As we approach the beginning of 2018 — Asia Law Portal continues its’ tradition begun in 2015 and followed up in 2016 and 2017 — of naming 30 people to watch in the business of law in the coming year.  In retrospect — if 2017 were to be represented by one single development in the the Asia Pacific legal markets — it would be infrastructure development and the importance it now plays in the plans of some major international law firms and Big4 accounting firms.  2017 saw a deepening of institutional support for China’s vast Belt and Road infrastructure initiative, which spans the Asia-Pacific region, through Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia to Eastern and Western Europe, and which is supported by more than 60 countries and China’s newly launched Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).  

Japan, along with the Asian Development Bank, has also launched its’ own similar infrastructure initiative, which was recently joined by the United States.  So now the world’s three largest economies have their eyes set on Asia-Pacific region infrastructure development. It’s possible the new US-Japan infrastructure initiative may in the future be watched as closely by lawyers and legal services sector professionals —  as Belt and Road already is. Legal jurisdictions in the region, particularly Hong Kong, are already well on their way to becoming hubs to regional infrastructure development via the provision of focused, sophisticated legal services including arbitration, project finance, M&A and other specialized services.

Numerous other developments have made 2017 a very interesting year for legal services in the Asia-Pacific legal markets and are predictive of what may come in 2018 — including the adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI) within legal services organizations, efforts to modernize the provision of legal services within corporate general counsel’s offices, the rise of specialist boutique practices in small law firms as well as large, international firms, the continued expansion of the NewLaw business model into new Asia-Pacific markets, efforts to help US law firms adapt and compete in what have been for many of them very challenging times in Asia in recent years, the expansion of, and deepening collaboration by, alternative dispute resolution institutions in the APAC region, work by legal services sector companies to promote the expansion of the rule of law within the Asia-Pacific region, and much more. The legal leaders and entrepreneurs we suggest you watch in 2018 testify to the diverse nature of these developments and serve as a preview for what may come in the year ahead:

