Preparing it’s members to “meet the challenges of a globalised economy” is the aim of the the Malaysian Bar Council’s biennial law conference (IMLC), taking place this week at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, September 26 – 28, as Shaila Koshy reported in The Star Online last week.
As the event organizers stated: “We are extremely excited & look forward to the Conference with great expectations. With some 27 breakout sessions, 120 speakers & moderators out of which approximately 50 are from overseas. Several cabinet ministers, Presidents of several Asian Law Societies, the Chief Justice are among the speakers and guests. The Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mohd Najib Tun Razak, will open the Conference on Wednesday, 26th September.”
A liberalized legal market is driving a domestic desire to compete
As I wrote in July, the Malaysian Parliament [The Dewan Rakyat] passed the Legal Profession (Amendment) Bill of 2012, which will soon allow foreign lawyers to open offices and practice law in Malaysia. I quoted Andrew Godwin, who, when writing for the Law Council of Australia, cited the “General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), a treaty of the World Trade Organisation (WTO)” as the catalyst pushing Malaysia, a signatory to the treaty, to more rapidly liberalize its’ legal market.
Foreign law firms will now be permitted to operate in Malaysia
Lee Shih, Partner in Kuala Lumpur-based Skrine law firm, has outlined the conditions under which foreign law firms will be able to operate in the Malaysian market. Bar Council Lim Chee Wee, also a partner with Skrine law firm, told Shaila Koshy last week: “The IMLC is meant to create awareness, inspire our members, tell them this is out there, go and grab it before the foreign lawyers get all of it.”
Koshy also reported that IMLC 2012 organising chairman Raphael Tay, also a partner with TKT Lawyers in Kuala Lumpur, said the Bar wants to be the “gateway to Asia with China on the right and India on the left. Globalisation is happening really quick and we are ill-equipped to handle it or have not adequately applied our minds to its impact and the market liberalisation of legal services.”
How Malaysian Lawyers can win new business in a liberalized legal market
Become a gateway to the Malaysian market for overseas companies
Domestic incumbent Malaysian law firms should take advantage of their comprehensive local knowledge of what is the 3rd largest economy in South East Asia and 28th largest economy in the world, by becoming an active gateway to the market for companies globally.
Develop a blog focused on becoming a resource for overseas companies.
Statistics clearly demonstrate that law firm secure more clients as a result of blogging. Your long-term local market knowledge will serve you very well here. It will distinguish you as having a value-add for overseas companies. Significantly perhaps compared to some of your new foreign competitors.
Develop an outbound business development initiative where you bring Malaysian commercial opportunities to foreign prospective clients – which will also generate revenue for your law practice should you be retained by those prospective clients.
In particular, a focus on EU and US companies, which cumulatively account for approximately 50% of the world’s GDP.
The United States is Malaysia’s fourth-largest trading partner and Malaysia is the 22nd-largest trading partner of the United States. Annual two-way trade amounts to $40 billion. The United States is the largest foreign investor in Malaysia on a cumulative basis, and was the third-largest source of new foreign direct investment in Malaysia in 2011. American companies are particularly active in the electronics, manufacturing, and oil and gas sectors.
The EU is Malaysia’s third largest trading partner and is the second largest source of foreign direct investment into Malaysia. Malaysia is the EU’s second largest trading partner within Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), with there being currently more than 2,000 European companies present in Malaysia.
Develop close referral relationships with foreign law firms not planning to practice in Malaysia
The liberalization of the Malaysian market also provides domestic incumbent law firms and foreign law firms not planning to open an office in Malaysia with an opportunity to establish joint business development initiatives focused on assisting one another in each others markets, as I’ve written about in relation to the recent liberalization of the Korean and Singapore legal markets. This can be a cost efficient initiative for large and small firms, as well as a means to access new international markets for firms of any size.
Meet the Challenge: Forge a path to success
The liberalization of the Malaysian legal market is ushering in a new era of competition for domestic Malaysian law firms.
If effectively designed and implemented, a new business development effort focused on maximizing your position as a gateway to the Malaysian market both for overseas companies as well as overseas law firms not planning to enter the Malaysian market – will allow your law firm to turn legal market liberalization to your advantage.
Should Malaysian law firms embark now upon the initiatives I have outlined above, you’ll build a substantial – perhaps previously unimagined – new international client base.