#Asialaw issues

“You actually need to be in Asia to understand Asia.”

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“You actually need to be in Asia to understand Asia. You cannot look at it from a distance, or certainly run a business in Asia from a distance. So, unless you are actually in Asia and focused on Asia and the different markets in Asia, it’s very difficult to understand the different markets, their stages of development, and how you need to run your business in those markets. And certainly you can’t do that from London or New York. That’s a fundamental point.” – Stuart Fuller, King & Wood Mallesons

The above quote, which I couldn’t have put better myself, is from an interesting interview between columnist David Parnell and Stuart Fuller, Global Managing Partner of King & Wood Mallesons (‘Stuart Fuller Of King & Wood Mallesons, On Vereins and Succeeding in China’s Legal Market‘) posted to the Forbes website on 20 July 2015.

A lot can be said about the ‘Mallesons’ strategic approach to Asia (or, probably more to the point, the lack of it) in its days as ‘Mallesons Stephen Jaques’ – when the firm was rumoured to be heavily courted by the likes of Clifford Chance and Linklaters in the UK – but since the tie-up with King & Wood (and the subsequent merger with SJ Berwin), the firm that is KWM, as it is now affectionately known, has certainly turned a corner, got its strategy ducks lined up and come a long way.

To my mind evidence of this is clear in the following two paragraphs by Fuller:

“Secondly, it’s a business model issue. If you come into Asia and run a Western business model, then you are likely to lose money. That’s quite difficult for many of the international firms because they have such powerful and strong business models in their home markets, and they export them to the rest of the world.

Thirdly, some markets are more developed than others, so if you come into Asia and think that because the law firms are younger, that they are less developed, or frankly, in some ways less professional, then you’ll be surprised. There are firms here — us for instance — who have 1200 lawyers and 2000 people across 12 cities in China alone. We have an impressive international business in China operating at an international standard. There are a number of firms across the market like us, and I think that is a surprise to Westerners.”

Absolutely spot on!

Indeed, probably the only thing missing from Fuller is the strength that relationships play in the overall marketplace throughout Asia – both at government level and in many of the region’s family run businesses.

Then again, possibly that’s what Fuller is eluding to when he says:

“And for Western business coming into Asia, the big thing you need to know is how to get things done. The system is different. It’s the lore as much as the law.”

In any event, it is clear that KWM has moved forward a long way since 2012, and I’m not sure the rest of the pack are giving this firm the appropriate credit they deserve.

“Berlin is closer to Beijing than Brisbane is”

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“Berlin is closer to Beijing than Brisbane is. And it will always be so.”

– Andrea Myles, CEO China Australia Millennial Project (CHAMP)

I recently had the great fortune and pleasure to attend the opening ceremony of the inaugural CHAMP. Unlike many other events I attend, this one was driven by a group of young adults looking for ways to improve cooperation between China and Australia, principally from what I can tell in the areas of research and development (R&D).

Leaving aside the fascinating work being done under the CHAMP banner, two comments that Andrea Myles, CEO of CHAMP, said in her opening remarks really resonated with me.

The first was the opening quote to this post: “Berlin is closer to Beijing then Brisbane is.”

The second was this:

“China is Australia’s largest trading partner, but also the largest trading partner of 124 other nations.”

Yep, 124 other nations can claim that China is their largest trading partner.

So if Australia isn’t geographically closer to “Asia” than Europe is (and flying time from the UK to Thailand is roughly the same as Sydney to Bangkok), and if economically (from both a trade and investment perspective) Australia isn’t streets ahead of the rest of the world in the eyes of those conducting business in Asia, why in the world would so many law firms be “Driven here by the lure of Asia” – as the Australian reported last Friday (3 July) [“International legal firms see Australia as a hub for Asia” NB: subscription may be required to read this]?

