A recent article in Philly.com by Chris Mondics (@cmondics), details the efforts of US law firm Duane Morris to gain market share in the Asia-Pacific region.  As Mondics reports, the Philadelphia-based firm has, in recent years, opened offices in Vietnam, Myanmar, Singapore and Taiwan (and later Shanghai).  These efforts were premised upon, as Duane Morris Chair and CEO John Soroko explained to Mondics, a desire to first find Asia legal markets poised for growth, but without the intense competition attendant to Mainland China.  

The firm is now focused on doing more business in Sri Lanka and “leveraging its Singapore office for legal work on outbound Asia investment in Latin America.”  The firm maintains a Latin American presence in Mexico, a European presence in London and a Gulf Region presence in Oman.

Asian outbound investment reshaping global markets

A recent article in Forbes and a report by JP Morgan detail how Asian outbound investment is reshaping global markets.  The JP Morgan report in particular cites a 2013 United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s World Investment report, which details how “Asia’s emerging economies accounted for 22.2% of the world’s $1.39 trillion FDI outflows in 2012, a 3.3% increase from 2010.”  And that Asian economies accounted for 20% of the top 20 global investor economies.

Recent infrastructure initiatives including China’s Belt and Road initiative, a revival of its’ traditional Silk Road trade route — and Japan’s similar foreign infrastructure initiative focused on Asia, Africa, Europe and elsewhere represent some of the large investment initiatives that have been frequently cited as examples of Asia as an engine of global growth.

Novel methods will lead to more work for foreign law firms

Traditional referral methods are generating work from Asia outbound investment

Law firms operating in the prime recipient regions of Asia outbound foreign investment, including the United States, the European Union, Latin America, the Middle East, North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa  — would be wise to consider a number of novel options which can augment existing, traditional methods of new business generation – to win more work related to Asia’s outbound investment.

Duane Morris Chair and CEO John Soroko explained to Chris Mondics that firm partners in Asia “draw on colleagues in the US to represent overseas clients who want to invest in the US.”  This, Soroko told Mondics, “is the major part of the firm’s Asia business, and contributes substantially to the firm’s bottom line.”   This model of new generation is the traditional means by which law firms generate cross-border work:  referrals generated from overseas colleagues from within the same firm or from corresponding firms.  

Complement traditional referral methods of new business generation

Firms can complement traditional efforts by adding an independent initiative sitting astride the partner-client relationship-centric new business generation model.  

This effort would create:

  • A new business pipeline composed of quantitative and qualitative market research to identify at the earliest stages new potential sources of investment into a foreign locale from an Asia-Pacific source.  
  • This data would then be compared as against firm capabilities and unique approaches to each client would be made to distinguish the firm as uniquely capable of facilitating the legal and strategic requirements of the target company, fund or other potential source of new business.  
  • Target potential clients would then be engaged by the new business pipeline operation and when appropriate, local partners in Asia or in foreign jurisdictions could be brought into the mix when those potential clients evince an interest in potentially engaging the firm.  
  • This discipline would be focused on new potential clients, distinct from existing clients.  
  • It would also seek new business either remotely or in-person, on the ground by teams outside the local partners, to keep practicing attorneys focused on fee generation work.   

Novel methods place firms many steps ahead of competitors

Importantly, this discipline places any firm that might utilize it many steps ahead of competitors — who will be utilizing traditional methods where current new business is generated from already existing clients requesting assistance from a firm attorney in Asia for an introduction to a firm attorney in a foreign jurisdiction.  

For example, for every one client that might ask a firm for assistance in entering a foreign market – there might be 10, 20, 50, 100 more potential clients that are not currently represented by the firm – who would be ideal targets of this effort.  

This effort can be repeated to include numerous potential clients in numerous Asia-Pacific jurisdictions, thereby creating a new, large and active pipeline of new business for a firm above and beyond current inquiries from existing clients to local firm partners.

Novel methods required to capitalize on vast opportunities across vast regions

The flow of cross-border investment from Asia to the rest of the world is growing and altering the shape of global trade flows.  Hence, a focus on Asia is important for firms seeking to grow in international markets.  But the Asia-Pacific region is as vast as the opportunities it holds.  And the lawyer-client relationship is just one of many points of entry foreign firms might utilize to generate work from Asia for their foreign offices.  I’ve detailed here in general terms how firms can build a new business generation pipeline around Asia outbound foreign investment.  Entrepreneurial firms might consider it as a means by which to generate more revenue, more quickly, while efficiently utilizing existing firm resources if and when appropriate, to close new client engagements. 


Posted by John Grimley

John Grimley edits and publishes Asia Law Portal. An independent writer & editor, he's the author of: A Comprehensive Guide to the Asia-Pacific Legal Markets (Ark Group 2014).

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