Reed Smith formed an alliance with Singapore’s Resource Law in 2016 to strengthen its local expertise and client offering of a one-stop-shop service, and to help it stand out amid a highly competitive environment for both international and local firms in Singapore. The alliance has also allowed the firm to contribute to the expansion of Singapore as a regional and international center for legal services via work on multi­jurisdictional transactions, disputes and cross-border work involving Singapore law.

In this joint Q&A interview with Asia Law Portal, Barry Stimpson (Managing Partner, Reed Smith) and Mohan Subbaraman (Managing Partner, Resource Law) explain the strategy behind Reed Smith’s Formal Law Alliance (FLA) with Resource Law; and how it has helped position the firm for future growth in the Asia-Pacific region.

How would you describe the 2016 Reed Smith alliance with Resource Law?

The Reed Smith and Resource Law Formal Law Alliance (FLA) is a strategic partnership established in June 2016 which significantly expanded our ability to provide our clients with advice on Singapore Law and to represent our clients in Singapore courts through the FLA.  The main driving force behind the FLA was to strengthen our offerings to global clients in handling multi­jurisdictional transactions, disputes and cross-border work, particularly where there were elements of Singapore law involved.  While international law firms are able to practice in Singapore, they are limited in the advice that their lawyers can provide on Singapore law matters and international lawyers cannot usually appear in the Singapore courts. With the FLA,  the Reed Smith Resource Law Alliance is now able to assist clients seamlessly with multi-jurisdictional matters, and can offer full Singapore law expertise to clients, including Reed Smith’s stellar shipping and commodities clientele.

Two years on, this close collaboration with Resource Law has allowed us to contribute to the expansion of Singapore as a regional and international centre for legal services, as well as affirming our commitment to the market and the needs of our clients. We are also proud to be able to sell Singapore to global clients as a leading regional and international dispute resolution centre.

What are your respective roles in Reed Smith and Resource Law and how do you work together to make the Reed Smith/Resource Law alliance work?

Our roles are essentially the same in that we manage the respective, separate law firms in the FLA, namely Reed Smith Pte Ltd and Resource Law LLC, and we work closely with each other on the management of the FLA.  We also work very closely together on a number of cases as we are both specialists in shipping, commodities, international trade and arbitration.  All our lawyers, from both Reed Smith and Resource Law, work closely and seamlessly across cases in our core sectors and practice areas, which in Singapore are energy and natural resources, shipping, financial industry, life sciences and telecommunications and media.  Our openness and commitment to collaboration, partnership and cross-selling the FLA to our clients are the key factors that have strengthened our practice so significantly.

Much has been written about the challenges facing international law firm marketing alliances.  What makes the Reed Smith/Resource Law alliance unique and how do you see this alliance positioning the firm for growth in what are highly competitive Asia-Pacific regional and Singaporean local legal markets?

The alliance is unique because the lawyers in its constituent firms are recognised leaders and specialists in the same areas of law and so the FLA gives us the ability to service different legal requirements for the same clients.  It is also unique in that it is genuinely a full service offering which includes advisory, transactional, corporate, regulatory and dispute resolution expertise in a number of Singapore’s core industries and practices including energy and natural resources, shipping, financial industries, life sciences and telecommunications. As Singapore consolidates its position as one of the world’s leading international dispute resolution, commodity trading, maritime and financial centres, the enhanced offering via the FLA will become even more important as we aim to support and grow these practice areas.

The Reed Smith Resource Law Alliance also aims to boost our practice in other growth areas for Singapore where Reed Smith is already a market leading firm globally such as life sciences, pharmaceuticals, regulatory work and data protection. 

The Reed Smith/Resource Law operations and strategy mirrors Reed Smith’s global strategy, which is to focus on industry sectors.  What is the purpose of adopting a focus on industry sectors?

You’re right in thinking that Reed Smith Resource Law’s approach mirrors the firm’s global strategy of focusing on specific sectors and practice areas. We believe in working across carefully structured teams which focus on specialised areas to ensure we provide the best service for clients by responding to their specific needs. Through the FLA, we now have the bench strength and specific skill sets to provide a seamless service and to achieve the best possible results and solutions for our clients. By focusing on the key sectors/practice areas that are relevant and appropriate for the region, we are uniquely positioned to offer clients with a ‘full-service offering’ which means we are positioned and resourced to offer advisory, transactional, corporate, regulatory and dispute resolution expertise.

What is your view of the opportunities the Asia-Pacific region legal market represents now and in the future?

Transactions and finance are growth areas in the region. For example, the growth of the shipping industry in Singapore means that we see an increasing amount of finance involving Singapore law or Singapore-flagged vessels. On a more global basis, a lot of our clients are looking to either divest their shipping portfolios or invest in them. Movers of commodities and mining companies have been taking advantage of the market and investing in ships.

Prolonged poor markets are also keeping us busy as companies seek to restructure balance sheets and debt. Restructurings can be very complex, especially when there are multiple levels of financing involved. Globally, we have been very busy with this kind of work and we expect to see much more of this as the year goes along. We also expect advisory work to increase as the shipping industry finds itself in a growing regulated environment. The legal issues that the shipping industry faces today are more varied and complex, certainly more so than even five years ago. Our clients want to know about issues such as data protection, cyber-security, and sanctions. They also want to know what the positions of Singapore law or jurisdictions elsewhere are, and whether they are compliable.

The energy and natural resources sector is constantly evolving, with the composition of resources used for power generation shifting in a number of key markets. As China continues to progress its One Belt, One Road initiative, we are seeing a shift in the dynamics within markets such as thermal coal. We expect that a number of major market participants will be implementing plans to move to cleaner energy resources vigorously over the coming months, which in turn opens up new markets and trade routes for producers and traders.

This change in market dynamics results in a variety of opportunities arising within the legal sector, which we have been assisting our clients with for some years now – both in respect of projects and infrastructure, physical commodities matters, derivative products and hedging exposure, and of course disputes arising out of failed onshore and offshore projects. We only expect these issues to grow in volume over the coming months and years and we have positioned ourselves very well to assist our clients with such issues going forward.

What should clients be thinking about when considering working with the Reed Smith/Resource Law alliance going forward?

At Reed Smith and Resource Law, we are client driven and focused on working in collaboration and partnership with all of our stakeholders. The strong relationships we build with clients help us develop an innate understanding of their needs and business goals. We understand the markets in which our clients operate in and are well placed to find innovative and commercial business solutions that will help drive progress for our clients.

As a firm, we are focused on delivering quality business solutions for clients, not just legal answers. We place a strong emphasis on anticipating outcomes for the long-term; we identify issues our clients may face and offer guidance before they happen. We look at where our clients want to go and the markets they operate in keeping this front-of-mind throughout our partnership.

Posted by John Grimley

John Grimley edits and publishes Asia Law Portal. He provides content marketing and social media services to international law firms and legal services sector organizations. He's the author of: A Comprehensive Guide to the Asia-Pacific Legal Markets, and can be reached at asialawportal@gmail.com; Twitter: @johngrimley

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