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30 people to watch in the business of law in Asia in 2019

The Asia-Pacific legal markets in 2018 were characterized by trends including the exponential growth of technology deployment and innovation; the growing efforts of elite regional and local firms to adapt, innovate and compete; the potential limitations (and growth) in market access for foreign law firms; the expansion and diversification of alternative legal services firms, the expansion of the legal ecosystem surrounding China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative; the continued growth in legal startup activity; the competition for market share in Asia’s growing arbitration market; and the ongoing efforts by those who serve as consultants to the sector to best identify challenges and opportunities the region represents to law firms and legal services sector companies.  Based on these trends and the suggestions of Asia Law Portal readers, below please find the 2019 edition of 30 people to watch in the business of law in Asia:

  1. Teresa Cheng  – Secretary for Justice, Hong Kong – In a November, 2018 article, Anna Zhang reported that Hong Kong is making a big push to become the dominant Asia-Pacific locale for cross-border dispute resolution and international arbitration. “Arbitration lawyers say [Cheng’s] knowledge and expertise on the nuts and bolts of international arbitration will be an asset to Hong Kong and its efforts in building itself up as the region’s top dispute resolution destination” — amid ferocious competition from other cities seeking to become Asia’s arbitration hub, including Singapore, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur and Seoul, among others.
  2. Melissa Kaye Pang – President, Law Society of Hong Kong and Partner, Pang & Associates – As Elizabeth Beattie detailed in Asian Legal Business in November, 2018, the Hong Kong Law Society has proposed some new restrictions on foreign lawyers. Pang has explained the proposed rules “do not change the law but are merely clarifications.” Anna Zhang and John Kang detail the newly proposed rules and the objections to those rules by foreign lawyers in Law.com.
  3. Nozomu Tsunoda – Founder, LegalForce Inc. As Beaumont Enterprise detailed recently: “LegalForce Inc. was established in [2017], and is led by 31-year-old lawyer Nozomu Tsunoda, who quit a leading law firm to go into business for himself. Even with only seven employees, Tokyo-based LegalForce checks contract documents such as a confidentiality agreement between companies.”  The service is already being used by several Japanese corporations.
  4. John Kang – Business of Law Reporter, The Asian Lawyer/The American Lawyer – Based in Hong Kong, Kang covers the business of law in Asia and Australia. His coverage of the region’s legal markets is superb in its’ depth and insight.  He’s a must-read for anyone seeking up-to date and highly informed insight into the region’s legal market.
  5. Elizabeth Beattie – Asian Legal Business – Beattie joined Asian Legal Business as a reporter in the fall of 2018 and her coverage immediately became essential reading for anyone interested in the business of law in the Asia-Pacific legal markets.
  6. Lesley Hobbs – Chief Executive Officer, Cognatio Law – Hobbs founded NewLaw firm Cognatio in early 2018. A veteran of NewLaw, Hobbs is very well placed to guide Cognatio to a successful future in the increasingly competitive Asia-Pacific region NewLaw marketplace.
  7. Kareena Teh– EY Litigation, Hong Kong – As John Kang detailed in early December 2018, Teh was part of a team recruited by EY to build out the Big4 firm’s disputes capability. In 2014, Eric Chin explained the competitive threat the Big4 accounting firms pose to BigLaw in Asia.  This threat has expanded over time and the appointment of The is an example of the Big4’s drive to compete for one of the most lucrative areas of legal work in the Asia-Pacific region.
  8. Estefania Altuve – Head of Client Solutions, KorumLegal. A unique NewLaw story in the Asia-Pacific region, Korum was founded in 2015 in Hong Kong, and has quickly expanded not only in the Asia-Pacific region, but also into the EMEA region from a base in London. Most NewLaw firms have understandably focused on some of the major centers of corporate activity in Asia – Hong Kong, Singapore and Sydney.  But as Altuve has explained, the firm has remotely served clients in Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan and South Korea.  The firm is also now in initial conversations about the possibility of opening offices in Australia and New Zealand.
  9. Yolanda Chan – General Manager, Asia-Pacific, Axiom Law – Asia’s pioneer NewLaw firm named Chan General Manager for Asia-Pacific in December, 2018. “Chan brings a strong managerial and technology background to her new role, with more than 20 years of APAC experience with industry-leading brands including Fitbit, Promethean, and Microsoft”, as the firm detailed in announcing Chan’s appointment.
  10. John Chisholm – Australia-based Chisholm is among the world’s most respected consultants to the legal profession on strategy and management, having previously served as Managing Partner and Chief Executive to two leading Australian law firms. In October 2018, Chisholm was inducted into The College of Law Practice Management, “which honors and recognizes distinguished law practice management professionals” throughout the world.
  11. Mathew Chako – Partner, Spice Route Legal – Mathew helped found the firm in 2016, which has offices in Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi and Kochi and extensive affiliations across South East Asia, China, Japan, Europe and the Americas. As the firm details, it “is built on the idea that modern commerce respect neither jurisdictional boundaries nor traditional notions of compartmentalized competence”. The firm is, therefore, “cross-jurisdictional, multi-disciplinary and focused on providing effective, efficient and practical transactional, advisory and regulatory legal assistance”.
