Law firms are failing to support clients in South East Asia – really?

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Yesterday I read an article on the website by Felicity Nelson titled Law firms are failing to support clients in South East Asia‘. This article cites recent research done by Acitas, including:

  • 45 per cent of multinationals require legal advice in South East Asia;
  • 34 per cent of Australian multinationals’ legal spend now goes outside their home jurisdiction; and
  • 60 per cent of Australian in-house counsel surveyed said they needed legal advice in South East Asia

There is no doubt in my mind that Acitas research is both good and thorough. I have high regard for them.

But there is one niggling issue I have with the title of this article and that is this: while it would be fair to ‘Australian’ law firms (such as Minter Ellison or Clayton Utz) are not particularly active on the ground in South East Asia – and we can debate the merits of that strategy till the sun comes up – it’s a far cry to then extend that argument to say:

 Law firms are failing to support clients in South East Asia.

And why do I say this?

Well, some firms with a presence is South East Asia and Australia – and who therefore must have a strategic plan around meeting their multinational clients needs in both jurisdictions – include:

  • Allen & Overy
  • Baker & McKenzie
  • Clifford Chance
  • DLA Piper
  • Linklates – Allens
  • Norton Rose Fulbright

Keep in mind that these are international law firms with an actual presence in South East Asia and Australia with a declared strategy of having multiple offices in order to meet the needs of their multinational clients. They’re not ‘fly-in, fly-out‘ operators; so they don’t have to worry about some of the very real strategic and cost issues that Lisa Hart Shepherd, CEO of Acritas, points out in the article and which I made only yesterday around organic growth and local knowledge acquisition!

My only question having read Nelson’s article is this then:

What the Hell are these firms doing if, as is alluded to in the article title, a large proportion of Australian and multinationals in-house counsels’ needs in South East Asia are going unmet?

and having read the results of Acritas’ survey in the article,

What do these firms plan to do to meet these very real needs now?


* I would recommend you read the Lawyers Weekly article, it raises w hole host of additional issues not covered in this post


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