Donovan Cheah is co-founder and partner of Malaysian boutique law firm Donovan & Ho. In this interview with Asia Law Portal, he explains the challenges he faces in building and managing a law firm – while at the same time providing client-centric legal services.
A widely recognized practitioner in Malaysian employment and dispute resolution legal services, Donovan also details the vital importance a strong social media presence has played in the growth of the firm.
What is the story of the founding and growth of Donovan & Ho?
My partner Shawn and I founded Donovan & Ho in 2014. Before starting the firm, I had a diverse career path, starting in private practice at an international law firm. I then moved in-house, covering legal services for a client across South East Asia, Australia and New Zealand.
I (strangely) missed private practice and saw an opportunity to start a firm with Shawn, who was then already running his own sole proprietorship and seeking growth. With aligned values and priorities, and perfect timing, starting Donovan & Ho was an easy decision.
Our goal was to have autonomy and flexibility in our practice, and to break away from the traditional and conventional ways of running a law firm. We saw our youth as an advantage, showcasing our energy, adaptability, and innovative approach to running a firm and solving legal issues so we can add value. The firm was fortunate to be recognized by leading legal directories within three years of our establishment.
Our team has grown from the two of us to 17 today, while maintaining our focus on quality work over quantity.
Tell us more about how the firm helps clients.
The firm is dedicated to providing clear, concise, and helpful legal support.
From my days in-house, I understand how frustrating it can be to receive “legal advice” that is 100% legal but 0% advice. Many legal service providers struggle with finding a balance between the technicalities of the law and the practicality of their advice; this is something that we are always conscious of when we deliver our services.
Our commitment to our clients has always been about clarity in communication. We aim to present our views in a way that is easily intelligible, with the goal that clients can quickly understand what we are saying and know what they can or need to do. This is in our DNA, you can also see it in how we share our knowledge on social media and through articles on our website – no legal jargon; just simple, effective advice.
We also prioritize honesty in our approach, even if it means sacrificing short-term profits by guiding clients to make decisions that reduces their legal spend or minimizes the need for further legal services.
What is your personal practice focus?
Employment law and dispute resolution. I work with corporate clients to ensure their employment and labour practices comply with the law. This includes drafting employment contracts and handbooks, guiding clients through workforce reductions, dismissal of employees, and representing them in litigation such as unfair dismissal claims.
I also handle a wide range of commercial and civil disputes, both litigation and arbitration.
How important is social media to your firm’s growth strategy?
Social media isn’t important to our growth strategy; it is essential.
In the competitive Malaysian legal market, social media levels the playing field and allows us to reach a wide audience. When we first started in 2014, few Malaysian law firms used social media, but the pandemic has accelerated its adoption. We were thankfully ahead of the curve as we were by then already freely sharing legal knowledge through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Our social media presence also attracts talent, particularly among young lawyers, by showcasing our unique firm culture and benefits as a workplace.
Today, we have over 450 legal articles on our website and we continue to share them through social media. We have also diversified our content to improve readability and engagement. From condensing information into tips, using videos, and creating infographics, our social media strategy is a crucial part of our growth and success.
What are the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of managing a growing law firm?
Balancing client and employee needs while driving firm growth is my biggest challenge. I don’t always get it right, so I am always learning as I work towards this balance.
The most rewarding aspect is seeing the firm thrive. Knowing you have built something meaningful that has had a positive impact on the lives of others is fulfilling. I love seeing my team grow and advance in their careers and in their personal lives, knowing I played a small part in their development.
What are your goals for the firm for the next decade?
My goal is for us to continue to adapt and thrive in the rapidly changing legal landscape. To do this, we need to be proactive in embracing new technologies and innovations to improve our efficiency and productivity. Technology such as artificial intelligence has the potential to revolutionize the way we practice law, from streamlining repetitive tasks to providing more sophisticated analysis and insight. By adopting this technology, we are forced to re-examine the value we really provide as lawyers, upskill ourselves, and stay ahead of the competition.
Any decade long plan must also include succession planning. I want to develop the next generation of leaders for our firm. This involves identifying and mentoring high-potential employees and creating opportunities for their growth and development. I would like to cultivate a pipeline of talented and capable leaders who will be able to step up and lead our firm for long-term success and sustainability.