  12. Patrick Dransfield – Co-Director, In-House Community, which comprises over 20,000 in-house lawyers and compliance officers across Asia, the Middle East and Africa. A regular writer on the business of law, his writings are integral for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the legal landscape in the Asia-Pacific region.
  13. Laurent Tam Nguyen – Vietnam-based, Nguyen has more than twenty-five years’ experience leading marketing and business development operations in b2b professional services, e-business and commercial property.  His experience includes heading regional communications and marketing initiatives for leading ASEAN-region legal services organizations including ZICO Group and DFDL.  In addition, he is General Manager & Founder of Digital Mekong.
  14. Sarah Mateljan – Australia-based Co-founder of legal startup LawCPD, which provides lawyers with the means to complete their mandatory continuing professional development requirements through online learning.
  15. Robert Gilardino – Shanghai-based Partner with Horizons Advisory, which recently established the China Collaborative Group (CCG), a “multidisciplinary legal services collective…designed to provide Chinese clients with cohesive strategic solutions that facilitate cross-border investment under the Belt and Road Initiative and other global economic trade platforms.”
  16. Rika Beppu – Founding member and chair of Women in Law Japan and Partner, Squire Patton Boggs – As Vantage Asia details in an article in July, 2018: “Rika Beppu has more than 20 years’ experience advising on corporate M&A, joint ventures and commercial projects in London, Hong Kong and Tokyo, most recently with Squire Patton Boggs. But in addition to her legal expertise is her strong commitment to gender equality in her position as founding member and chair of Women in Law Japan.” “Now in its third year, we have more than 300 members and supporters who gather for events five times a year. The most exciting development this year is the launch of a mentoring programme across the legal profession in Tokyo,” As Beppu explains.
  17. Ivan Lalamentik, Jakarta-based startup lawyer and Founder of  lexar.id – a tech-enabled legal startup which focuses on simplifying legal administration processes to help clients obtain “hassle-free administrative legal documentation with certainty, cost-effective[ness] and transparency.”
  18. Dion Cusack, President, Australasian Law Practice Management Association (ALPMA) – The Melbourne-based senior law practice management professional recently became leader of one of Australia’s most important legal services sector management organizations. In recent years ALPMA has expanded its’ reach to host an annual APAC region law practice management forum in Singapore.
  19. Rohan Mahajan, Founder, LawRato.com. Founded in 2013, the New Delhi-based company provides “an interactive online platform that makes it faster and easier to find and hire the best Lawyers in any city/court in India”.
  20. Ying Mei Lum, Chief Technology Officer, MahWengKwai (MWKA), Director, MWKA Technologies – MahWengKwai & Associates’ recently “set up its own technology research and development arm based in Singapore, under MWKA Technologies Pte Ltd, a member of ACCESS (the Singapore Cryptocurrency and Blockchain Industry Association) and Singapore Fintech Association. The research and development team, specialising in mobile strategy, digital transformation and the crossroads of fintech + law is led by Ying Mei Lum” (a Big4 management alumnus who recently was MWK’s COO and continues to remain the firm’s CTO). MWKA Technologies also offers advisory and project management services to the firm’s clients “who wish to explore these technologies to maintain or increase their competitive advantage.”
  21. Kanmani Gobal, Business Development Manager, Lee Hishammuddin Allen & Gledhill (LHAG) – Kuala Lumpur-based Gobal joined elite Malaysian law firm LHAG after helping the Asian International Arbitration Centre (AIAC) complete a major re-brand from its previous identity: the Kuala Lumpur Regional Centre for Arbitration.  Gobal’s experience now spans both work to help a regional arbitration centre and a local elite firm gain competitive advantage amid unique competitive legal environments.
  22. Jonathan Wong – Founder, Law Guide Singapore – As Wong details: “LawGuide Singapore is Singapore’s fastest-growing and most-followed online legal information portal and platform in terms of social media reach and engagement…[with a] mission to give consumers easier access to basic law-related information to help them make better decisions and ultimately to help provide greater access to justice – through web, digital content, social media and Singapore’s first AI legal chatbot[emphasis added]
  23. Daniel Himpson, Head of Business Development, Asia-Pacific, Lex Mundi. In July, 2018, Shanghai-based Himpson was selected to lead strategy and business development for elite global legal alliance LexMundi in the Asia-Pacific region.
  24. David Eyerly, Communications and Business Development Director, SSEK Legal Consultants. Jakarta-based Eyerly, a long-time professional writer and editor, has helped position SSEK as one of the most well-recognized law firms in Indonesia through, among a range of efforts, the firms superb Indonesia Law Blog and social media presence.   This provides SSEK with a decided advantage in Indonesia as against existing domestic and potential foreign competitors in a market which in 2014 Hong Kong-based legal services management consultant Nick Seddon called “the most significant regional opportunity for foreign law firms”.
  25. Pixie Cigar – Chapter Co-Head, Legal Hackers Kuala Lumpur (one of Asia’s most important ecosystems of legal innovation) explains that: “My goal is to develop the legal Tech Community in Malaysia and enhance the innovation & efficiency of Law through technology.”