Personally I’m not 100 per cent sure I understand the need for global firms to be in Australia if the only reason they are doing this is to create a hub for entry into the Asian market more broadly. I rather suspect better cases to that type of strategy could be made for Singapore (which historically it has been) and even Hong Kong.

Nonetheless, Patrick Sherrington, Hogan Lovells’ regional managing partner for Asia and the Middle East and author of the said article in last Friday’s Australian sets out his case for why he thinks this might be so.

These include:

“The Australian legal services market is characterised by its ­concentration, innovation and sophistication. Although globally the sector is generally characterised by low concentration, the market shares of the major players in ­Australia have been and remain particularly high, especially compared with the US, where no law firm accounts for more than 1 per cent of the industry.

This concentration yielded high levels of competition between those leading firms, which spurred innovation and sophistication throughout the market.”

Sorry, but having worked in the English, Asian and Australian legal markets during the course of my working life I can categorically say that the Australian legal market is no more innovative nor sophisticated than any other. While this might have been the case in the 1990s, I would venture that the US market is probably more innovative than the Australian market is at the moment and the stuff that the likes of A&O, Lawyers on Demand, Eversheds, and Riverview Law – to name but a few – are doing in the UK is streets ahead of where the Australian market currently is.

Sherrington then goes on to write:

“More critically, it [the GFC – my comment] affected the faith many leading national firms had in their business models. The hitherto boundless belief in the limitless growth of legal services in a country accounting for nearly 40 per cent of the Asia-Pacific legal services market was lost to the ­existential and strategic dilemma of how and where Australian law firms should operate in an increasingly global market.

Suddenly, market entry became a practical proposition for the major international firms. Since then we have seen the large national firms scramble for Asian and global exposure through ­alliances and combinations of varying intimacy.”

I’m of the view that flat, depressed markets in the UK and Europe more widely made the bigger English firms look up and think of other markets where they could still get growth. The mining boom that was going on in Australia at the time, plus historic highs of almost parity in exchange rates between the Australian and US dollars, meant that the Australian market looked very attractive at the time.

Ironically, a shift in the sands have now made these much less favourable reasons to be in Australia (the Australian dollar has fallen off to somewhere in the region of 75 cents now) and one has to wonder if the internationals would still be clambering to get here if the current market existed then.

Sherrington also notes that:

“We [Hogan Lovells] concluded that not having a focused high-end legal practice in Australia would be strategically detrimental to the ambitions of our long established practice in Asia and would have an impact on our ability to service global clients.

Australia is uniquely positioned to assist international law firms achieve growth in Asia. With the third largest pool of investment funds under management in the world, the largest stockmarket in Asia (ex-Japan) and the fourth largest economy in Asia, as well as being the single largest beneficiary of Chinese foreign direct investment since 2005, Australia is an ­integral part of the Asia region and also a global player.”

I think there is a lot to be said for the second part of this quote. Much less so for the first part. Having an Australian practice is one thing; having an Australian presence as a hub to Asia is a completely different issue.

If you have an Australian practice for all the reasons Sherrington sets out in the second part of the quote above, and you have a core client-base operating in Australia, then I commend you and wish you well.

But if what you are saying is this [Australia] is your hub for Asia, then I ask: “where does your senior Asian management sit?” Because one firm aside, nearly all of the senior “Asian” management teams I’ve seen sit offshore (ie, outside Australia).

A final comment of Sherrington’s is that:

“While the manner and mode of market entry will continue to ­differ between international law firms, it is a trend that will not be reversed.

The regional and global economic case for an Australian presence is too strong. It remains to be seen whether the flood of international entrants will reduce the concentration of the Australian legal service market.”

Sherrington and I will have to disagree on this one. I think it is a trend that could very easily be reversed – and to some extent already is.

And we should always remember that law is a very fickly business – who knows what might happen if you had a downturn in the Chinese economy and a European nation that was refusing to pay its debts.

