Where are the key markets and key sectors heading, and what can law firms expect 2010 to deliver? A panel of legal industry pundits predict Tiger-Year trends and provide a guide to the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead
Lawyers often go into their shell when it comes to crystal-ball gazing, especially in emerging Asian markets where rapidly changing legal and economic landscapes make accurate predictions all the more difficult.
Nevertheless, here a panel of industry leaders has come together from jurisdictions across the Asia-Pacific to give their views on the pipeline issues and how they are likely to affect the complexity of legal markets across the region in 2010.
The result is an engaging – and opinionated – look at the world’s most exciting and diverse legal markets. Current issues include the effect of more competition law in India, what a general election will mean for lawyers in the Philippines, and the challenges facing in-house lawyers across the region, along with enforcement issues and company law changes in the Gulf and possible legal market liberalisation in a number of jurisdictions.
This year may well be a year of economic recovery for the region, but it is still guaranteed to generate its fair share of headlines. Who, for example, would bet against other international firms following the lead of Hogan & Hartson and Lovells?
Certainly, the following pages will provoke healthy discussion among peers. Regardless of the results, ALB wishes all law firms and in-house teams across Asia-Pacific success in the coming year.
People’s Republic of China
Adam Li, Jun He
- Firms that branched out into emerging areas of practice (IP, AML and labour law) already started reaping rewards towards the end of a difficult 2009
- Investment in and commitment to new areas will be the keys to success for law firms in 2010
Focus in the legal services market has shifted: traditional FDI, M&A and even venture capital businesses have significantly shrunk in volumes, size and fees. However, law firms that have prepared themselves for non-traditional businesses have reaped the opportunities. These firms include those that specialised in IP, anti-monopoly law, labour law, tax and trade. While more experience can still be transplanted into China’s legal practices, the difference between the domestic market and other markets means having different focuses. For example, while Chapter 11 for bankruptcy law could be good practice in the US, it may not be the most appealing business in China. On the other hand, China’s legal services market is diverse and ranges across many different provinces. The major challenges facing practitioners in China are institutionalisation and specialisation. While the Chinese market is one that requires a lot of investment, the vast majority of PRC firms are not organised as true partnerships and lack support for new market penetration. Law firms should capitalise on the bounceback which will be seen in market conditions in 2010 to introduce better talent and invest in new areas.
Lindsay Esler, Deacons
- GFC highlighted need for diversified practices and strong dispute resolution capabilities
- International law firms will have to differentiate to set themselves apart
2009 was a year of decidedly mixed fortunes for law firms in Hong Kong. The SARS outbreak five years earlier in 2003 resulted in the closure of smaller or niche practices by many international firms and a subsequent strategic focus on a narrow range of practice areas, at the time considered more profitable.
Now the GFC has demonstrated the benefits of maintaining a diverse practice – in particular the importance of maintaining strong litigation capabilities. Firms that were poorly diversified in terms of their client base and practice areas suffered disproportionately in the downturn to those who were prepared. Hong Kong is evolving into a market overflowing with foreign firms, where being a locally-based business with a broad-based practice has become an extraordinary status for a law firm.
In 2010 the challenge will be for US and UK-based firms to separate themselves from their competitors, in a market which is increasingly saturated with firms focusing on the same range of practice areas. Due to increased competition, fee pressures will naturally increase in those practice areas where foreign-based firms have clustered.
Maintaining morale and recruitment will likely prove more difficult in future for those who have let staff go. Law firms that had been reducing their client base for strategic or conflict reasons will find themselves more reliant upon (and therefore vulnerable to) a smaller base of clients.
NEXT: INDIA/JAPAN/KOREA PREDICTIONS
Go to page: 1 2 3 4 5