(26-30) The team at Lawtech.Asia  – (“Southeast Asia’s foremost Law & Technology Review”) — As Lawtech.Asia details: “The march of technological advancements is unrelenting. Yet, there is a paucity of understanding about how these developments will influence – and are influenced by – underrepresented regions such as Southeast Asia (SEA). This is where we come in. LawTech.Asia hopes to bring a unique perspective to the discourse surrounding law, technology and policy issues… LawTech.Asia is currently run by a small team of law students and law graduates based in Singapore who are interested in the intersection of law and technology. However, our mission is not exclusive to certain specialties or nationalities. Those with the right fit, talent and passion are always welcome – please contact us if you’d like to join us in growing this together!”

  1. Josh Lee (Kok Thong) – “presently serves as a Legal Policy Officer and Criminologist in the Legal Policy Division in Singapore’s Ministry of Law…”
  2. Amelia Chew – “graduated with a double degree in Law and Liberal Arts from the National University of Singapore and Yale-NUS College and joined Luminance as a Legal Product Expert…”
  3. Jennifer Lim — “graduated from the National University of Singapore, Faculty of Law in 2017. Growing up designing websites and dabbling with HTML, she sees legal technology as a perfect marriage of both her loves: technology and the law…”
  4. Wan Ding Yao – “is a rising 2L in the Singapore Management University School of Law. Having a keen interest in the technical aspects of cyber security, he presently leads the School of Information System’s Whitehat Society…”
  5. Irene Ng (Huang Ying) – “is a corporate and legal counsel at a Singaporean listed company and a PhD Candidate at the University of Vienna…”

 

Litigation Funding in Asia – Where are we now?

Last year saw a swathe of reforms and proposed reforms in Asia in relation to litigation and arbitration funding.  In January 2017, Singapore’s parliament passed the Civil Law Amendment Act and the Civil Law (Third Party Funding) Regulations 2017.  Hot on Singapore’s heels, in June 2017, Hong Kong approved the Arbitration and Mediation Legislation (Third Party Funding) Amendment Bill 2017 and supplemented the Arbitration and Mediation Ordinance.  And earlier this year, presumably in an attempt to keep pace with Singapore and Hong Kong, Malaysia announced proposed amendments to its Arbitration Act 2005 to allow third-party funding of arbitration.

In typically proactive fashion, earlier this year the Singapore Institute of Arbitrators carried out a survey of professional litigation funders operating in Singapore, including Woodsford, to ascertain how matters had developed since the change in law. The general consensus amongst funders, and Woodsford’s own experience, is that the number of funding opportunities in Asia is gradually increasing and that, whilst some arbitrations were being funded, many had failed to meet the investment criteria applied by professional litigation funders.  The most significant issue with the opportunities considered by funders to date appears to be ‘recoverability’, as funders struggle to get comfortable with the prospects of enforcement against parties with assets in jurisdictions such as mainland China, India and Indonesia.  However, as parties arbitrating in Asia become more accustomed to the availability of third-party funding and the enforcement prospects in Asian jurisdictions improve, it is likely that significantly more cases will be backed by third-party funders.

