With the NewLaw business model gathering pace in many developed economies it’s time to ask ‘When will NewLaw firms be relevant in Asia? To date the spread of the many types of NewLaw firms has been mainly confined to north America, the UK and Australia. When will the NewLaw trend come to Asia?
Nick Seddon, a Beaton Capital partner based in Hong Kong, observes “When I arrived in Asia a decade ago I was struck by how different the legal market was here to the UK. Legal services regulators were protectionist, business development was mostly personal, and the way clients interacted with their law firms was very different.”
How much has changed in ten years? And are the NewLaw business models suited to the legal services markets of Asia?
Both AdventBalance from Australia and Axiom Law from the USA, both excellent examples of NewLaw firms, have opened offices in Hong Kong and Singapore in recent years. We suggest these offices are portents, not one-off experiments. NewLaw has arrived in Asia, taken hold, and will grow.
In-house law departments are another form of NewLaw – as explained in NewLaw New Rules, a recent book with 35 contributors from six countries. GCs and their departments are now exerting their power in Asia – and BigLaw firms are starting to feel it.
A decade ago Asia general counsel of multi-nationals were left largely free to manage outside law firms and their budgets. New governance regulations with worldwide application such as the US FCPA and the UK Bribery Act mean GCs need to coordinate their compliance on a global basis. And the GFC meant that the in-house legal function had to use its purchasing power to the maximum and that meant way more single sourcing across the globe. The result is a much increased coordination of the use of outside counsel. The stock of the multi-national GC had in any event been rising steadily prior to 2008 – but the financial crisis and more regulation made that rise dramatic; we cannot see it reversing.
In short, we have perfect conditions for NewLaw to take hold in Asia.