The Internationalisation of Professional Service Firms
: The Case of Chinese Law Firms in London

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


The existing understanding of Professional Service Firms (PSFs) and their internationalisation
is centred on studies of Western organisations. PSFs from emerging markets and rising
economic powers such as China have received very little attention in academic work, both
theoretically and empirically. This thesis aims to begin to address this gap in extant research
by connecting studies of internationalisation and PSFs, with a new focus on the entry and
organisation of Chinese law firms in London.
The research investigates the internationalisation strategies and processes of Chinese law
firms in the UK and the operations of their London subsidiaries and expatriate workforce. This
entails a novel primary research study of six Chinese law firms which each have a London
office, and a focus on their distinctive mode of entry into London. The research uses a single
case study approach, emphasising the activities of this distinctive firm following a ‘one firm’
strategy, supplemented by the convergent and divergent ‘paths’ of the other five firms.
The research proposes a reframing of the ‘one firm’ model of globalising PSFs (e.g. Muzio and
Faulconbridge, 2013; Morgan and Quack, 2005), via a multi-level network analysis. These are
linked to the main finding of the resemblance in strategy but with a particular divergence,
given the distinct institutional settings, of globalising Chinese and Western law firms. The
strategies are seen to reinforce the factors influencing the extent of hybridity
internationalisation, as determined by the ‘paths’ of the individual firms. The findings also
identify the role of multi-level networks for Chinese law firms in overcoming challenges and
promoting firm-wide practices development during the process of internationalisation.
As the first qualitative case study examining this topic empirically, this study has enhanced
the present limited understanding of Chinese law firms and their international expansion and
operations in a foreign market over the past decade. This is of significance for both
subsequent Chinese law firms, incumbent City law firms in London and wider PSFs of a
similar institutional context. The study has also made a contribution to understanding the role
of expatriate lawyers in a multi-jurisdiction territory comparable to London.
Date of Award24 Jan 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorJonathan V Beaverstock (Supervisor) & Andrew J Sturdy (Supervisor)

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