  1. Professor Teresa Cheng, Chair of the Asian Academy of International Law and Senior Counsel of DesVeoux Chambers in Hong Kong.  In an interview for The Myanmar Times during the Belt and Road Summit in Hong Kong last September, Professor Cheng explained how “legal structures in many individual member-states within ASEAN are sufficiently advanced to allow the level of international collaboration necessitated by the [Belt and Road Initiative]”.  Cheng was also the creator of the 2017 Colloquium on International Law: Common future in Asia, conducted in Hong Kong in July.
  2. Gerard Sanders, General Counsel, Asian-Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) –  As the AIIB’s website details, “Sanders advises the President and governance bodies of AIIB and is responsible for the legal aspects of the Bank’s work. Prior to joining AIIB, he was General Counsel of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, previously having worked at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, most recently as Deputy General Counsel”  Having recently joined AIIB, Sander’s work (which he explains in this interview with Cynthia Claytor, Editor of Hong Kong Lawyer) will be integral to the successful development of China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative.
  3. Seok Hui Lim, Chief Executive Officer, Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC).  As Lim’s biography details: “As the Chief Executive Officer of Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) and the Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC), Ms Lim is responsible for the overall management and operations of both Institutions. She has previously worked in Hong Kong and Singapore as a corporate, securities and M&A lawyer in private practice with international firms, and held various General Counsel roles in multinational corporations prior to joining SIAC and SIMC. She qualified as a Barrister and is also admitted as a solicitor in Singapore, Hong Kong and England & Wales.”  Lim recently opened a second SIAC office in India, as Bar and Bench detailed.
  4. Serene Wee, Chief Executive, Singapore Academy of Law (SAL)  — The Singapore Academy of Law (SAL) is an agency dedicated to the promotion and development of Singapore’s legal industry, and to make Singapore the “legal hub of Asia”.  Among SAL’s efforts is a recently announced initiative “to prepare [Singapore] legal professionals, especially those from small and medium-sized law firms, for the impending technological disruption to the sector.”
  5. Matthew Kay, Pinsent Masons Vario – Matthew Kay directs BigLaw firm Pinsent Masons NewLaw division, whose revenue has grown at a regular 30% pace, according to an article by James Booth in LegalWeek.  Writing in Asia Law Portal in October, 2017, Kay explained that: “Across the world, lawyers are starting to wake up to the fact that they don’t have to do the 9-5 and can introduce more flexibility and variety into their work life.”
  6. Hiranmai Rallabandi – Rallabandi is Associate General Counsel, India & Southeast Asia, for international commercial real estate services company Cushman & Wakefield.  She was recently selected as one of the Top 100 Powerful Women in Law in India by the World Intellectual Property Forum.  India’s real estate sector has undergone significant recent reform, making the country ripe for even more foreign investment, where careful management will be an integral element of healthy returns.
  7. Sourish Mohan Mitra – Director, Legal Affairs for global research firm Gartner, based in New Delhi.  A keen observer of India’s economy and its’ intersection with legal services, he chronicles his observations once a month here on Asia Law Portal.  Among the many topics he provides insight on is the long and winding process toward legal market liberalization in India.
  8. Peter Connor, Founder and CEO of AlternativelyLegal. Australia-based former in-house counsel Peter Connor conducts ‘Everything But The Law’TM innovation sessions for in house lawyers throughout the Asia-Pacific region.  He recently delivered the keynote speech at the InHouse Community Annual Congress in Hong Kong to over 600 attendees on the evolution of the legal profession.
  9. Claire Chaffey, Managing Editor and Head of Communications at the Law Society of New South Wales, Australia. LawAsia and the Law Society of NSW launched a new magazine called Asian Jurist in Tokyo, in September, 2017. As the Law Society explains:  “Asian Jurist is the meeting place of the common ties that bind all lawyers in spite of cultural, linguistic, social and economic differences.”
  10. Petra Stirling, Head of Legal Capability and Transformation, Gilbert + Tobin –  Stirling leads business transformation across solution design, client consulting, emerging technology, enterprise change and R&D projects, providing market leading and first-to- market services that convert business opportunities for one of Australia’s most innovative law firms.
  11. Stefanie Yuen Thio, Joint Managing Director at TSMP Law Corporation, Singapore. As Thio’s biography details: She “leads [the] TSMP M&A and corporate practice and co-manage[s] the firm. [TSMP is regarded as] one of Singapore’s handful of “go to” independent firms for cutting edge Wall Street work and [was] named SE Asia’s Boutique Law Firm of the year in 2016 by Asian Legal Business.”
  12. Jasper Kim, Kim is keen observer of the Asia-Pacific legal market and currently serves in a wide-variety of academic and business roles at the intersection of law, business and public policy, including Senior Fellow at Melbourne Law School, Lecturer in Law at Berkeley Law, former visiting scholar at Stanford University and Harvard University, Director at the Center for Global Conflict Management, Professor at the Graduate School of International Studies at Ewha University and Chief Executive of Asia-Pacific Global Research.  Kim recently outlined for Asia Law Portal his view of the potential implications for legal services should the United States withdraw from the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement (KORUS).
  13. Ng Wai King, Managing Partner, WongPartnership.  As the firm detailed in a September, 2017 media release: “WongPartnership is the first Singapore Law Firm to harness Artificial Intelligence to enhance its due diligence processes for Merger & Acquisition (M&A) transactions.”
  14. Tanya Khan, Vice President and Managing Director, Australia and Asia Pacific. Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), the world’s largest legal association dedicated exclusively to in-house counsel.  In July, 2018, Khan told LawyersWeekly: “As the value and influence of the legal department rise…GCs are taking on a more significant role in providing business and strategy guidance at the business and executive level.”
  15. Deon Wong, Senior Director, Asia Pacific at Association of Corporate Counsel.  In September of 2017, the Hong Kong Corporate Counsel Association (HKCCA) and the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) officially joined forces. HKCCA become ACC Hong Kong, and ACC welcomed approximately 800 HKCCA members to the association.  Wong leads the organizations Hong Kong efforts. Wong provided more insight on the merger between the HKCCA and ACC here on Asia Law Portal.
