As we approach the beginning of 2017 — Asia Law Portal continues its’ tradition begun in 2015 and followed up in 2016 — of naming 30 people to watch in the business of law in the coming year.  In retrospect — 2016 represented a year of rapid acceleration of legal entrepreneurship in the region.  Legal startups and those who help cultivate and nurture them are represented heavily in this years list — as the business of law landscape in Asia is increasingly being impacted by these entrepreneurs.  Also of profound importance to the Asia-Pacific legal services market is the enormous regional infrastructure investments being made by both China and Japan.  Some law firms in the region will be integral to facilitating this infrastructure development and will benefit a great deal as a result.  This years list also reflects that regional infrastructure phenomenon.  If you believe there’s anyone we’ve missed, please add them in the comments section.  Here’s the 2017 list:

  1. Kathy Gong, Founder & CEO of ai.Law, Beijing —  A serial entrepreneur who was also once China’s youngest International Chess Master, Gong founded ai.Law in Beijing in May 2016.  ai.Law is in the process of deploying “an army of robotic lawyers” in China which Gong hopes to take into more jurisdictions in Asia and ultimately — globally.  
  2. Yuk Lun Chan, Founder of Singapore Legal Advice, Singapore — Inspired by a need he saw in the market while a law student, Yuk Lun Chan founded Singapore Legal Advice in 2014.  The online legal platform connects individuals and small businesses to lawyers and legal information.  Singapore Legal Advice is among a small group (at present) of online legal gateways that may serve to transform the practice of law in the region by becoming the prime means by which small law firms generate new clients.
  3. Theresa Chong. Senior Partner & Head, Corporate Division. SKRINE, Kuala Lumpur — Malaysia is home to one of Asia-Pacific’s most sophisticated infrastructure procurement markets.  As Senior Partner and Head of the Corporate Practice of one of Malaysia’s elite providers of legal advisory services to clients responsible for infrastructure development in Malaysia – including financing initiatives from China’s One Belt One Road initiative, Chong will be at the forefront of helping to expand Malaysia’s infrastructure future and the legal relationships integral to its’ success.
  4. Mardi Wilson, Head of Eversheds Agile, Hong Kong — The NewLaw phenomenon continues to gain ground in the Asia-Pacific region among traditional legal services providers.  As Head of Eversheds Agile, Wilson is at the center of both helping these firms adopt the secondment lawyer service championed by Axiom and LOD – Lawyers on Demand in Asia.  Wilson is also a keen observer of the NewLaw market in Asia, of which she wrote a recent, frequently cited overview.
  5. Kirsty Dougan, Head of Asia at Axiom Law, Hong Kong — Axiom is the pioneer of international NewLaw services, operating across most of the major financial markets in the world.  As head of Axiom’s Asia practice, Dougan is instrumental to the ongoing expansion of the NewLaw business model in existing and future markets in the Asia-Pacific region.
  6. Yutaka Kitamura, Founder at EY Law Co. (Japan), Tokyo – Competition among a variety of business models and services providers for a slice of the Asia-Pacific region’s expanding legal services market increases year-on-year.  Among the most notable and successful new market entrants are the legal services arms of the Big4 accounting firms.  EY Law Co. was founded in Japan in 2013 by Kitamura — who also frequently writes commentary about local legal developments.  As Japan is perhaps the largest source of reliable high-value legal work for foreign legal services organizations in Asia, Kitamura’s leadership of EY Law Co. (Japan) will likely be predictive of prospects for more alternative legal services providers in the Japanese market.
  7. Gladys Chun, General Counsel, Lazada, Singapore — Chung serves as General Counsel for Lazada’s group of companies covering Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore and Hong Kong.   Lazada, “was recently purchased for a controlling stake by the Chinese internet giant Alibaba for US$1 billion”, as Joshua Shields detailed in ACC Docket.  “Operationally launched in March 2012, Lazada is Southeast Asia’s number one online shopping and selling destination”, as the firms website details.
  8. Julie Barber, CMO of Allens, Melbourne — Allens is one of the largest law firms in the Asia Pacific region and since 2012 — has operated in association with UK Magic Circle law firm Linklaters.  In response to the need to adapt to a changing and more competitive legal landscape Allens has, as Lawyers Weekly details, focused “on adopting a range of [Artificial Intelligence] AI and analytics technologies”.  Maintaining a professional focus on these technologies, Barber’s work of combining technology with marketing is a skill-set and focus which will be integral to helping traditional partnership-model law firms adapt in a comprehensive way to the new competitive legal services landscape.
