Yueping Zhou is a partner at Zhong Lun Law Firm, one of China's most renowned law firms offering dispute resolution services. She is recognised as a Litigation Star and one of Asia-Pacific's Top 100 Women in Litigation in 2021.
Zhou speaks to Benchmark Litigation about her practice history, memorable cases, and gender diversity in China's legal industry.
In your opinion how does the firm differ from its competitors?
The most distinguished feature of Zhong Lun is our high professionalism and good cooperation mechanism. The number of Zhong Lun’s practice areas recognized by various professional ranking institutions has always been in the leading place among Chinese law firms. Our partners have their own special expertise and have strong entrepreneurial spirit and professional capabilities. Zhong Lun is capable of providing clients with professional, high-quality legal and integrated legal services across a wide range of industries and sectors through specialization of work and close teamwork.
What part of this job do you personally find most satisfying? Most challenging?
Clients engage lawyers to tackle with complicated projects and cases. Since my twenties, I have been working as legal counsel to clients, including many successful businessmen/women in their fifties. Their trust in me and respect for professional lawyers have made me full of professional accomplishment and self-confidence. It is not easy to solve difficult problems and to keep with the times. I like that the work of lawyers is full of challenges, that the market needs are constantly changing, and that I need to look for unique solutions amidst changes.
The most challenging thing is that time is never sufficient for lawyers. When you’re tired, you can’t stop and have to continue fighting. Cases handed over by clients to professional teams are becoming more and more difficult, and legal knowledge is constantly changing. There are also many challenges in team training and built-up. Every enterprise wants to recruit experienced employees, and fresh graduates are indeed difficult to train. But we still continuously recruit and train outstanding young talents like gardeners.
What has been your most memorable case to date?
It is not a case with huge disputed amounts, but a loan dispute in Hubei. There is a contractor Mr. Zhou who needs to borrow money from a company for his personal expenses, but he has a drug abuse history and has no money to return. Therefore, this Mr. Zhou and the company colluded to make this nearly tens of millions of loans on our client, a company in Jiangsu. They forged "evidence" and our client lost in the first instance of trial. When we represented this case, we were threatened by the other party in court, and a group of people followed us. Later, the court supported our view and ruled that the case shall retrial. When we attended the court hearing, we brought pepper spray as self-defense weapon and applied for court protection. We will do our best to protect the interests of our client even if we are threatened for life by others.
What is the employment outlook like within the legal field? How much demand is there for people, specifically women, in your particular practice areas? Are you finding that fewer women are entering these sectors (regulatory defence/internal investigation/consumer finance/etc.)?
I am personally optimistic about the employment prospects in the legal field. The process of rule of law in China is unstoppable, and China's development has also brought many opportunities for legal industry. There are many female practitioners in this industry, and women have their advantages in this field. This is because most women are more empathetic, whether it is to customers or team members, women can think more about others. Therefore, it is good for women to be lawyers or partners, since women can give play to their characteristics and unite people's hearts.
What obstacles do you believe women [in this profession] face that could potentially hinder their profitability or growth?
Lawyer profession is like sailing against the current and needs entrepreneurial spirit. For women, the challenge first come from how to balance work and life. When I started to work as a lawyer, I always thought about work and tried to do everything good, sometimes forgot that I have a daughter at home waiting for me. Therefore, for balance of life and work, there is no gain without a loss. Another challenge comes from the conflict between society’s expectation and requirement of legal profession. It is noted that there are less women working as leaders or in confrontational career, due to misunderstanding or even disapproval when work as lawyers.
Do you find that women encounter different expectations with respect to personality and demeanour than male counterparts by clients, the courts, and other professionals across the industry?
I think there is no real distinction between male and female lawyers. In fact, the influence of gender is getting weaker, and there are many women working in the legal industry. Since my practice mainly focused in construction and engineering industry, which has more male practitioners, it is inevitable to encounter some misunderstandings and disapproval based solely on gender. But I think professionalism is the key to breaking these unreasonable expectations. Personally, I will break the industry's stereotypes from the perspective of self-improvement.
Have you found the legal industry to have addressed the disparity in expectations?
The legal service industry is a highly professional and market-oriented industry, so it is relatively fair and transparent. Therefore, it is a more suitable career for women. I am very happy to see that there are many female practitioners in the legal industry, and many of them are outstanding. But women in this industry still face the pressure of social expectations, so I hope that the society can give women more support and recognition, especially the understanding from family and work team.
What do you think the legal profession needs to do in order to improve opportunities for women (in-house or private practice) litigators?
Improving women's opportunities as litigation lawyers is a systematic project. Women are generally considered to be gentler and more low-key in the context of East Asian culture. Women working as litigation lawyers often face conflicts between work and social expectations. The legal profession needs to abandon these stereotypes and emphasize the achievements of women. The legal profession needs to give women the same career training and promotion opportunities, create a more professional-oriented and transparent professional environment, and truly recognize the value of women as litigation lawyers.
How important is mentorship in this profession and what advice, if any, would you give women who are just starting their legal careers?
Practice is the life of law, thus lawyers shall have both knowledge and experiences. Therefore, the mentor system is very important for this profession, unfortunately not all young lawyers can get enough mentor guidance. For women who have just started legal careers, they may initially face some difficulties, and even unfairness. But they must believe in themselves and keep on sharping their professional skills. Try to accumulate more when you are young, and it is especially helpful for their long-term career development in the future if they have a chance to work with a team of professional lawyers in the beginning years.
Zhong Lun Law Firm
Address: 6/10/11/16/17F, Two IFC, 8 Century Avenue, Pudong News Area, Shanghai 200120
DID +86 (0)21 6061 3098
Please click here to view Ms. Zhou's professional biography