Lau Zhong Yan is Co-Managing Partner of Tuang, Chu & Co (TCC Law). In 2021, as part of TCC Law’s expansion plans to build a full service corporate and commercial law firm, TCC’s founding partners invited Lau Zhong Yan to head the firm’s Corporate and Commercial Dispute Resolution practice. In this interview with Asia Law Portal, he explains his practice focus, the challenges and opportunities of managing the firm. Along with opportunities for clients in Malaysia, and the firms plans for the future.
You are the Co-managing Partner of TCC Law and head the firm’s Corporate and Commercial Dispute Resolution department. Tell us more about the firm and your role within it.
TCC Law was a brainchild of both Victor Tuang and Ryan Chu. It come into existance in 2020 during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Prior to the formation of TCC Law, Victor Tuang served as a legal counsel of a Nasdaq listed company in Shanghai and Ryan Chu was practicing in Messrs. Chooi & Company + Cheang & Ariff (“CCA”), a Legal 500 recognised tier-1 dispute resolution law firm.
In 2021, as part of TCC Law’s expansion plans to build a full service corporate and commercial law firm, TCC’s founding partners invited me to head the firm’s Corporate and Commercial Dispute Resolution practice. Admittedly, I was hesitant at first as I was recently make a partner at CCA. However, I choose to take up this challenge as our objectives and vision were perfectly align. Since then, we have recruited promising lawyers from top tiered law firms to join us as partners.
As of today, our firm has a dedicated corporate and M&A team headed by Victor Tuang, a construction and international arbitration team headed by Leong Chee Weng, an insurance and professional negligence dispute resolution team headed by Eng Kar Wei and a corporate and commercial dispute resolution team headed by me.
As a relatively young brand, all partners are expected to be hands on and to engage in outreach, submission of rankers, attending relevant networking events and sharing legal knowledge through articles and/or webinars. Internally, I also take charge of the human resource management in TCC Law. I view our people as invaluable assets of the firm and believe a key element to the success of a law firm is its people and structure, such as (i) having the right selection and recruitment processes; (ii) employer’s branding; (iii) a healthy and competitive work culture; and (iv) the management and appraisal of employees’ performance.
I am particularly passionate about building a healthy and competitive work culture, to rewrite the narrative that a high performing workplace requires talented young professionals to endure constant unreasonable treatment and working hours.
What led you to this career and this legal specialism?
After high school, I did an internship with a close family friend, who is in Ipoh and had the opportunity to be involved in the legal work relating to the Perak constitutional crisis. That was the moment that I discovered a keen interest in public law.
However, starting a career in large law firms in KL, company law is the main practice focus and as a junior, I had very little options. I was fortunate to join the then Messrs. Cheang & Ariff, a firm widely regarded as a top corporate and commercial dispute resolution law firm in Malaysia. The most complex corporate and commercial disputes are daily occurrences. That led me to apply for a master’s degree in Corporate & Commercial law in the UK under the Chevening scholarship. It helps me build a specialism towards the subject of my growing interest. I came back and continue with Messrs. Cheang & Ariff (now CCA after a merger) until the year 2021. It is then only natural for me to continue in this area.
In my view, our work help budding entrepreneurs build successful businesses, resolve disputes and focus on continued growth. And help businesses that has reached or past its peak potential to wind down.
What are the unique challenges and opportunities businesses face in Malaysia?
Business confidence in Malaysia remains high post-Covid and the recent change of government. The rising costs of labour, supply chain disruptions, cashflow problems and other uncertainties. In the political and macro-economic landscape remain the key problems faced by Malaysian businesses. In my particular area of work, which involved shareholders disputes, winding up proceedings and corporate restructuring mechanisms. It often arise out of unrealized profit projections caused primarily by COVID-related disruptions. Cash flow issues often strain the otherwise good working relationship between business affiliates. The COVID Act in Malaysia also left a lot to be desired, which provoked, instead of discourage, unnecessary disputes.
As Co-Managing Partner, what are the most important innovations law firms can undertake?
In terms of our daily dispute work, the Malaysian courts have efficiently adopted integrated software to digitalize cause paper filling and case management. Since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, the Malaysian courts have also been swift in adopting Zoom based hearing and trials to replace physical court rooms. These innovative measures are brilliant. It’s efficient and time & cost saving. Law firms will then have to upgrade in-house infrastructure to participate effectively, which is not difficult at all.
In terms of the law firm’s operating model, I believe in a more equitable profit allocation system amongst partners. It gives a fairer opportunity and/or profit distribution to young, hardworking and talented lawyers. We want to give access to career growth opportunities to deserving lawyers based on merits and credentials, but not age and seniority. And we believe that our innovation in a more equitable, merit-based profit allocation system has allowed our firm to grow organically from 2 partners to 7 partners over the span of 2 years. We want to expand further based on this model.
In terms of the broader dispute resolution landscape, Litigation Funding needs to be allowed to give financially inferior litigant access to quality legal representation and a fair fighting chance. Litigation Funding is allowed in major established jurisdictions, there’s no reason why Malaysia cannot do the same.
What are your goals for the future of TCC Law?
To grow into a multidisciplinary regional law firm through strategic alliances.