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No FT. No comment. Derivatives and legal innovation in Asia-Pacific

Yesterday evening (June 11th) our guest blogger, Richard Firth, attended a dinner and awards ceremony in Hong Kong for the launch of the FT Asia-Pacific Innovative Lawyers 2014. Although the programme has been established in Europe for nine years and four in the US, this is the first time the Financial Times has prepared an Innovative Lawyers report in the region.

Richard delivered this post just now:

On Monday, I popped into Tuxe Top Co., Ltd[1] – the equivalent in Wanchai of Moss Bros. – to hire a DJ. With the efficiency of all businesses out here, before I had even opened my mouth, Tuxe Top had deduced that I am a lawyer – I suppose that was a compliment – and identified the function I was attending. Furthermore, they said their business for the event had been brisk, a statement which was borne out on the night.

The FT’s venue was choc-a-bloc. The Asia Society Center[2] is a stunning modern complex integrated with a group of restored Colonial buildings first erected by the British Army in the mid-19th century for storing and producing explosives.

So, what ammo was on display last night?

Setting the scene

Angela MacKay, the FT’s Managing Director in Asia introduced the evening. Firstly, in relation to the paper itself – over twenty five per cent of the FT’s subscribers in Asia are lawyers! Angela moved quickly to the substance. The particular challenges of legal practice in the world’s most dynamic economies arise due to the diverse mix of legal and political systems. And change out here is fast – Angela cited Myanmar which has moved from backpackers’ redoubt to business hub in a very short period of time.

Angela herself, incidentally, has had a career which most of us can only dream about. She started as a solicitor (so, reassuringly, she’s one of us), was a speechwriter for ministers in the Hong Kong Government, worked in television and then for a number of periodicals, including the Economist, before starting her distinguished career at the FT.

RSG Consulting

A key speaker was Reena SenGupta from RSG Consulting who first devised the idea of ranking lawyers by innovation and best practice. The objective is to identify original thinking and business practices amongst in-house lawyers and private practitioners. The methodology identifies both content (legal expertise) and form (the way business is delivered).

And the winners are…

Although there is no category for derivatives as such, they featured twice in the Innovation in Finance Law section:

  • King & Wood Mallesons (Scott Farrell) came top amongst the Asia-Pacific headquartered law firms for its work in establishing the Australian Clearing House for OTC Derivatives.
  • Amongst the internationally headquartered firms, Chong Liew and Karen Lam of Linklaters were ranked highly for their structuring advice to the Hong Stock Exchange in relation to OTC Clear’s clearing platform to create the first derivatives clearing house in Hong Kong.

Note: Linklaters Capital Markets, under the leadership of Andrew Malcolm had a stellar night winning other awards. UK law firms which also scooped prizes were Allen & Overy, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Slaughter & May.

There was no specific mention of derivatives in relation to the Most Innovative In-House Legal Team.

  • The winner in that category was the legal team from Tencent (China’s largest internet portal).
  • Westpac was particularly singled out for its high performance team.

Heard on my table…

The other guests on my table were from Asia-Pacific law firms. They noted that the indigenous firms are beginning to make life uncomfortable for the global giants headquartered in the US and the UK. The A-P firms are becoming a cost-effective alternative to Western law firms whose models do not always translate into the Asian market. King & Wood Mallesons won the accolade for the most innovative Asia Pacific headquartered law firm – a firm about which I have only heard good things from both staff and clients.

Comment for the FT

  • Last night’s “kick-off” event was a great success – superbly organized
  • Next year it would be good to have a section on Dispute Resolution where there is much innovation in Asia-Pacific. For example, the pioneering work being done by Chiann Bao at the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre or the work by Jonathan Ross, ex-senior partner of Bell Gully for P.R.I.M.E. Finance.
  • The FT’s printed report could do with much more meat. A proper case study – not just two or three lines speaking in the most general terms – on Westpac’s high performance would be most interesting and would “spread the word” on innovation. Perhaps a web link could be created for that sort of detail?
  • I was surprised that there was no specific mention amongst the in-house teams on their use of legal outsourcing.
  • It would have been good if the FT’s excellent Hong Kong correspondent, Demetri Servastopulo, could have been introduced to the audience.

“Many a splendoured thing”[3], Ricardo – but relevant to us in London?

Well, Jonathan, the short answer is that the world is becoming a smaller place.

But there are at least three other reasons why Asia-Pacific is increasingly important for “global” derivatives:

  • the seemingly inexorable economic rise of Asia-Pacific – we may be in the early years of a 150 year wealth creation cycle out here;
  • many external legal service outsourcing (LSO) providers have a presence in the region. For example, a recent report by the Outsourcing Unit at the London School of Economics noted that India and the Philippines are the top off-shore destinations for LSO services;
  • for some time now, UK and other European law firms (and those from the US) have focused on building their Asia-Pacific offices.

Finally, you may of course, decide to relish Asia-Pacific’s intoxicating mix and come and work out here yourself – are you a mandarin? In which case, the FT ASIA-PACIFIC INNOVATIVE LAWYERS 2014 report will be required reading.

[1](Maybe the most useful bit of information in this post (and without derogation to other more important matters) – if hiring dress suit trousers, get belt loops, not self-adjusting waistband, ’nuff said)

[2]Asia Society Hong Kong Center, 9 Justice Drive, Admiralty

[3]Han saying (1952)

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