Funding in Singapore isn’t exclusively available for arbitration.  Earlier this month, Singapore lawmakers passed the Insolvency, Restructuring and Dissolution Act, which enshrines in statute a liquidator’s or judicial manager’s power to assign the proceeds of an insolvent estate’s claim to a third party.  This provision is said to have been introduced expressly to facilitate third-party funding of such claims.

This legislative change follows the Singapore Court’s decisions in Re Vanguard in 2015, in which the Court permitted funding by former shareholders in an action arising out of an insolvency, and last month in Trikomsel, in which the Court permitted the funding by a third party of investigations and potential claims in the context of a major corporate collapse which cost Singaporean retail investors hundreds of millions of dollars.

Collectively, these changes cement the availability of third party funding for insolvency claims in Singapore and, given the current momentum towards accepting funding as an integral part of the legal landscape in Singapore, it can only be a matter of time before Singapore decides to allow it in respect of all of its court litigation and arbitration.  Perhaps the next step will be to allow it in claims before Singapore’s forward-thinking International Commercial Court.

In Hong Kong, progress has unfortunately not been as impressive.  Although Hong Kong’s lawmakers first commenced the process of allowing third party funding for arbitration before Singapore, in 2013, Hong Kong has long since been left in Singapore’s wake. Although Hong Kong formally passed legislation permitting third-party funding for arbitration in June last year, over a year later the legislation has still not been formally implemented.  As matters stand, therefore, funding of arbitration in Hong Kong remains an offence with civil and even criminal penalties.

Unlike Singapore, the Hong Kong judiciary has on occasion shown itself reluctant to permit third party funding even in circumstances where a case appears to fall within one of the permitted exceptions to the prohibition outlined in the case of Seeberger v Unruh.  In the recent case of Raafat Imam v Life, the claimant sought a declaration from the Hong Kong Court that the funding arrangement he proposed to enter into did not constitute maintenance or champerty or, alternatively, that his claim fell within the access to justice exception identified by the Court in Unruh.  The Hong Kong Court of First Instance denied the application and held that the claimant’s application was effectively for a “declaration of non-criminality to fend off potential or possible criminal prosecution” and that such a declaration could only be made in exceptional circumstances.  The Court further held that such exceptional circumstances are limited to situations where the integrity of criminal proceedings already instituted is questionable or critical life or death situations, and that neither arose in Raafat’s case.

This decision is disappointing and appears to close the door on the ‘access to justice’ exception, which was the product of careful deliberation of competing public policies by Hong Kong’s highest civil Court in Unruh.  Given that there will always be the ‘possibility’ of criminal prosecution as long as champerty and maintenance remains a criminal offence in Hong Kong, and that litigants requiring funding to achieve access to justice are rarely (if ever) likely to fulfil the exceptional circumstances requirement, it is difficult, on the basis of the decision in Raafat, to see how any party will ever be able to avail itself of the ‘access to justice’ exception.  Indeed, the Raafat decision appears to undermine the decision in Unruh and render the ‘access to justice exception’ somewhat nugatory.  Is the ‘exceptional circumstances’ test really what the Court of Final Appeal intended when it devised the access to Justice exception in Unruh?  What if a litigant lacks the financial means to bring a meritorious claim?  Does he or she fall within the access to justice exception or does his or her perfectly good claim founder because he or she is not facing a questionable criminal prosecution or in a life or death situation?

Notwithstanding the position in Hong Kong, the global trend towards the erosion of the archaic doctrines of champerty and maintenance looks set to continue as other Asian jurisdictions, like Malaysia, sit up and take notice of developments in Singapore and Hong Kong, presumably conscious of the need to remain a competitive arbitral venue of choice.

Although the introduction and take-up of funding in Asia thus far has to some degree at least been a ‘slow burn’, the signs for the future are promising.  One by one, the common law jurisdictions in Asia are ridding themselves of the shackles of champerty and maintenance and beginning to appreciate the very significant benefits that third-party funding can bring, both in terms of enabling access to justice and promoting risk- and cost-efficient dispute resolution.

For more information please visit woodsfordlitigationfunding.com or follow on Twitter: @WoodsfordLF or LinkedIn

India

India Attracts Largest E-Commerce Deal

India’s potential for high growth in retail came to the forefront with the acquisition of its biggest homegrown online retail company. The high economic growth prospects were reaffirmed by the IMF. There will be a new system for monitoring of foreign investment in listed entities. The current policy for external commercial borrowings has been further liberalized.

