Quo vadis jubei thos



Keywords: quo vadis jubei thos
Description: How relevant are NewLaw firms in Asia

It’s timely to ask how relevant the NewLaw business model is in Asia. To date the emergence and proliferation of NewLaw firms have been largely confined to developed economies. Will the trend come to Asia? Or is the better question when will the NewLaw trend come to Asia?

When I arrived in Asia a decade ago I was struck by how different the legal market was here to the UK one to which I was accustomed. The bodies regulating law firms in the regions jurisdictions were protectionist rather than progressive, business development was more personal than institutional, the law firm human resource function was reactive rather than proactive, and the way clients instructed and interacted with their law firms was very different (more of that in a future post).

I can’t say that I have seen much significant movement in the attitude of the region’s law societies and bar councils or in the attitude of government to intervention in the law profession’s world – other than some developments in Singapore.

Guanxi still plays a significant role in influencing where work goes and therefore in business development activities. And the laws of the region relating to discrimination hardly force businesses not driven by some global imperative to adopt policies to make the workplace fairer.

Maybe then the absence of a catalyst for change in these areas means that the revolution won’t visit Asia?

Not so! Both AdventBalance and Axiom Law – excellent examples of NewLaw firms – have opened offices in Hong Kong and Singapore in recent years. Are these offices portents? Or one-off experiments?

Unfortunately for thos e content with the ways of the past, I believe the catalyst for NewLaw has not been progressive regulation, nor more sophisticated marketing approaches, nor a suite of HR laws aimed at establishing equal opportunities for all. Sure, all these factors have helped make New Law easier to establish, but the real driver has been increasing corporates’ governance needs, clients’ search for value and the globalisation of those clients. The search for value was obviously accelerated by the global financial crisis, but for Asia so was globalisation as far as it affected law firms.

A decade ago Asia general counsel of multi-nationals were left relatively free to manage outside law firms and their budgets. New governance regulations with worldwide application such as the US FCPA and the UK Bribery Act meant GCs needed to coordinate their compliance on a global basis. And the GFC meant that the in-house legal function had to use its purchasing power to the maximum and that meant way more single sourcing across the globe. The result is a much increased coordination of the use of outside counsel. The stock of the multi-national GC had in any event been rising steadily prior to 2008 – but the financial crisis and more regulation made that rise dramatic; I cannot see it reversing.

With GCs looking for best value across the world any BigLaw firm which thinks they’re immune from NewLaw should wake up and smell the coffee. That coffee is being brewed here in Asia.






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