Legal markets improve, but the shadow of Covid-19 lingers

New and more contagious Covid-19 variants continue to penetrate the world’s major economies, but overall the Asia Pacific legal market continues to grow. We have seen a good level of hiring activity in the first quarter, particularly in January.

The massive disruptions of 2020 uncovered both challenges and opportunities for all legal practitioners. It is clear that some areas of the legal practice have suffered, but a few practices continue to grow. Law firms with highly regarded employment, corporate, and environmental sustainability practices are experiencing an increase in business as a result of uncertainties stemming from the pandemic.

Our half-year review provides an overview of the key appointments in Asia Pacific:



  • Of countries in the region showing success in suppressing the Covid-19 pandemic, we see 39% growth in key appointments in 2021 compared to 2020.
  • The APAC lateral market was very active in the first quarter of 2021. January also saw the highest number of key appointments. We see a drop-off in May.


  • Both India and Australia saw twice the number of key appointments compared to 2020. India also shares Hong Kong as the third busiest in terms of high-end key appointments.
  • Australia led the hiring spree with 58 significant hires in Q1 & Q2, followed by China (49) and India (46) & Hong Kong (46).
  • India observed a decreasing tendency in key appointments since March, possibly due to a worsening situation.


  • Corporate/M&A/Capital Markets practices dominated the key hires in the first quarter of 2021.
  • Corporate/M&A/Capital Markets, Projects/Construction/Infrastructure, and Employment & Workplace practices observed significant growth compared to 2020.
  • Corporate/M&A/Capital Markets practices dominated the key hires in the first quarter of 2021.
  • Corporate/M&A/Capital Markets, Projects/Construction/Infrastructure, and Employment & Workplace practices observed significant growth compared to 2020.
  • Despite a drop in Litigation/Dispute Resolution/Arbitration/Investigations practices, hiring in those areas remains popular.


Leaders in Law: Interview with Yang Guang

It is rare for high-profile lawyers to rise to a senior non-legal position of their organization. Yang Guang is one of the few hybrid lawyer-CEOs, Vice President & General Counsel of Johnson Controls Asia Pacific, and formerly President-Asia Pacific at Westport Fuel Systems, General Counsel at TRW Automotive, and Vice President & General Counsel at Siemens Healthcare. Interestingly, he works in highly regulated industries (industrial manufacturing and healthcare/ pharmaceutical), where understanding and navigating complex regulatory landscapes are particularly valuable attributes. In this interview, Sherry talks with Yang Guang about the secrets of his success in both the legal and senior executive roles and his suggestions for lawyers seeking to break into the top legal and management brackets.

Sherry:Sherry Xu (Hughes-Castell, Director)

YG:Yang Guang (Johnson Controls, VP & General Counsel, Asia Pacific)

Yang Guang received a graduate degree from the University of International Business & Economics in China, a Juris Doctor degree from St. Thomas University School of Law, and a graduate degree from New York University School of Law. After graduating, he decided to stay in the US and commence his career as an associate in the tax team of a leading law firm in New York.

China’s World Trade Organization (WTO) accession in 2001 boosted China’s domestic economy and improved its trading environment, leading to an increased foreign investment influx. The continued prosperity created a huge surge in career opportunities which persuaded Yang Guang to return to China where he took an offer from China International Capital Corporation, which was a half-legal and half-i-banking role. From there, he began his in-house legal journey.

On China Shenhua Energy’s IPO project, Yang Guang closely worked with the research team, and the field visits ignited his interest in the industrial sector. It so happened that a Hughes-Castell Senior Consultant was searching at that time for a Group Lead Counsel for Siemens Group, with a focus on Siemens Financial Services (SFS) and Siemens Financial Leasing Limited (SFLL), and headhunted Yang Guang because of his strong financial background. This opportunity determined his destiny in industrial manufacturing, while also paving his path to success.