  9. Taichiro Motoe, Chief Executive Officer at Bengo4.com, Tokyo, Japan — Bengo4.com is an online portal connecting Japanese lawyers with legal consumers.  Founded in 2005, Bengo4.com was inspired by the increased number of legal graduates in Japan coupled with the challenges legal consumers sometimes faced in seeking to secure legal counsel.  Bengo4.com is owned by Motoe’s Tokyo-based law office Authense.  As the Japan Times details, the site “boasts 8,450 members — a quarter of the entire lawyer population [in Japan] — with 1,850 paying monthly fees in the form of advertisements.  [In 2014] Bengo4.com was listed on…the Tokyo Stock Exchange, making Motoe the nation’s first practicing lawyer to run a listed company.  Bengo4.com grossed sales of ¥690 million in [2014], up from ¥291 million the year before.”  In 2016, Moto was elected to Japan’s Upper House of Parliament on the Liberal Democratic Party ticket – where he sits on the Committee of Judicial Affairs.
  10. Ursula Hogben, Co-Founder & General Counsel LegalVision, Sydney, Australia — A lawyer and entrepreneur, Hogben in 2013 founded LegalVision — one of the region’s leading new business models focused on delivery of legal services to consumers via a sophisticated online portal — which generates 20 new customer leads per day from their blog.  To date, LegalVision has provided fixed-fee legal services to over 10,000 businesses in Australia.
  11. Raymond Mah, Managing Partner, Mah Weng Kwai & Associates, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – As Managing Partner of Kuala Lumpur-based elite boutique law firm Mah Weng Kwai & Associates, Mah has presided over a year where firm was named Boutique Law Firm of the Year at the ALB Malaysia Law Awards 2016, firm Partner Lim Jo Yan was recognised by ALB in 40 under 40 for 2016, and the creation of a new Sports Law Practice headed by Richard Wee.  Mah has also been a leading writer and speaker on legal subjects related to Asia’s expanding infrastructure development including One Belt One Road.
  12. Titus Rahiri, Founder & Director, Korum Legal, Hong Kong — In 2016 Rahiri founded NewLaw firm Korum legal — which provides business clients with flexible, on-demand, quality legal solutions — including on-demand experienced lawyers, consulting services, bespoke legal solutions and LegalTech. Korum’s clients range from start-ups and SME’s to large multinationals, banks, financial institutions and law firms.  Rahiri has extensive senior corporate and commercial legal experience in private practice and in-house across a range of sectors.
  13. Nick Abrahams, Partner, Norton Rose Fulbright, Sydney, Australia —  As Norton Rose Fulbright details, Abrahams “is the national leader of [the firm’s] Communications, Media & Technology Group, [which] won the Australian Technology Law Firm of the Year Award…He is deeply involved in the Australian technology sector as a lawyer, adviser, non-executive director, former Dotcom entrepreneur and investor. He has worked on over $3 Billion of TMT-related transactions since 2012…[and] recently wrote the best-selling book Digital Disruption in Australia – A Guide for Entrepreneurs, Investors & Corporates. [He also] writes columns on Technology Law for the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age & The Financial Review newspapers.”
  14. Dr Peter MacMillan, Founder & CEO, Meisterline Analytics, Hong Kong — As MacMillan’s professional profile details: He’s “the Founder & CEO of Meisterline Analytics, developer of the Meisterline Index™, a science-based lawyer rating service that uses cognitive analysis to measure the expertise of legal specialists, and author of the book “Unlocking the Secrets of Legal Genius: Measuring Specialist Legal Expertise Through Think-Aloud Verbal Protocol Analysis…[He] began his legal career as a competition law specialist in 1992 and went on to work for major corporate law firms and government authorities in both Australia and Hong Kong. In 2006 he resigned as Head of Competition Law at an international law firm, completed a PhD in law and cognitive science, and launched the world’s first cognition-based lawyer rating service.”
  15. Akshat Singhal, Founder, Legistify, Noida, India — As Singhal explained in a September, 2016 interview with Asia Law Portal: “Legistify is an online legal facilitation platform which offers technology backed legal services to help users get sorted with their crucial legal needs. It started off nearly 2.5 years ago when I was facing some legal issues with a different idea that I was working on. That idea couldn’t take off as expected due to legal complications but gave me something which became even closer to my heart- ‘making legal accessible’.”
