Forum
Saravana Kumar, Kevin Bowers, Luo Ling Ling

The pandemic has so far had a broadly negative impact on businesses across the region, but surprisingly, the period has also seen a number of law firms open in various Asian markets.  Their founders say they are using this period of upheaval as a time to start afresh, establishing new operations with energy and a determination to do things differently.

Forum

SARAVANA KUMAR, partner,
Rosli Dahlan Saravana Partnership, Malaysia

On Feb. 20, five of us set up our law firm, Rosli Dahlan Saravana Partnership (RDS). We had hardly completed two weeks of practice when my partner, Rosli Dahlan, was tested positive for COVID-19. He went on to become the famous Patient #33 — even the country’s Prime Minister spoke of his admiration for Rosli who after his recovery, took the role of helping other victims. I was tested positive on Mar. 4, and became Patient #53, and within days, about 15 of us tested positive and were hospitalised. Our office was closed, and everyone was placed in quarantine in early March. Of course, we had our moments of despair and uncertainty, but we resumed practice on May 4 with unwavering confidence in the Malaysian economy — and that people are resilient and will bounce back quickly. We did not take any austerity measures, like reducing our staff salary or workforce, and we remain today the highest-paying law firm in Malaysia with an on-going recruitment campaign. Recovering from COVID-19 reenergised us, and we built a successful firm which focuses on customised quality legal services. We are proud that we stayed positive despite some rival law firms posting viral emails almost daily naming and shaming our partners and our firm, attempting to make us look like the proverbial leper to be shunned and cast away. For us, the COVID-19 pandemic affected all Malaysians, not just a segment of society. Rather than pointing fingers or finding faults, we are resolute to over-come the challenges together. We took an active role during the consultation processes led by the government and proposed policies and initiatives to address the economic challenges that have arisen as a result of Malaysia’s Movement Control Order. Our experience and determination enable us as firm to be empathetic with our clients whilst we work to resolve their legal concerns both with business partners and in court.

KEVIN BOWERS, partner,
bowers.law, Hong Kong

bowers.law opened its doors for the first time on Apr. 1, slap bang in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most other lawyers (and almost everyone else I know) thought I was crazy to be starting a brand new business and implementing a new law firm business model whilst the majority of other Hong Kong businesses and most other Hong Kong law firms were shuttered with employees mostly working from home full-time or in rotation. I initially thought that the doomsday predictors were spot on as my personal experience of getting the mechanics and logistics of opening a new law firm done on my own during this period was so much harder than would usually have been the case. I was a bit downcast. However, then came the upsides:

  • the firm’s office rent (in a prime location opposite the High Court) is about 40 percent less than what it was just six to nine months ago, which together with an initial rent-free period is great for any start-up business;
  • my core practice areas of commercial dispute resolution (shareholder, employment, insur-ance and property disputes), fraud and crisis management are well-suited to the prevailing, very challenging, business environment which inevitably provokes discord and disagreements between business partners and in all aspects of business life;
  • the firm’s business model of charging only fixed, capped and retainer fees across the board is attractive to both corporate and individual clients alike as it provides them with value, certainty and a degree of shared risk - which in such tough times is an attractive proposition, especially when the model encourages legal services to be provided as quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively as possible, which is what any client wants from its lawyers; and
  • the absence of timesheets is very popular with job applicants.

The firm has encountered COVID-19 related difficulties, primarily the General Adjourned Period (GAP) in the Hong Kong Courts from Jan. 29 to May 3 and the consequential backlog, lack of face-to-face meetings, absence of international lawyers and business travellers and general business uncertainty, leading to the tightening of legal purse-strings. Overall, however, I can safely say that the positives of opening the firm during such a difficult period in Hong Kong and internationally have by far outweighed the negatives, with the bowers.law team all pulling together in the same direction and working hard to make sure that we come through the challenges as unscathed and as enthusiastic about the future as we possibly can.

LUO LING LING, managing director,
Luo Ling Ling, Singapore

I received an unusually large number of messages and new client queries after announcing on LinkedIn that I would be establishing a new firm — and I was truly overwhelmed. As of writing, the post has around 228,000 views and the number is still increasing. I had no idea how that happened. I don’t often post on LinkedIn, so I did not expect this. Why I am starting my practice? I love the law and cannot imagine myself doing anything else. In a large firm, there are too many other kinds of non-law administrative work or business development work which I rather not spend time on. In my firm, I will be able to focus on the type of work which I like. This was not possible in a large firm with billing targets, where you are expected to do any piece of work assigned to you. Why now? I was told that it is an absolute disaster to start on my own now, with COVID-19 slowing down businesses. My boss told me that it would be like “suicide.” Also, if I stayed at that firm until December 2020, I would receive bonuses for 2019. What then? Since I’ve would have served another full year, I might as well have stayed another few months to get the bonus for 2020? That was what I told myself last year, and the year before and every other year before that. I know that I am walking away from a stable income and I am forfeiting the bonus that I worked so hard for, but if I don’t do it now, then when?

 

To contact the editorial team, please email ALBEditor@thomsonreuters.com.