Oh wait…

A tale of two Asias

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Two separate comprehensive reports on the state of the legal market in Asia have recently been published. While both look to have been very thoroughly researched, that, and the shared (as in, this) week in which they were published, is, however, about all the two appear to have in common.

As to the two publications in question: one was published by the UK’s The Lawyer and the other by The Asian Lawyer – part of The American Lawyer stable. As such, the two publication represent a fairly comprehensive review of how international firms are fairing in the ever competitive Asian market.

The Lawyer

Turning first to the The Lawyer publication, the executive summary of which you can read here and the full report of which you can purchase here.

On reading this publication, “teething troubles aside“, you are left in little doubt that international law firms have positioned themselves well for the uptake in demand in the increasingly important Asia-Pacific legal market. Importantly, those who made the decision to invest in Asia a decade or more ago would appear to be seeing that investment finally paying dividends, with international firms in the region recording 5.7 per cent growth [in headcount] between 2013 and 2014.

In addition:

  • international law firms now make up 16 per cent of the Asia Top 50 (which is the same make up as two years ago).
  • five (six if you include KWM) of the Top 10 Asia firms hail from China – but number two in the list, Dacheng, has approved a merger with Dentons and so arguably is now an “international firm”.
  • no doubt because of the abundance of Swiss Verein these days, Australian law firm Minter Ellison sneaks into Top 10 Asia firms despite not being financially integrated but rather because the firm is integrated under “one brand”.
  • continued prosperity for internationals in the region is seen on the back of robust M&A activity and 5+ per cent growth predications by the IMF .

Overall though, content and opinion in this report can largely be summed by the comment that Freshfields Asia managing partner, Robert Ashworth, “is generally bullish about the region“.

The Asian Lawyer

Turning our attention now to The Asian Lawyer publication (and please do because the graph in this article is fantastic!) and we find we get a very different picture being painted of how the market is shaping up for US firms operating in Asia.

The context of this post, based on results of The NLJ 350 Annual Survey of the [US] Nation’s Largest Law Firms, can be summed up from its title: “Signs of Slower Growth for U.S. Firms in Asia“.

Although the post starts out saying: “Asia has been a powerful magnet for international firms over the past decade” – with the number of Am Law 200 attorneys having nearly tripled in that time, the latest year-on-year stats show a near flat-lining in these numbers.

It is also no secret that a number of US firms have been looking closely at their Asia strategy – the latest of which is Latham & Watkins, but even the US arm of DLA Piper has taken a financial interest in the Asia business in the hope of moving things along following some turmoil in the region.

It should not, therefore, be a surprise that this post finishes on the note: “Are more dramatic cuts to Am Law 200 lawyer counts in Asia coming? Stay tuned“.

So who is right?

I think you’ll agree that the two publications are very contrasting and paint different pictures of international law firms operating in the Asia legal market.

In a world of two Asias, a question arises: “Whose version is right?“.

My answer to that question is – probably both.

There is certainly some – finally some cry out! – positive signs for international firms operating on the ground in Asia (as opposed to those who may still operate a fly-in/fly-out operation). The market looks like it might start to deliver on some of the rich rewards it has promised for a long time. But to do this firms have to come to the realisation that they need to get over two crucial hurdles:

  1. they must have a strategy for the whole of Asia and not just China, and
  2. while staffing maybe cheaper in Asia, headcount doesn’t tell the story of financial size or profitability.

Network ASEAN: Are you plugged in?

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I read with interest a commentary post yesterday (although the post itself was made on 7 February) by Reid Kirchenbauer (on the www.investasian.com website) that outlines some of the economic developments that had occurred in the forty years since The Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) and Australia had developed diplomatic relations – ‘Understanding Australia-ASEAN Trade’.

Some of the more notable aspects of Reid’s post include:

  • Southeast Asia (SEA) is currently Australia’s second largest trading partner after China
  • Bilateral trade between SEA and Australia was valued at US$67.9 billion in 2013

And yet, somewhat troubling, notwithstanding the multi-billion dollar level of trade between ASEAN and Australia, and even though a free trade agreement (FTA) exists between ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand (the AANZFTA signed in 2010), a 2013 survey by the Australian Trade Commission (ATC) found that the majority of companies in Australia were not aware of the ASEAN Economic Community.

