Earlier this year, Janice Chew co-founded Custom Legal Solutions with a firm belief in universal access to professional services. Malaysian by nationality, she was admitted to the High Court of Hong Kong as a Solicitor as well as the High Court of Malaya as Advocate and Solicitor. She brings to Custom Legal and those Custom Legal seeks to serve — a wealth of experience in commercial litigation, including compliance of highly regulated industries, shareholder disputes, insolvency cases, employment and transactions, with considerable exposure to Southeast Asia and North Asia, including Malaysia, Hong Kong, Korea, China and Taiwan.
I recently had an opportunity to interview Janice Chew about what inspired her to found Custom Legal, the competitive landscape for alternative legal services providers, and her goals for the development of Custom Legal. Here’s that interview:
Grimley: “What inspired you to found Custom Legal?”
Chew: “It is my wish to make legal services accessible to all people. I noticed lots of rising entrepreneurs are keen to realise their dreams, but have no idea who to turn to for professional services. Business owners who are layman to the legal field find it hard to get in touch with lawyers – not to mention by specialisation – to seek advice, so I aimed Custom Legal to be the all-in-one consultancy that combines legal and business services, targeting especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SME). At present our strength lies in Southeast Asia and North Asia, including China and New Zealand, but we’re definitely looking to go global in due course.
But we don’t provide solutions alone. Our work is a two-way process in which we recommend specialists to solve clients’ knotty issues, so I aspire to open up marketing channels for professionals too. Since lawyers in traditional law firms tend to stay specialised in their practice, Custom Legal engages with them so they can leave the tedious marketing job to us while taking on assignments continuously to meet delivery requirements.
Similarly, we hope to engage unaffiliated lawyers and business experts as well. Take Malaysia as an example. There is a majority of qualified, conscientious lawyers who barely miss the chance in the heated race to enter large, prestigious law firms, not because they are unskilful, but because the firms didn’t find them suitable. These lawyers then lose exposure to the vast overseas market, which in turn denies opportunities for their further career growth. I believe there is a great number of such lawyers in Malaysia and beyond Custom Legal can tap into. As a service provider, we bring the large pool of under-fulfilled professionals to the marketplace, and match their expertise with clients from legal or business sectors. Win-win for all.”
Grimley: “Other alternative legal services sector companies are now in the market seeking to compete with traditional law firms – including Axiom Law, Pangea3 and AdventBalance, among others. What distinguishes you from these competitors?”
Chew: “Custom Legal is not a law firm, and what we offer is more than legal services. We provide integrated professional services from company incorporation, cross-border investment and partnership advice, to taxation and accounting. Basically everything about doing business, with a focus in Southeast and North Asia regardless of inbound or outbound service.
We also have an advantage of cost effectiveness. The main concern of SME is budget, and high overhead expenses charged by traditional law firms are likely to drive them away. Custom Legal then fills the gap by charging no third-party costs and letting clients liaise directly with specialists. Clients can save large amounts of time sweeping business directories to get the right contacts, just sit back to have a specialist stationing in office to carry out projects or help with whatever they need. Each assignment is on a contracted basis, but of course we would very much like to establish long-term relationships with clients if they like our team.”
Above all, we guarantee services of the best quality delivered on budget, and confidentiality is the most fundamental principle to all that we do.
Grimley: “What markets and what services is Custom Legal active in now, and where do you hope to act in the future, both regionally and internationally?”
Chew: “Our speciality now falls in Southeast and North Asia, such as Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and China. We have a client from China who commissioned us to do a large trademark project in North and Southeast Asia, and we supported a South African firm in expanding its business to Hong Kong, for instance. Years from now, we see ourselves building a global network of expertise and experience. Our larger picture is to create an e-commerce platform for all professionals: not only for lawyers, but other practice areas too. Clients can describe their job specifications on our platform and we’ll recommend a specialist with respective knowhow. I actually have plans to found another company along the lines of Custom Marketing to do precisely this. The world is now riding on the wave of digital technology and flexible contracted work, and I believe this model works most efficiently and best maximises personal potentials.”