What does Legal do? – Contract Review and Negotiation 

Sherry: We’ve known each other for a long time, though you’ve worked for several corporations, I remember whenever we’ve talked about your career, you always shared your experience with Siemens. I remember you said you had grown significantly in your days there, and your subsequent career development was also successfully built on the foundations of your Siemens experience. Could you share more about that? 

YG: If I was to share only one career highlight, I would say it’s the High-Speed Railway (CRH) projects I participated in when I was with Siemens. Others would be the development opportunities I got outside the China region with Siemens Group, including managing the legal affairs of Siemens West Asia regions such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. And specifically, later, I was relocated to Singapore and served as the Asia-Pacific General Counsel for Siemens Medical Diagnostics sector.

I believe that if you are an in-house counsel for an industrial business, you really should go for any opportunity to participate in large-scale projects and be a project leader if possible. It will give you a lot of exposure to real business operations, and you will find satisfaction in the business negotiation processes in the meantime. A megaproject team usually consists of several groups: some members are responsible for the supply chain; some are working on technology transfer; some are in charge of delivery and transportation; some will look after inspection and acceptance; and some are accountable for payment. If you are a project manager, you will actively participate throughout the process and help coordinate staff and internal resources. When you lead a project from beginning to end, you will have a deeper understanding of production, operation, finance, logistics, and the business as a whole by the time the project is completed.

The in-house legal functions constantly struggle to prove their value to business units, as they would always think lawyers do not understand business as well as they do. And in-house legal teams, many of them feel insecure about being a business barrier that they never are able to walk tall while arguing with aggressive sales teams. In fact, it should be the other way around if you are a business-savvy lawyer. Business teams, specifically the sales team, who are the most important revenue driver for 2B businesses, are only talking about the “sales-related” part of the entire business. Only a truly legal person can understand the whole business operation. When we have a comprehensive and in-depth knowledge of the business, we can confidently tell the business team that, “we understand how the business works as a whole (not just partially) – what benefits the company, how we make money, how the business teams’ bonus is tied to the contract execution results, which is, in turn, dependent on how a contract is drafted after negotiation”.

When I joined the project negotiations, I would ask questions boldly if I had doubts about anything in the project. Thanks to these railway project experiences, I not only gained a more comprehensive and in-depth knowledge of our transportation business but also improved my negotiation skills. Additionally, I have also developed a profound knowledge of China’s landscape, China Railway High-Speed lines, and every single train component. So, if you ask me about the first spark of my career, I will say the negotiations of the China Railway High-Speed project for Siemens, for sure. The success of its negotiations is still the primary source of Siemens’ stable profits in China.

The experience I accumulated in these projects’ negotiations can be applied everywhere, and it has benefited me throughout my career. If you ask me to summarize the key value of the legal function to a corporate, I would say contract review. I have worked in different industries and roles and found that contract review is still fundamental to my legal-oriented responsibilities. The main difference for me is, a deep understanding of business operation can enhance the impacts of contract review. Let me share with you a story:

In Siemens, an information visiting program for lawyers is open for all in-house legal counsel to visit their designated country’s legal department. There was a Swiss lawyer who came to China for an information gathering visit. He was a typical type of visiting fellow who enjoyed his visiting time’s work/life balance.

At first, we didn’t think of him as a talented lawyer, judging from typical Chinese standards. However, he was the one who saved us in the negotiations with China’s Ministry of Railways and taught us a great lesson. During the negotiations, the Ministry of Railways clung to and wouldn’t let go of our standard liability exclusion clauses. China’s in-house counsels had two terms that sounded too technical and too difficult to comprehend for us. At that moment, the Swiss lawyer calmly walked toward the blackboard in the conference room, wrote the relevant equations, and showed us the formula and calculations. His calculations proved that part of the performance of the high-speed rail programme depended entirely on the parameters of the lines, tunnels, and culverts. The production of components related to these parameters was out of Siemens’ responsibility as these were not supplied by Siemens. Therefore, of course, we should not be responsible if any problem arose from that. In the subsequent negotiations with China’s Ministry of Railways, this work/life balanced lawyer had demonstrated our rationale in a most convincing way and nobody could refute it. We successfully defended our interests in the end. When we were back from the negotiations, he gave us comprehensive explanations and guidance on each technology-related part of the Siemens standard agreement, explaining the reasons behind each clause and vividly explaining the importance of understanding the company’s business/operation. It was awe-inspiring!