  16. Jarred Hardman, Founder and Managing Director Crowd & Co, Melbourne, Australia — Crowd & Co is an online gig-economy inspired marketplace connecting lawyers, law firms and businesses. As Crowd & Co details: “We are not here to disrupt the legal industry, rather we’re about enabling businesses, law firms and lawyers to connect, engage and collaborate in a new way.”  The firm recently launched Crowd Paralegal to connect law firms with paralegal talent from top law schools.
  17. Gary Seib, Baker & McKenzie, Chair, Asia-Pacific, Hong Kong — In a recent interview with the South China Morning Post, Seib, who recently assumed leadership of Baker & McKenzie in Asia, detailed how the firm would like to grow its annual revenue to US$1 billion from the current US$660 million by capturing work from China’s One Belt One Road infrastructure development activities.
  18. Anthony Wright, Principal, lexvoco, Melbourne, Australia — As Wright detailed in an interview with Asia Law Portal: “lexvoco started in Melbourne in 2015 as a solution to modern day commercial pressures faced by in-house legal teams and organisations. Being an in-house lawyer and General Counsel myself for many years, I experienced firsthand how incredibly under pressure and under-resourced legal teams are today. Whilst traditional legal firms undeniably have fantastic lawyers, they can be more expensive and many haven’t worked embedded in a non-legal business, at the front” line.   Lexvoco has since expanded across Australia and is now the first NewLaw firm in New Zealand.
  19. Babita Ambekar, Head of India & Japan Practice, Duane Morris LLP, Singapore — Ambekar works at the intersection of the facilitation of foreign investment between key Asia-Pacific markets India, Japan and Singapore.  Notably, as the firm details, Ambekar was “recognized as 2017 recommended lawyer in Corporate and M&A – Foreign Firms by The Legal 500 Asia Pacific, Babita is also described by a client as having the “ability to think ‘out of the box’ and her varied approaches towards achieving what we want as a client are valuable.  Her advice on legal perspectives comes in useful to protect our legal interests and yet achieve our commercial objectives.’ (Ron Tan, Chief Executive Officer, Victory Hill Exhibitions).”
  20. Warwick Walsh, CEO & Founder, Lawcadia, Brisbane, Australia — Founded in 2015, Lawcadia seeks to be a bridge between traditional law firms and general counsel purchasers of legal services via the provision of services including legal procurement best practices advisement.  As Walsh detailed in a March, 2016 interview with Asia Law Portal: “Lawcadia is a new way to find, engage and manage law firms that promotes accurate, transparent pricing and accountability without compromising service or quality.”  Lawcadia’s focus is toward further expansion in the Asia-Pacific legal markets and further afield.
  21. Chang Zi Qian, Co Founder & CEO, INTELLLEX, Singapore — Founded in 2015, INTELLEX, as the firm’s website details, harnesses a search engine that understands legal concepts to find cases, commentaries and statutes across jurisdictions.  This allows for organization and gathering of relevant information into a joint repository tailored to individual legal practices.
  22. Mira Stammers, Solicitor and CEO, Legally Yours and Mills Oakley Legal Startup Accelerator Mentor, Melbourne, Australia — Stammers founded Legally Yours to provide a “fairer and more transparent way to provide legal services for everyday Australians”.  Legally Yours utilizes the internet and fixed-fee pricing to reach and optimally serve clients across all areas of law by brokering services between lawyers and legal consumers.  At Mills Oakley, Stammers helps mentor legal startup entrepreneurs seeking to forge a path in the Asia-Pacific region’s legal markets.
  23. Sarah Grimmer, Secretary General, Hong Kong International Arbitration Center (HKIAC), Hong Kong — A former senior counsel at the Permanent Court of Arbitration, Grimmer was recently appointed as the Secretary General of the Hong Kong International Arbitration Center, as India’s Bar & Bench has detailed.  Established in 1985 by leading businesspeople to meet the growing need for dispute resolution in Asia, HKIAC is “one of the world’s leading dispute resolution organisations, specialising in arbitration, mediation, adjudication and domain name disputes resolution.”