Walmart Acquires Flipkart – Earlier this month, Walmart Inc. announced that it would pay $16 billion for an initial stake of approximately 77% in homegrown e-commerce company Flipkart. The deal valued Flipkart at about $20.8 billion. “India is one of the most attractive retail markets in the world, given its size and growth rate, and our investment is an opportunity to partner with the company that is leading the transformation of e-commerce in the market,” said Doug McMillon, Walmart’s president and chief executive officer, in a statement. This is Walmart’s biggest acquisition and the biggest e-commerce deal globally. The deal will need to be approved by India’s anti-trust regulator. The deal will redraw the retail landscape in India as Walmart takes its battle in the US with arch-rival Amazon to the world’s fastest growing major economy. It will also give a massive boost to entrepreneurship and the start-up ecosystem in India, which has struggled to provide exits.

International Monetary Fund – In a reaffirmation of India’s growth forecast made by International Monetary Fund (IMF) in last month’s World Economic Outlook, as reported by Asia Law Portal, the Regional Economic Outlook: Asia Pacific report published by same agency this month, states that in India, growth is expected to rebound to 7.4 percent, following temporary disruptions from the November 2016 currency exchange initiative and the July 2017 rollout of the new Goods and Services Tax (GST). The report further stated that growth rebounded strongly to 7.2 percent in the third quarter of FY2017/18, up from 6.1 percent in the first half of the fiscal year. India’s growth, projected at 6.7 percent in FY2017/18, should recover to 7.4 percent in FY2018/19, making India once again one of the region’s fastest-growing economies. The recovery is expected to be underpinned by a rebound from transitory shocks as well as robust private consumption. Medium-term headline CPI inflation is forecast to remain within but closer to the upper bound of the Reserve Bank of India’s inflation-targeting band (4 percent ±2 percent). Medium-term growth prospects remain positive, benefiting from key structural reforms, including the landmark national GST reform. The current account deficit in FY2017/18 is expected to widen somewhat but should remain modest, financed by robust foreign direct investment inflows.

Growth Estimates in previous quarterIndia’s economy may have expanded by 7.1-7.5% in the January-March quarter – driven by manufacturing and construction – compared with 7.2% in the third quarter. The Central Statistics Office will put out the growth estimates for the fourth quarter and for 2017-18 in the coming days. It pegged FY18 GDP growth at 6.6%, which would suggest growth of 7.1% in the last quarter. The economy expanded 7.1% in FY17. India’s industrial output expanded 4.3% in FY18, with manufacturing growing 4.5%, according to the Index of Industrial Production (IIP). The IIP is a quantity-based measure while GDP is assessed on value added, which means that manufacturing GDP growth can be higher than that measured by IIP.

Monitoring of Foreign Investment in Listed Entities – The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has recently mandated a new system for monitoring of foreign investment limit in Indian listed companies. In order to enable listed Indian companies to ensure compliance with the various foreign investment limits, RBI in consultation with Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), has decided to put in place a new system for monitoring foreign investment limits, for which the necessary infrastructure and systems for operationalizing the monitoring mechanism, shall be made available by the depositories. The same has been notified by SEBI. The RBI circular further stated that all listed Indian companies are required to provide the specified data/ information on foreign investment to the depositories. The requisite information was required to be provided before May 15, 2018. The listed Indian companies, in non-compliance with the above instructions will not be able to receive foreign investment and will be non-compliant with Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 (FEMA) and regulations made thereunder.

Changes to External Commercial Borrowings Policy – The RBI has recently liberalized the External Commercial Borrowings (ECB) policy. ECBs are commercial loans raised by eligible resident entities from recognised non-resident entities and should conform to parameters such as minimum maturity, permitted and non-permitted end-uses, maximum all-in-cost ceiling, etc. A uniform all-in-cost ceiling of 450 basis points over the benchmark rate. The benchmark rate will be 6 month USD LIBOR (or applicable benchmark for respective currency) for Track I and Track II, while it will be prevailing yield of the Government of India securities of corresponding maturity for Track III (Rupee ECBs) and RDBs. The ECB Liability to Equity Ratio for ECB raised from direct foreign equity holder under the automatic route was increased from 4:1 to 7:1. This ratio will not be applicable if total of all ECBs raised by an entity is up to USD 5 million or equivalent. The eligible borrowers’ list for the purpose of ECB has been expanded. There will be only a negative end-use list for all tracks instead of positive end-use list for Track I and negative end-use list for Track II and III.