Taking this as a background, I would like to talk further about a company’s standard terms and conditions.

Why are the Standard Terms written in a certain way? Wouldn’t it work if it was not written like this? What should we do if someone challenges our terms? You have to ask yourself more about these in your daily work to be prepared for a day that you are being put on the negotiation table. There was a time I helped our business team to negotiate with another company’s legal department directly for a project. At first, they got the upper hand in the negotiation because of the relative business positioning. However, it was their General Counsel who cost them the advantage. Since he did not fully understand their standard T&Cs, he could not bargain with us in the most effective way. During the negotiations, their procurement team put pressure on their lawyers, and in the end, certain terms of their standard contract were abandoned by their lawyer. As a result, we finally “won” the negotiation.


Is the General Counsel of TRW Automotive an easy role?

Sherry: The position of TRW Automotive did not seem to be as prestigious as Siemens’s job. Why did you choose to leave Siemens? What precisely was the TRW General Counsel role?

YG: I had the same thoughts here; when I first looked at the General Counsel JD, I was not very interested. At that time, the headhunter told me TRW’s President was an open-minded American lady, and she was looking for someone to help her out with partnership management.

In terms of responsibilities, it was about 15% acting as a General Counsel overseeing and providing legal advice on their COEM practice, which is the main business of China’s auto parts. I was also responsible for managing the joint ventures, anti-monopoly, and FCPA issues. The remaining time was to help the President manage any business-related fields, mainly including partner management, customer quotation analysis, and critical project review.

The lessons learned from the CEO role

Sherry: Given that you had already taken many business-related roles beyond the traditional legal responsibility at TRW Automotive when you became the CEO with Westport, what did you do, and what’s the difference from the past business role?

YG: There are four core responsibilities of a CEO:

  1. Vision – The CEO is responsible for the company’s strategic direction; ensure it grows in the proper direction.
  2. Strategy – Develop business strategies and plans that align with the vision.
  3. Action Plan – Lay out the next steps your business will take to achieve goals in pursuit of that vision.
  4. Execution of that plan.

When I was in TRW, I was in the role of advisor, assisting the President in making decisions. But as a CEO, I have to make my own decisions. Can my employees thrive?  To a large extent, it depends on whether I can make the right decisions.  This is probably the most significant difference.

What experience have I acquired?  I believe all roads lead to Rome. Every CEO has his/her ways to success. I want to share more about the lessons I learned. Looking back now, the most significant experience I have gained that helps me a lot in my current legal work is “to know what your target audience wants.”

Many in the auto-parts business think that their primary customer is a vehicle manufacturer, but it is not. A driver or the person who runs a vehicle team is our actual customer. Let me give you an example, a foreign-manufactured and imported truck should be of high quality and have a yearly operation failure rate below 3%. But the price is three times of one of China’s domestically produced trucks (of course, the failure rate of domestically produced vehicles is higher than 3%). However, in China, the imported trucks are not necessarily more popular than domestically produced trucks; why? Do our local Chinese customers not have concerns about the quality? Of course; they do care. Are they too price-sensitive? Not necessarily. It is because the truck users only care about the result. Even if there is a malfunction in a locally produced truck, as long as there is a way to minimize the impact on the operating time, the domestically produced option is still way more cost-effective. This rationale explains why the sales of the domestically produced trucks with a higher failure rate are still outstanding, especially in the areas where well-developed highways where a vast maintenance highway network is available. It only takes a few hours to repair the out-of-order truck. The time cost is far less than the retail price of the imported truck. While users who are doing businesses in sparsely populated areas would prefer to purchase imported vehicles as it takes a longer time for the repair service team to attend to the problem, so the time cost could potentially be higher than the retail prices of imported trucks. That’s it! The working principle of our legal work is the same.