  24. Conrad Karageorge, Co-Founder and Managing Director of legal analytics startup Jurimetrics, Perth, Australia — Founded in 2016, Jurimetrics is, as Karageorge detailed in interview with Asia Law Portal, “a publishing company that will bring statistical big-data analysis to the legal system. Using natural language processing and machine reading, Jurimetrics is able to collect and aggregate important commercial information from thousands of court decisions and government documents and display this information as a series of charts accessible through a user friendly database.  The key benefit of our technology is an enhanced understanding of the legal system and its participants through data-analysis, this understanding may be used to perform, legal and regulatory risk analysis highlighting the risk of lawsuits and regulatory action associated with a particular company or industry, and analysis of the outcomes of legal decisions to profile judicial and administrative decision-makers to determine the best case strategy.”
  25. Samantha Wong, Head of Operations, Blackbird Ventures, a Mills Oakley Accelerator Mentor and Founder of Sydney Legal Tech Meetup, Sydney, Australia — A former corporate lawyer with Australia’s Minter Ellison and successful startup founder.  Wong is now at the epicenter of legal services entrepreneurship as an active mentor of legal and professional services sector startup founders.
  26. Robin Doenicke, President, Zensho Agency Co., Ltd, Tokyo, Japan — Zensho Agency has served the Tokyo legal recruitment market for thirteen years with placement services intro traditional law firms as well as NewLaw-style secondments into the general counsel..  Last year Zensho underwent a fundamental transformation by adding The Agency, which offers recruiting across all other areas of industry and function with a virtual and agile recruitment team.   The firm also maintains a robust social media and thought leadership posture, with Doenicke frequenting providing unique insights into the life and work of a recruitment professional in Tokyo from an insider’s perspective.
  27. John Nerurker, Chief Executive Officer at Mills Oakley Lawyers, Melbourn, Australia –  In 2016 Mills Oakley launched the region’s first legal startup accelerator, the first example of a law firm in the Asia Pacific adapting the Accelerator concept to the legal services industry. As Nerurker has detailed, Mills Oakley’s accelerator is “an end-to-end innovation program which offers new law entrepreneurs and start-ups the funding, tools and support they need to grow their idea into a viable business”.
  28. Lai Chee Hoe, BurgieLaw.com Founder & CEO, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — BurgieLaw.com was created in 2015 firstly as a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) project by Lai Chee Hoe after seeing a repeat of problems faced by legal consumers.  BurgieLaw.com is a Legal Tech Platform which eases the search for lawyers. Clients are able streamline and select a lawyer based on the Areas of Practice, Years of Practice, Hourly rate and also other reviews.
  29. Jean Loi, Managing Partner VDB Loi, Myanmar — Jean Loi launched VDB Loi in Myanmar in 2012 amid the opening of Myanmar as a result the loosening of US and EU sanctions. Myanmar has and will continue to be the focus of substantial regional infrastructure investment and development activities. As the firm details: “While Myanmar will be integral to VDB Loi’s presence in the region, much of the company’s business will be in Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Singapore and Vietnam. The company formed after a surprise breakaway from DFDL and will emphasise tax consulting, whereas regional competitors tend to be heavy on legal expertise.”
  30. Rebekah Kang, FiscalNote, Seoul, South Korea – A serial entrepreneur working at the intersection of international trade, law and public policy, Kang founded MyCandidate in 2014 focused on aggregating data on Korean political candidate platforms.  Kang’s efforts have been detailed by Elaine Ramirez in Forbes and Jordan Crook in TechCrunch.   MyCandidate was acquired in 2015 by Washington, DC-based legal startup FiscalNote, which calculates probabilities of US state and federal legislative initiatives.  Kang is now responsible for FiscalNote’s Asian expansion efforts.  Applied to the constituent political systems of the Asia-Pacific legal markets, FiscalNote’s technology could be a powerful tool to help domestic and international companies alike predict political risk and opportunity throughout Asia-Pacific’s diverse markets.

Posted by John Grimley

John Grimley edits and publishes Asia Law Portal and is the author of A Comprehensive Guide to the Asia-Pacific Legal Markets. He specializes in providing writing, editing, research and strategy services to the corporate and professional services sectors. Between 2002 and 2008, he established and directed the European representative business development office of US AmLaw 100 law and public policy firm Patton Boggs LLP. At the inception of his career, he served as a writer to the President of the United States in the White House. A licensed American lawyer, he holds a Juris Doctor from the University of San Diego School of Law.

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