China’s One Belt One Road initiative — which aims to improve infrastructure and economic development in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond — provides lawyers with an opportunity to build a lucrative client base around this and similar initiatives. Asia Law Portal has previously outlined the basics of One Belt One Road – as well as Japan’s similar regional infrastructure development initiative. Whether your firm is a global giant or a local boutique — you can build a new client base around these infrastructure initiatives.
What some law firms are already doing
At the moment, a number of the larger law firms, including Baker & McKenzie and DLA Piper, have begun producing reports on One Belt One Road and related developments around China’s comprehensive infrastructure development activities including the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the Silk Road initiative. And Herbert Smith Freehills recently worked with Baker Botts to help the Chinese Silk Road fund on a project.
Study your jurisdiction to design and implent your unique approach
Each jurisdiction will have a unique, local public and private sector ecosystem which supports infrastructure development. Study that ecoystem to determine how to uniquely design a One Belt One Road/infrastructure client development initiative.
Case in Point: Malaysia
Malaysia possesses arguably the most sophisticated public infrastructure initiative in the Asia-Pacific region. Its’ combination of public and private funding and planning has led, for example, to a joint initiative with Singapore to build a high speed rail project — which China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) — a central pillar of One Belt One Road — appears to be prepared to fund.
As Malaysia is a member of AIIB, lawyers there are in a good political position to generate more work around One Belt One Road initiatives. And since Japan has evinced a consistent interest in Malaysian infrastructure — and recently announced an increase to it’s own infrastructure initiative, Malaysia’s lawyers are well positioned to secure work around these efforts as well.
What practice areas are ideal for One Belt One Road work?
The types of work law firms are seeking to generate around these initiatives include project finance, construction related arbitration and joint ventures, among others. Firms can also develop dedicated consulting practices around advising multinational companies identify and secure prime or subcontracts. Here, legal and consulting practices can work together to increase law firm opportunities to generate more work and more fees. Below I describe how these intersecting legal and consulting practices can be jointly utilized to generate new work for your firm.
Firms can seek to generate work around the following efforts:
- Since AIIB and related Chinese infrastructure efforts will be closely intersecting with national governments and local infrastructure development communities (see, for example, page 3 in this diagram about how One Belt One Road and AIIB will interface locally with Malaysia’s infrastructure ecosystem) – interfacing with key decision-makers in some very specific ways will make your firm a gateway into your market and a key advisor on work related to this development — if your efforts are designed and implemented properly.
- Your firm can seek to learn as much as possible about this system and build relationships with those in the system. Well designed efforts will generate work from those relationships. Firms can then also take the information about this system and the legal specialisms required to help make the deals happen — and become both a key provider of services to these deals – as well as a conduit of information to the outside world about opportunities, pitfalls, and informed guidance about these systems.
- In order to draw attention from foreign infrastructure companies interested in opportunities in your market and the markets you serve — produce articles about local infrastructure updates and opportunities – then use those articles to creatively and proactively contact companies and referral sources — to facilitate discussions around how you might help them secure the work and navigate the local legal and political/regulatory ecosystem.
- Also vital will be building relationships with Chinese and Japanese law firms that advise on these new infrastructure initiatives, as well as Chinese and Japanese government officials directly involved in these infrastructure efforts.
All these efforts combined would create a 360 degree effort permitting your firm to not only be readily available for work locally coming from companies and governments, but also a key source of information for foreign companies seeking to enter or expand into your local infrastructure economy. A combination of law practice and consulting — these efforts — if properly designed and implemented — will see your firm build an entirely new and lucrative client base around One Belt One Road and similar initiatives.