I had the good fortune to be invited to present on the Law Society’s globalisation initiatives at the SMU Law Firm Management Symposium on 29 August during the session Grasping Economic Opportunities within ASEAN. Leading economist Song Seng Wun from CIMB kicked off the session TED talk-style, painting a fascinating overview of the current economic outlook of ASEAN economies, which presented plentiful opportunities for law firms to avail themselves of. The market for professional services has been growing rapidly while the market for manufacturing has shrunk. A panel discussion moderated by Chew Seng Kok from Zico Holdings then ensued. I benefited greatly from the sharing by my fellow panellists – Dr Irfan Mujahid from the ASEAN Secretariat, Chia Kim Huat, regional head of corporate and transactional practice of Rajah & Tann as well as Martin Desautels, managing partner of DFDL.
The Law Society’s globalisation initiatives come primarily under the umbrella scheme branded as “Lawyers Go Global” (LG2) and its genesis dates back to the report of the Committee of Future Economy (CFE) Working Group on Legal and Accounting Services which, among other things, urged law firms and accounting firms to regionalise. We work closely with the Ministry of Law to provide assistance to our members’ globalisation efforts under three main limbs – mission trips, training as well as branding and marketing.
Focusing on fast growing regional economies, our target is to bring members on at least eight mission trips over a three-year period to provide members with opportunities to network with overseas lawyers and businesses. Funding from Enterprise Singapore under its Local Enterprise and Association Development (LEAD) programme helps defray some of the costs of the trips, such as publicity, ground transport and networking events. Certainly there is also double tax deduction (DTD) benefits for members. To-date, we have brought members on six LG2 mission trips to China, Australia, Sri Lanka, Japan and Indonesia and the size of each mission ranges from 17 to 31 participants. Mid-sized firm representatives accounted for 47 per cent of such participants, with another 36 per cent from big firms and 17 per cent from small firms.
We have held training for members before each mission trip covering topics relating to the following topics:
- market familiarisation;
- economic opportunities;
- networking skills; and
- individual branding.
We are also exploring the possibility of collaborating with law undergraduates to produce information sheets for our members on the comparative laws of jurisdictions where we have gone for missions or have plans to do so.
An extensive exercise was completed recently to brand the “Singapore Lawyer”, including identifying the competitive advantages a typical Singapore lawyer possesses. A survey with companies in five countries – China, India, Indonesia, Russia and Vietnam – found that Singapore lawyers are perceived to be honest, professional, hardworking, client-centric and efficient. The general consensus is that Singapore lawyers are well-versed in international laws and possess the requisite language ability and experience with cross-border transactions. Most of the work carried out by Singapore lawyers for these foreign companies are for contract drafting rather than project financing. In selecting lawyers, these foreign companies relied most frequently on recommendations by colleagues or friends. Based on such survey findings, we produced brochures and collaterals as part of the “Singapore Lawyer” branding exercise which members can use for their marketing efforts.
Given the value placed on interpersonal connections, we discern the value of bringing our members on mission trips where each itinerary is jam-packed with face-to-face meetings to maximise the benefits our members can gain in exchange for sacrificing their precious time away from billable work. Leveraging on our warm relationships with many foreign bar associations and often working with seasoned consultants like Singapore Business Federation, we are able to arrange meetings with overseas lawyers and businesses that would not have otherwise been possible. Our mission participants can acquire on-the-ground market insights from the local practitioners and establish relationships with potential clients, thus availing themselves of the opportunity to expand their practice overseas. Knowledge of the foreign culture and familiarity with the foreign legal system will also place members in good stead to pitch for work from foreign clients based in Singapore. Of course on every trip, there will be some rest and relax time for members themselves to bond over scrumptious local cuisine.