Summer Internship in Beijing – Sebastien Santens
My name is Sebastien and I am currently in my final year of my LLB degree at the University of Glasgow. During the summer, I completed a three-month internship at Chance Bridge Partners (Beijing), a boutique Chinese law firm, which specialises in cross-border transactions. I hope that this blog post will provide some useful insight into my experience in Beijing and encourage others to make use of placement opportunities whether through the University directly, or through University alumni connections.
I first heard of Chance Bridge at the beginning of my third year in Glasgow, when the firm’s Managing Partner, Ms. Ning Zhu (Glasgow LLM, 2006), came to Glasgow and held a talk on practicing law in China. In the second semester of the same year, the law school announced the opportunity to complete an internship at Chance Bridge, which I immediately applied for. The application was straightforward and coordinated jointly with the law school, who were very helpful throughout the process (I would like to offer my special thanks to Javier Solana for all his assistance). I learnt my application had been successful around 3 months before the placement was to begin, which was helpful as it gave me enough time to sort out accommodation, book flights and prepare myself.
Chance Bridge specialises in several different fields including competition/anti-trust, intellectual property, capital markets and cross-border investment and financing. The firm brands itself as a Chinese law firm with a ‘global commitment’; its core practice remains entirely Chinese, but the firm focuses on working with Chinese clients looking to do business outside of China, as well as non-Chinese clients looking to do business in China. I was working in the cross-border investment and financing department working with three of the firm’s associates and Ms. Zhu (the managing partner). As most already know, China is now truly an economic super-power, but ‘Going Global’ has recently become the compelling force for China’s economic transformation and a growing pursuit for Chinese enterprises. Working within the cross-border transactions department gave me a unique opportunity, as a European law student, to gain an insight into how China is shifting the global economic stage.
I arrived in Beijing in June and was one of only two non-native Chinese people working in the office. I didn’t speak any Mandarin before arriving. Nonetheless, the language barrier did not present itself as much of an issue. In the office, most of my colleagues had studied for a Masters in either Europe or the United States and all had learned some English at school. Outside of the office, all the Subway signs are pointed out in English making it relatively easy to navigate the city and my kind friend Jess, from Glasgow (whose parents were living in Beijing at the time), gave me a little book with translations which I could use if I ever needed to get a taxi. I was also lucky to befriend the other non-Chinese intern working in the office, who had already been living in Beijing for two years and could show me around. In that sense, I really think I was lucky as I had a support network to help me find my footing in the first couple of weeks.
Accommodation was more difficult to sort out. I spent my first two weeks living in a hostel room, shared between four other people. Finding accommodation in Beijing was not easy because non-Chinese citizens are only allowed to stay in accommodation where they have been registered by the landlord with the police. Many landlords are therefore reluctant to take in foreigners; however, I eventually found a host on Airbnb who turned out to be really nice and helped me whenever I needed anything. Despite a few setbacks, I was never particularly stressed as my colleagues at the office were always happy to help me out and it was quite an empowering experience having to sort out little things that I never had to deal with previously, all whilst being surrounded by a completely different culture.
What I enjoyed most about my internship was the level of responsibility and independence that I was given throughout my time with Chance Bridge. The range of tasks that I was given was vast, from giving a presentation on China’s ‘One Belt One Road Initiative’ to delegates from LAWASIA (the Law Association for Asian and the Pacific), through to compiling a report on Private Equity in China. I assisted in almost all work that had an English-speaking element to it and this really gave me a unique opportunity to explore various legal issues and gain more knowledge about subject matter that I had never previously encountered. I truly appreciated the opportunity to carry out meaningful work (in the sense that it was valued by the firm and its clients), and to be able to work with very talented professionals in the field. The hours could often be very long, but I enjoyed working in an environment that could often be challenging, but always motivating. The fact that I was not working in a stereotypical 9 – 5 environment meant that time flew by and I was always interested in what I was doing. I doubt there are many work placements where a law student in their penultimate year of the LLB would be offered to do such technical and interesting work.
I am thankful that the Glasgow School of Law has such an extensive network of alumni, which ultimately helped me gain this invaluable experience. I would strongly recommend other students to search out similar opportunities: look beyond the UK, and even Europe, because law firms in countries like China present the possibility for young aspiring lawyers to gain a multitude of skills that will always be helpful in future career paths. I think the experience I have gained working in Beijing with Chance Bridge will hold me in good stead as China continues to reshape global dynamics.