I say “somewhat troubling”, but the reality is that the ATC 2013 survey mirrors a recent Acitas survey, whose major findings were that:

  • 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

but that these needs were largely going unmet – “Law firms are failing to support clients in South East Asia” an article by Felicity Nelson posted to the Lawyers Weekly website on the 19 December 2014.

If we leave aside for the moment the comprehensive recent report by  The Lawyer Magazine on Southeast Asia Legal Elite (the Executive Summary of which can be read here), it seems indisputable to me that ASEAN represents a massive opportunity for Australian law firms in 2015 and that, sadly, a large part of this opportunity is going to be unmet.

Turning back to Reid’s post though, what realistic opportunities exist for Australian law firms in all this?

Well,

  • no doubt assisted by the Thailand-Australia FTA (TAFTA), coming into effect in 2010, Thai foreign direct investment (FDI) into Australia has increased by over 20 times since 2007;
  • with the Australia-Malaysia FTA (MAFTA) coming into effect in 2013, Australia is ranked the third biggest investment destination for Malaysian investors and two-way investment between the nations has doubled since 2010 and now accounts for more than $20 billion; and
  • in addition to being the oldest FTA between an ASEAN nation and Australia (signed in 2003), according to the most recently published data Singapore is currently the largest foreign investor in Australian real estate, making up 28% of all foreign property investments in Australia.

and that’s just inbound work from ASEAN into Australia, let alone any of outbound work the 60 per cent of surveyed Australian in-house counsel said they needed help with in SEA.

All of which leads me to ask:

  • is your law firm plugged into a formal or informal network in ASEAN?
  • if so, do you know what level of inbound referral work you are getting from your ASEAN network partners?
  • and, do you know what level of outbound referral work you are sending out to the partners in your ASEAN network?

Indonesia – the next frontier?

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To those wondering what the next marketing and business development frontier in the Asia-Pacific will be for law firms now that China and India have started to go off the boil, I can say “the hunt is over” – Indonesia will be the ‘hot’ new buzzword of 2015.

An article published in Singapore’s Straits Times today [26 January 2015] – “Foreign law firms eye Indonesia market – Global players drawn in by opportunities as Jakarta pursues investment deals” by Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja in Jakarta, sets out a number of compelling reasons (as well as limitations) as to why more global law firms are looking to try an get active in this rapidly expanding and increasingly attractive market.

Of note:

  • Indonesia is South-East Asia’s largest economy
  • The country has an extremely ambitious 5-year infrastructure (roads and railways) development plan
  • The government of newly elected President Joko Widodo is looking to boost gross domestic product (GDP) growth by 7 per cent over the term of its government

Add to this list that Indonesia has one of the fastest growing middle classes in the world, and setting aside some of the practical limitations in place on foreigners practising in Indonesia, given the close proximity of Australia to Indonesia it is somewhat surprising that Australian firms don’t appear to be having the same tactical strategic business development approach to this market (as outlined in the article) that firms in places such as Malaysia do.

Of course, this very likely will change during the course of the year as ‘Indonesia‘ becomes the buzzword of 2015.

Ambitious or just blind hopeful? – Clifford Chance look to grow Asia revenue by £50 million

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On the train ride to work today I read a briefing update on the Australasian Lawyer website that the newly elected Managing Partner of Clifford Chance, Matthew Layton, had announced that the firm aims to raise revenue in Asia by 25 per cent.

Now the first thing I should say about this is that I haven’t been able to verify the source for this briefing update. The second thing I should say is that I know a number of key people – both on the management and fee earning sides – at Clifford Chance in Asia.

