Law Firm Focuses on Chinese Business Affairs
It was one of those bread-and-butter cases that comes across the desks of law firms that steered Becker & Poliakoff toward China. In 1992, a Chinese construction company appeared at the Fort Lauderdale offices of the law firm looking for an attorney to handle a lawsuit. That initial contact set the stage for a thriving China practice.
"It was really after that case that the management began to have the vision - the Chinese are coming," said Philip Guo, who started working at Becker & Poliakoff in 1993 as a paralegal and later earned his law degree from Nova Southeastern University.
LOOK TO THE EAST
That same year the firm was one of nine U.S. law firms authorized by the Beijing government to open an office in Guangzhou, adjacent to Hong Kong. Since Chinese law is civil law dictated by a legal code written during the 1644-1911 Qing Dynasty - as opposed to America's common law system - Becker & Poliakoff found two firms to handle legal matters in China.
In one of its first steps, the law firm arranged for a delegation from the Chinese Planning Commission to tour the United States in 1994 and meet with leaders of American industry and finance.
For work in Florida and China, the firm can depend on Guo, who came to Miami in 1986 to study for a doctorate in history on a University of Miami scholarship. While working on his dissertation, he found the job at Becker & Poliakoff.
Attorney Peter A. Quinter also handles patent and intellectual property cases, representing, for instance, alleged Chinese counterfeiters caught in disputes with U.S. Customs.
Chinese manufacturers that want to establish a South Florida office to handle distribution in Latin America use Becker & Poliakoff to handle the legal work.
Quinter and Guo say they are seeing more Chinese interest in local investment. One possible deal involves a Chinese bank exploring real estate development in Central Florida.
Guo - who uses the American name given to him by an English teacher rather than his real name Xiaopeng (Little Phoenix) - says that about a third of the firm's China business comes through ads placed in Chinese-language newspapers read by the 25,000-strong local community.
Becker & Poliakoff's associates in China proved useful when a local company wanted a refund for defective merchandise that arrived at the Port of Miami-Dade.
"They sent an e-mail but the Chinese pretended they didn't understand," Guo said. But after their Chinese associates contacted the manufacturer, the matter was resolved. "You can't just send an e-mail," he said.
Despite China's giant strides forward, the Chinese-American lawyer said the country still faces high poverty levels and other challenges. "The fear that these other countries are having, that China is becoming a superpower and taking over the world, my idea is that won't happen in 100 years," Guo said.
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