The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault’s Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Z. Julie Gao, Partner—Corporate (Hong Kong office)
Julie Gao is one of Asia’s most eminent attorneys, frequently counseling leading Chinese new economy companies in their most significant capital markets and corporate transactions. She heads Skadden’s China practice and sits on Skadden’s Policy Committee, the firm’s highest governing body.
Julie is a go-to counsel for Chinese companies aiming to list on the NYSE or Nasdaq and on the main board of the HKSE. She also is recognized for her outstanding M&A practice, having represented China’s foremost telecommunications, media, and technology (TMT) companies in many of their recent landmark M&A deals.
In 2018, The Asian Lawyer named Julie International Law Firm Leader of the Year, and she was named International Dealmaker at the China Law & Practice Awards 2018. In 2017, she was named Best in M&A and Private Equity at the Euromoney Asia Women in Business Law Awards, and in 2016 she was named M&A Lawyer of the Year by The Asian Lawyer.
Julie holds a J.D. from UCLA, an M.A. from the University of Alabama, and an LL.B. from Peking University. She is admitted in California and speaks Mandarin and English.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
My role is to be a trusted adviser to my clients as they realize their dreams for their businesses. My team and I help Chinese companies develop and expand, and it is especially gratifying to see our clients grow their businesses from inception to successful, significant enterprises in China and internationally. Often we counsel companies through several transactions in their business life cycles, advising on both M&A and capital markets transactions.
We can assist as they raise money via a listing on a global stock exchange, issuing convertible bonds and debt securities, securing private placements or PIPE transactions, or making strategic investments or management buyouts. I also have counseled companies seeking partnerships with other entities and with all aspects of regulatory compliance.
What types of clients do you represent?
Since November 2017, my team and I represented 22 China-based companies listing on the U.S. stock exchanges—by any measure, the highest number among international firms. We are particularly experienced in advising “new economy” companies and those in the internet, TMT, consumer, fintech, education, health care, and renewable energy sectors. In 2018, our clients included BiliBili Inc., iQiyi Inc., Meituan Dianping, NIO Inc., Pinduoduo Inc., Uxin Limited, and Xiaomi.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
I advise on M&A and capital markets transactions. More specifically, I advise on IPOs, as well as other equity, convertible bonds, and debt securities; private placements; PIPE transactions; strategic investments; management buyouts; and regulatory compliance. The past year has been a particularly significant year for IPOs, with Skadden advising on 21 U.S. listings and nine in Hong Kong. Of those, six offerings raised more than US$1 billion. The Xiaomi Hong Kong IPO was the first listing to allow dual-class stock structures and was genuinely groundbreaking. We also advised on Hong Kong’s second such listing for Meituan-Dianping.
How did you choose this practice area?
I was encouraged by my family to pursue law because we felt China’s legal system was on the verge of tremendous development. I started my career working at another global law firm in Los Angeles. While I developed experience across a wide variety of practices, I ultimately focused on corporate work because of the stimulating nature of cross-border work and the chance it gave me to help Chinese companies grow internationally. In particular, I enjoy the process of helping my clients develop, expand, and succeed with their business goals.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
There really is no typical day for me. Like a doctor in the ER, my day is often filled with unexpected situations involving a very wide range of legal issues in different jurisdictions, followed by a feeling of excitement after resolving many of these issues and getting deals done. I travel frequently to meet clients in mainland China and work closely with our teams in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing. Like all of the Skadden partners, I am directly involved in my matters, so I really cover all major aspects of the deals.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
Besides the obvious importance of doing well in your law school classes, in order to achieve long-term success, I think lawyers and professionals in all fields need dedication to their professions, enthusiasm for service, a passion for self-development and lifelong learning, perseverance and diligence, and enthusiasm and positivity to sustain them during challenging and demanding periods.
What do you like best about your practice area?
It is very fulfilling for me to work with clients as they reach significant milestones in their businesses. Of course, what is significant to one client can be different to what is significant for another. I have been fortunate to meet many outstanding people from a range of industries and enjoy helping them grow in their respective fields. Every time I start a new deal, I find myself learning new things. I am motivated by the success of my clients, and being able to use my legal skills to help clients across a gamut of industries keeps me energized.
What is unique about this practice area at your firm?
I moved to Skadden in 2009 from another large firm because Skadden has the perfect platform for a lawyer who wants to work globally on the most important corporate transactions. My colleagues at Skadden are the best in the world at what they do, and being at the firm has allowed me to continue to grow my client base and use my skills to advise China’s most innovative and pioneering companies.
What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?
Junior attorneys typically gain experience by working on the due diligence, drafting, and closing aspects of a deal. Everything you do counts. No matter how routine the task, everything you learn will be helpful and contribute to your career.
What kinds of experience can summer associates gain in this practice area at your firm?
Our summer associates in the Hong Kong office get real-world experience. Most of them travel outside of Hong Kong, including to our other Asia offices, and are embedded with our associates and partners on active deals. Although we have substantive and quality formal training in the office, I think working on the deals and spending time with our lawyers—watching them in meetings and listening in on calls—is the best way to learn.