Putting that aside however, and on the back of the news that Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson is to effectively close its Hong Kong and Shanghai offices and pull out of Asia (there remains some debate whether the firm will retain a representative office in Hong Kong and there is also a suggestion that the firm will not relinquish its Shanghai licence), and bearing in mind that Clifford Chance LLP’s announced earnings for its Asia Pacific operations in 2014 were £195 million (significantly up from 2013 announced earnings of £179 million but only marginally up from announced 2012 earnings of £181 million), I’m left wondering:

where do Clifford Chance see themselves earning an additional circa £50 million in Asia in 2015-16?

Because, while I wish  Matthew Layton, Caroline Firstbrook, Bas Borris Visser and everyone else at Clifford Chance the very best of luck, I’m not sure that:

“embrac[ing] technology and flexible working and service models as key elements for [the] expansion”

will cut it. And I somehow think the management teams of a number of other firms in the region (including those at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson) would agree.

Singapore takes another step closer to being the regional centre for arbitration and mediation resolution work

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Last Monday, 5 January 2015 marked the start of the legal year in Singapore and with it the opening of its latest court – the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC).

With an initial make-up of 11 current and former judges, hailing from a combination of seven common and civil law jurisdictions (Australia, Austria, France, Hong Kong, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States), the SICC aims to become the World court for international commercial disputes and is the latest development in an ongoing concerted effort by the Singaporean government to make this island state the centre for arbitration and mediation in the region that first began way back in July 1991 with the establishment of the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) and has, more recently, included the opening of the Singapore International Arbitration Academy in 2012 to help develop practitioners´ arbitration knowledge and skills and the Singapore International Mediation Court (SIMC) in March 2014.

As the epicentre of international trade increasingly moves from the more court litigious West to a more negotiated dispute resolution culture in the East, there is little doubt that this strong initiative by Singapore will pay dividends in the near term. Indeed, with already near to US$2 billion in annual revenue for Singapore-based legal services practitioners, it could be said that it already is.

While it can also undoubtedly be said that Singapore’s aggressive marketing of itself as a centre for mediation and arbitration work – which includes a very generous tax treatment on revenues generated locally for this type of work – is aimed at the slightly older, and previously more successful, Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre (HKIAC), it’s hard to see how these developments cannot have anything but a negtative impact on the ambitions of the Federal and NSW State governments to promote the Australian Centre for International Arbitration (ACIA) as the regional centre for arbitration and mediation resolution work. Indeed it will be interesting to see what, if any, response the Federal government, NSW government and ACIA have to these latest regional developments.

In the meantime, Singapore’s proximity to India, its long tradition of being a proponent of the rule of law, as well as the ongoing preparations for ASEAN integration later this year are all likely going to go a long way to helping ensure that the SICC achieve its ambition of becoming “Asia’s First Choice” for commercial dispute settlements.

 

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

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Yesterday I read an article on the lawyersweekly.com.au 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

Does my law firm need an Asian strategy?

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I go to a lot of meetings at which the state of the Asian* legal market is discussed during the course of a year. At a lot of these meetings, it is taken as a given that the relevant/respective law firm “needs” to either be in Asia, have an Asian strategy, or both. But, as is the case with a lot of prospect mining in this industry, short consideration seems to be given to the pitfalls of getting involved, and the most important strategic question of the lot:

Why?

as in:

Why do we (as a firm) even want to be involved in the cutthroat market of Asia?

is all but glossed over.

Keep in mind that most law firms won’t make money in their first few years of involvement in the region (and I should know, I have first-hand experience helping with the success of a start-up law firm that later became part of Clifford Chance). Indeed, some firms have been active in Asia for over a decade and still haven’t made any real money (and now exist on the principal that they have “a lot invested in the region”). And with a number of firms saying they want to grow revenue by 30 or so per cent year-on-year, if you do decide to get involved in the region then your firm’s commitment can easily and quickly translate into millions of dollars.

