Name Partners

Has everyone seen this Reuters piece on Chinese law firm names? Leigh Jones in New York reports on how the English-sounding names that emblazon business cards and office signs across China are completely make-believe.

For instance, you may have heard of the recently announced merger of Mallesons, a leading Australian law firm, and King & Wood, one of China’s largest law firms.

Combined, King & Wood Mallesons will rank among the top 10 law firms in the world. The trouble is — and this may seem patently obvious to anyone who regularly works with Chinese firms — there is no King and Wood. There never was.

In the U.S. and Canada, ethics rules require that the people represented in law firm names be actual, real people — not brands like Mr. Clean. As the Reuters story explains, however, “no such strictures exist in China, where firms are free to pick any name they imagine will resonate in the international marketplace.”

Mr. Clean, by the way, isn’t far off. One of the most popular Chinese firm names is Bright, as in:

– Bright & Right
– Broad & Bright
– Ever Bright
– AllBright

That last one, incidentally, is a 100-lawyer firm with offices across China. Michael Liu, the founding partner of Bright & Right, explains in the piece that he chose the name to represent “talent, rich knowledge, magnificence and prosperity.”

Okay, so maybe this isn’t rocket science. It’s easy to see why Chinese firms looking to attract business from the English-speaking world would pick names that sound familiar to their clients.

But what’s amazing is that even the firm’s Chinese names are made up. King & Wood, for instance, is known as Jin Du in China, which has nothing to do with people: Jin means “gold” and Du means “earth” or “wood.”

If you don’t believe there’s value in picking generic-sounding names, by the way, check out this story on how people with “easily pronounced names” tend to be more successful.

Coincidentally, the science here also comes from Australia, so I guess the lesson is clear: If you’re moving to Australia, or planning to merge with an Australian law firm, make sure the locals can pronounce your name.

– David Dias

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