Singapore’s already competitive legal market has seen multiple new entrants this year, including India’s Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas and Khaitan & Co, China’s Allbright, Korea’s Bae Kim & Lee, and the U.S. firms Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and McDermott Will & Emery. While the city-state’s pandemic resilience has certainly been a draw, the firm’s see it as a hub for the fast-emerging Southeast Asian region.
HOW ARE LAW FIRMS ENTERING THE COMPETITIVE SINGAPORE MARKET ENSURING THEY STAND OUT?
IGNATIUS HWANG, partner, McDermott Will & Emery
The Singapore market is indeed very competitive. Most international law firms that set up offices in Singapore are not targeting the local Singapore market per se, but the larger regional market that they aim to service out of Singapore.
I am not sure if law firms need to pursue a strategy to differentiate from the competition, simply for sake of standing out. What’s more important is to be realistic and pragmatic in recognising what practice and sector offerings make sense for the firm in this market, as well as alignment with the firm’s particular strengths. My view is that to adopt an “all-things-to-all-men” approach does not work.
Some firms focus on niches practices, for example, start-ups and venture capital, private client, intellectual property, technology, tax, international trade, while others focus on more traditional practices where they have entrenched relationships with global clients and financial institutions, such as banking and finance, insolvency, real estate, inter-national arbitration.
In summary, while it’s important to adopt a strategy that works for the firm and the regional market, it is equally important to have the right team on the ground that can successfully execute the strategy. Having a team that has Asia experience and understands the cultural nuances of doing business in this region is absolutely critical for success.
ERIC YANG, partner and head of Southeast Asia practice, Bae, Kim & Lee
Most companies entering the Singapore market are highly likely to target ASEAN countries in the long term. Therefore, such law firms having a lot of legal experts with a deep understanding and work experience of ASEAN markets as well as Singapore are considered competitive.
However, one important criterion to judging a law firm’s capabilities would be how well the firm can represent the client’s perspective and business purpose rather than simply having a lot of legal knowledge about that specific region. BKL has successfully solved many business issues encountered by numerous corporate clients in various industries, and also established a solid network of overseas offices across Southeast Asia.
BLAKE H. WINBURNE, global E&I sector leader, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe
When we think about our strategy for any market, we start with the question of what we can build there that connects with our strongest practices globally. What are our global clients’ needs in the market and what could we build there that would make our teams globally stronger?
Consider our most recent market entries: When we opened in Houston, we brought in talent with diversified practices across traditional electric power and natural gas as well as renewables, tying into Orrick’s strength as a leading global advisor on the energy transition. Geneva was an opportunity to add strength on strength in international arbitration. In Boston, we focused on tech areas where we already had an international reputation. This emphasis on global alignment and building strength on strength is fundamental to our culture of collaboration. It also means that new talent has the benefit of global brand strength, rather than building from scratch, the firm’s client relationships and the support of colleagues in their space.
Interestingly, Singapore is an opportunity to connect all of these practices and serve as a hub for international investors focused on Southeast Asia generally. We are currently seeing incredible client demand in offshore wind and other renewable energy technologies across Europe, the U.S. and the Asia-Pacific region – and investments in the energy transition and in the modernization of infrastructure more generally will be our initial focus on Singapore. Beyond that, we focus on talent quality and cultural fit: We invest only when we can meet those two critical criteria.
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