With all of this in mind then, it is important that your strategic reasons for being involved are more than simply a partner’s desire to live somewhere a little more exotic than cold, windy [insert name of city] or because you heard on your train ride to work this morning that XYZ company may give you a job in Rangoon at some unspecified time in the future.

More specific questions your firm needs to be asking include:

  • does the firm have short-term, medium-term and long-term strategic goals in place that will help measure whether your foray into the market has been a success?
  • has the firm identified which of your existing client base is active in the region?
  • do any of your firm’s clients have strategic growth plans for the Asian market?
  • are your firm’s potential clients in the region growth prospects, or are they mature players whose account you need to keep?
  • is your firm pursuing an aggressive acquisition policy or more conservative rear-guard protectionist policy?
  • how are looking to grow in Asia – lateral hires in the markets we want to be in (preferred method for South East Asia)? Or are we relocating partners from elsewhere into the jurisdiction (favoured method in Korea for example)?
  • what performance related metrics has the firm put in place to encourage its partners to be actively involved in the strategy (for example, is there cross-referral profit points?)?
  • what local issues will the firm need to include? – For example, how many law firms send lawyers to Asia without sending them on a cultural awareness or language program (in the same way as government departments do)? Why is that I wonder?
  • what are your competition currently doing/likely to do in the near future in the region? Importantly, do they have a chequebook that is likely to cause me considerable pain?

These are just some of the issues your firm should be thinking through if it wants to get involved in the potentially lucrative Asian market.

And the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?

  • The Asia-Pacific legal services market had total revenues of $80.4bn in 2013
  • The Asia-Pacific legal services market enjoyed compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.9% between 2009 and 2013
  • The Asia-Pacific legal services market is forecast to enjoy an compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7% for the five-year period 2013 – 2018
  • The monetary value of the Asia-Pacific legal services market is forecast to be $112.9bn by the end of 2018

Unsurprisingly then, you won’t be alone. There were approximately half a million active lawyers in the Asia-Pacific legal services market 2013.

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* It is critical, when looking at your “Asian” strategy, that you think of the whole of Asia – Indonesia; Korea; Myanmar; Malaysia; Philippines; Singapore; Thailand; Taiwan; Vietnam; as well as China. In other words, Asia is more than just China. If China is your market strategy, that’s fine but don’t call it an “Asian” strategy, call it a “China” strategy. Likewise, if ASEAN is your target market, call it an ASEAN strategy, not Asian.

What are Asia regional in-house lawyers looking for from their outside counsel?

 

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The end of November saw Legal Week (legalweek.com) putting on the second of its Asia regional ‘Corporate Counsel Forum’ events in the Gallery Room of Singapore’s Grand Hyatt hotel.  Judging by the impressive collection of 220 regional in-house lawyers who attended, this event is likely now a firm fixture in the diaries of many in the industry. And rightly so. Events of this calibre are few and far between and should not only be welcomed, but encouraged.

Legal Week’s Elizabeth Broomhall wrote up a very succinct account of what took place at the Forum in a post on the Legal Week website on 5 December [2014].

In summarising the day’s events, and following subsequent discussions with Lucy Siebert, international counsel at Australia’s Telstra, and Julia Shtepa, managing director of legal for South Asia at Accenture, Elizabeth’s article highlights the following 5 issues (among more) as issues in-house team in the region have identified as being important to them when selecting outside counsel.

1.  Local or International?

It would appear that in-house counsel in Asia are not immune to a discussion that is taking place on a more global level; namely:- should we be hiring local or international law firms?

On the one hand, there are many benefits to hiring an international law firm to act on your matters. On the other, particularly in the mixed legal landscape of Asia (where common and civil law sit side-by-side), there really is no substitute for – as Siebert calls it – “on the ground knowledge”.