  16. Vikas Vij, Managing Director, IDEX Legal – The first ever Asia Law Firm Management Congress (ALFMC) took place in Mumbai, April 20, 2017.  The event was presented by ThomsonReuters and curated by IDEX Legal.  
  17. Richard Wee, Head of Sports Law Practice, MahWengKwai — Wee, along with lawyers Puan Sarah Kambali, Lesley Lim and Marlysa Abdul Razak, established the Mah Weng Kwai Sports Law Practice in 2016, as Asian Legal Business detailed at the time:  “A sports law specialist, Wee has organised the Sports Law Conference, the Sports Law Association of Malaysia’s (SLAM) annual event, since 2013. He is also a member of the Disciplinary Committee of the Football Association of Malaysia and the Australian and New Zealand Sports Law Association.”   Wee and his colleagues regularly write about sports law issues for the firm’s blog and he explained what make Sports Law unique in a recent interview with Asia Law Portal.
  18. Julia Gorham, Partner, Seyfarth Shaw.  As Asian Legal Business detailed, U.S.-headquartered Seyfarth Shaw opened its Hong Kong office earlier in 2017.  In discussing the reason for opening in Hong Kong, Gorham, who helped establish the practice, explained: “I think there are still very few of us in the market here who are long-term specialists in what we do….Seyfarth… is a specialist international employment law firm [which] will position [us] to compete with established firms in Hong Kong, and Asia.”
  19. Noemie Alintissar, Future Law Innovation Programme (FLIP) Manager, Singapore Academy of Law.  As Alintissar details:  “The Future Law Innovation Programme (FLIP) is an…industry-wide initiative aimed to get law firms (large or small), technopreneurs, investors and government bodies, together in a collaborative effort to drive Singapore’s legal industry forward. We want to nurture an innovation-driven ecosystem that will enable law firms to incubate new models of delivering legal services in the future economy.”
  20. Min Chen, Vice President & Chief Technology Officer, Asia Pacific, LexisNexis.  She recently addressed LexTech17 legal technology conference organized by CanLaw in Kuala Lumpur on the topic: AI in Legal Research, as TheMalaysianLawyer.com has detailed
  21. Veronica Rios, Executive Manager, Content AU & Rule of Law APAC, LexisNexis Asia-Pacific.  Rios is responsible for driving initiatives that assist developing and developed nations within the Asia Pacific region to strengthen the rule of law by leveraging the expertise and resources of LexisNexis. Veronica joined LexisNexis in 2007 and has a Masters Degree in Human Rights Law and Policy.
  22. Graham Anderson, lexvoco.  In early 2017, NewLaw firm lexvoco, which is based in Australia and which also operates in New Zealand, began operations in Japan.  Lexvoco is the first NewLaw secondment business to do so.  Anderson, a capital markets attorney with 20 years’ Asia-Pacific region experience — leads Lexvoco’s Japan efforts.  Anderson previously lived in Tokyo for 10 years where he worked for Japan’s largest law firm, Nishimura & Asahi, its oldest international law firm, Blakemore & Mitsuki, as head of the Corporate Counsel Asia group at Lehman Brothers, and as a Tax Associate at PwC.
  23. Edwin Seah, Head of APAC Business Development and Strategy, Lex Mundi.  Lex Mundi is among the world’s leading networks of independent law firms with coverage in more than 100 countries.  Among Seah’s responsibilities include client identification and pursuit of opportunities in the APAC region.
  24. Jo Fan Pang, Head of Marketing and Communications Strategies, CanLaw, one of Malaysia’s first legal tech startups, currently growing a lawyer-discovery platform in Malaysia.  In November, 2017, CanLaw organized the LexTech17 conference, focused on raising awareness of legal tech in Southeast Asia.
  25. Andrew Barnes, President of the Australasian Legal Practice Management Association (ALPMA), and Chief Executive Officer of Sladen Legal.  ALPMA has taken a leadership role in helping Asia-Pacific region law firms adapt to the fast changing legal marketplace and recently held its’ second annual Regional Law Firm Management Forum in Singapore.
  26. Royal Reed, Principal, Prestige Law.  Reed founded and directs this unique New Zealand-based multilingual boutique law practice specialising in cross-cultural dispute resolution, immigration and Chinese foreign investment into New Zealand.
  27. Gwen Wong, Partner, Sullivan & Cromwell.  Wong heads the Sullivan & Cromwell Beijing practice.  As she explains in an interview: “As the office lead, I make decisions—from our business strategy in the region to the technology we use in the office to negotiating the tenancy agreements or rental agreements—and one of the most rewarding responsibilities is developing our lawyers and getting them the training and support they need to be the best lawyers they can be. When you get it right, that’s what I call the ‘wow factor.’”
  28. Elaine Lo, Partner and Head of China Practice, Mayer Brown JSM.  As her biography details: Lo “focuses on foreign direct investment into China, cross-border mergers and acquisitions, structuring joint ventures, technology transfers and corporate restructuring. Elaine is involved in many industry sectors in China, particularly energy, water, utilities, telecommunications, banking, insurance, wholesaling, retailing, advertising, logistics and distribution. She has extensive experience in acting for government authorities, project sponsors, lenders and equity participants in project finance deals. She advises banks and financial institutions on M&A, asset and project finance.”  Notably, Mayer Brown JSM has published what is perhaps the most comprehensive overview of China’s Belt and Road initiative to date by any law firm in the region.  Entitled:  The Belt and Road Initiative:  Realizing the China Dream, the ebook can be viewed on the Mayer Brown JSM website here.
  29. Hi-Taek Shin, Chairman, Seoul Intl Dispute Resolution Center (SIDRC) – As John Kang detailed in July in Asian Legal Business:  “The top international arbitration venues in Asia might be Hong Kong and Singapore, but Seoul, South Korea’s capital city, has recently been making notable progress to compete with the two venues for cases. Since establishing the Seoul International Dispute Resolution Centre (SIDRC) less than five years ago, Korea has been busy making a case for pursuing arbitration in Seoul.”
  30. Paul Harrison, Partner, White & Case, Tokyo — Last year, Harrison co-authored an article entitled: Asia’s infrastructure opportunity: Both Japan and China have significantly increased their commitment to invest in Asian infrastructure, but steps must be taken in a number of other areas to unleash the region’s full potential. Given Japan’s increased commitment to Asia-Pacific infrastructure development, now alongside the United States, it will be interesting to see just how much Tokyo infrastructure legal specialists have to say about the subject.

Posted by John Grimley

John Grimley is an independent writer, editor, researcher and strategist to law firms and legal services sector companies operating in international markets. He's the author of A Comprehensive Guide to the Asia-Pacific Legal Markets (Ark Group, 2014) and edits and publishes Asia Law Portal.

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