The blue dye extracted from indigo is bluer than indigo

September 14, 2011

This was an evening of firsts.  Once I had successfully traversed the reception of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer (which I noted in passing has a larger square footage than the whole of my own eight partner firm) I was presented with a magnetic name badge.  This was the first time I had ever come across these and it is held on to your clothing by a metal strip which goes on the other side of the material – an improvement on the normal safety pin or gripper versions.  The meeting was chaired by Mark Weston, a partner in Matthew Arnold Baldwin LLP and chair of the SCL North London Home Counties Group.  Mark’s well modulated voice is remarkably like that of the BBC Arts Correspondent Mark Lawson.  The next first was that I had never listened to a talk by a British lawyer who was qualified to advise on tax in both China and Hong Kong.  This may have been because I had never met the speaker Iain Sheridan (of London Scottish) before and he is the only person so qualified.  Iain also advises on intellectual property and private equity focusing on China.  A further first was that, despite the fact that I have been attending SCL meetings for longer than the average age of the audience, I had never been to a talk where I did not understand its title before attending it.  Iain Sheridan explained that this was a Chinese saying which refers to a teacher surpassing their pupil, or can also mean a latecomer surpassing its predecessor.  This illustrated that the Chinese, without a history of the protection of intellectual property, are now taking this matter very much into their own hands and in some ways taking it further than we in the West do.

This was also the first time that the writer had attended an SCL talk where part of it was given in Mandarin.  Iain Sheridan is one of the rarest of beasts – a self-taught Mandarin speaker who has never received any formal tuition in the language.  The speaker betrayed his background in financial services by the extensive use of acronyms (for those still wondering “CBBC” stands for “China Britain Business Council”, “ETF” stands for “Electronically Transferred Funds” and “PE stands for “Private Equity”).  Mr Sheridan extolled the advantages of using English law in contracts with the Chinese because it gave certainty and had the ability to deal with future changes.  He strongly advised the use of a master agreement with schedules so that the original terms did not have to be re-negotiated as each project came up and the agreement could easily be supplemented by the addition of a new schedule.  He underlined the importance of cultural issues such as getting the senior person present to sign any agreement in order to show respect to the other side.

The evening ended with questions.  I was slightly disappointed that there was no question in Mandarin.  The first was asked by the legendary Amanda Brock (author of our much thumbed copy of “E-Business: The Practical Guide to the Laws”).  She said that she had encountered severe resistance to the acceptance of English law for contracts involving the Chinese and as a fallback used the laws of Hong Kong, Singapore or New York.  Lastly, you could tell how many old China hands there were in the audience as virtually all the name cards that were exchanged during the drinks afterwards were given in the two handed Eastern fashion rather than the one handed Western way.