I would wholeheartedly agree that there are complex issues in play here, as it is indisputable that there are very clever lawyers working with leading country and regional law firms. That’s why I was particularly drawn to Shtepa’s comment that:

“Sometimes Accenture will engage an international firm to play a ‘deal coaching’ role, she said. “Depending on the regulatory environment and the language constraints, it may be that the deal is led by an international firm and supported by a local firm”.”

If you can afford it, then this seems to me to be a very clever approach to take.

Alternatively, a case could be made that in-house counsel in Asia, as is the case in other parts of the world, look to instruct the lawyer and not the law firm.

2.  Panel or no panel?

Client legal panel arrangements are the bane of many a private practice lawyer and their marketing team. Many an hour is spent responding to these and Australia, the home of Telstra, has undoubtedly played a major role in the development of this arrangement. Indeed, many of the ASX 200 have both Australia and Asia legal panels in place. So I was surprised to see Broomhall write that:

“many regional counsel believe these [panels] remain difficult in Asia given the limited capacity foreign law firms have compared with in their home markets, the different practice restrictions on foreign law firms across jurisdictions, the high turnover of partners in the region and the fluidity of the markets.”

While each of these is valid in their own right, none are unique to the region – and certainly would not seem to me to be an impediment to implementing a panel arrangement if the desire was there to do so. No, I would contend that there are two additional factors that mean panel arrangements are not, yet, as prevalent in Asia, which are: (1) relationships still trump all when assigning work; and (2) the rise of procurement is still to come.

That said, as Broomhall herself says: “An increasing number of companies, including Chinese state-owned organisations, have been moving in this direction in a bid to control costs” – and given the number of tender writing jobs that require local/regional language skills (notably Mandarin) that I have seen advertised in the last 3 months, my guess is that this [implementing panel arrangements] will be one of the major growth areas in 2015. Indeed, I will be interested to see what the position on this issue is at the Forum in 2015!

3. Where are all the Alternative Fee Arrangements (AFAs)?

Throughout my time in Asia, law firms have had to be very conscious of their cost-base as clients have always been value drivers. And with annual ROI profit margins of around 20% (which translates to probably the lowest ROI returns in the industry globally), many would say rightly so.

Leaving this aside however, I found myself in total agreement with the comment that when it comes to innovative fee arrangements, Asia lags behind the West.

Actually, with my interest having been spiked in this issue I went online to try and see how many firms had ‘on the ground’ regional Pricing Directors (a role that has seen phenomenal growth in both Europe and America, and less so here in Australia) and I couldn’t find one law firm that had an on the ground head of pricing present in the region.

All of which screams: law firms who can create opportunities to genuinely discuss the value exchange and AFAs with their clients have a massive opportunity to differentiate themselves in what is currently an extremely tight market.

4.  Secondments and other value adds

It was interesting to note that both Siebert and Shtepa agreed that “secondments are also an opportunity to add value”.

In my experience, the staffing structure of law firms in Asia – which need to necessarily be tight because of the control on costs – has, historically, not leant itself to law firms offering secondments to corporate clients (historically, as part of a global offering, financial institutions have tended to fair better here).

Clearly, going forward, one of two things will happen: either law firms will need to revisit this discussion, or New Law providers –such as Lawyers on Demand and Riverview Law – are going to find a very nice gap in the market – indeed, many may argue that Advent is already taking advantage of this exact situation.

And law firms who doubt this should note Siebert and Shtepa’s comment that:

“secondments help lawyers in private practice gain a better understanding of their businesses. Indeed, they believe this is the key overall message to get out to firms: get to know our business; understand our drivers.”

and one of the best ways to do that – a secondment.

5.  A more diverse profession

I wanted to finish this post on what I consider to be an important note of hope from Siebert’s comment that:

“We [Telstra] specifically look to see that they’re ensuring the best possible talent pool for us – not just white Anglo-Saxon males. We’ve got a very strong diversity policy and so we expect that to be something that is also important to our panel firms.”

If you haven’t already read Elizabeth’s article, I would like to strongly recommend that you wander on over there now…