So often we, lawyers, are too entangled in something which is not what our users are most concerned about: legal teams always regard good product quality as the most important, for example, a comprehensive memo covering all aspects. However, it’s not always necessary. The need of your user business department is a workable solution, not the best available legal which may not be cost-effective for them. The business environment is fast-changing, and the pressure of sales is so intense.

The primary responsibility of an in-house legal team is to ensure the company’s business conduct is compliant with laws, rules, regulations, and policies. Of course, our mission is to help the business develop and grow, as all General Counsels would say. Are the business teams convinced that we have helped the company grow? Maybe we would hear different feedback from our users. It’s not that the in-house legal function is counter-productive, but sometimes in-house teams fail to offer business-oriented proactive solutions for business teams.

People come to in-house teams for legal advice and alternatives, but not lecturing. Also, our actual value isn’t relying on any modifications we made to our standard contract. Sales teams need the revenue to be confirmed in black and white by the contract, which should be approved by legal. The finance team may look for legal’ s endorsement for adjusting the account receivable aging, that’s why they come to us; HR may seek out the legal team when they lack legally sound reasons to fire an employee, that’s a typical senator when they need legal, etc. In helping other departments, you have to understand what their main concerns and difficulties they are facing. Don’t create a rivalry as a lawyer; it’s better to understand what business solutions they are looking for and the best result-driven business-oriented solution.

These were my biggest takeaways when I left the CEO role. I used to believe that I was a lawyer who knew the business very well. But after taking the CEO role, I felt more empathetic toward business teams as I could feel the same pressure and challenges. Many in-house legal teams think they offered business-led solutions, but they don’t. Since they have not done any business, they cannot understand sales teams’ pressure and challenges. As a senior leader from business, at year-end time if his/her team cannot meet their business targets, not only will his/her bonus be affected but the whole team’s will. Sometimes I think my previous high school textbook, Ye Shengtao’s Overcharged Three and Five Dollars[1], vividly expresses this feeling.


Back to Legal

Sherry: You returned to legal when you took a General Counsel role at Johnson Controls Inc (JCI) in 2016. What do you think is the most significant difference in how you approach the General Counsel role now from when you took your first in 2009? 

YG: When I was 33 years old, I thought it was natural for any company to set up in-house legal positions. In-house legal counsels of the company do not need to prove their value. I had never thought about impacting the business as I believed the company must have an in-house legal team to focus on legal matters, and I had the authority to do this; thus, I used an uncompromising tone to push others. Now, I no longer work in this way. Legal teams can have thousands of different approaches. If your business team is super supportive and respects legal, everyone can be a good in-house legal counsel. But no matter what the environment is, there is an ultimate universal principle – the most successful General Counsel will use alliances rather than the authority to unite as many stakeholders as possible in a positive manner.

Let me give you an alliance example: sales teams usually don’t want to involve legal teams in their projects. They want to get the contracts signed as soon as possible; however, most legal teams would want to assess and analyse them carefully to control the contractual risks. Apart from resolving the present contract of a particular project, what can we do to help businesses change these kinds of opposing mindsets? For example, the current target of sales teams is the number of orders they could sign by the end of the year, determining their bonus. So they work very hard to get the deals signed, regardless of the payment terms and company profit levels; their KPI is just sales figures. So we can see the crux of the problem here. If we want to change the status quo, we must alter their KPI from pure sales figures to a more combined total package, pushing them to pay more attention to how much value the actual orders can create for the company, including profit and cash flow. Of course, sales teams are not willing to take the initiative to change the system, so we had better first reach a consensus with the finance department. Then, we need the HR department to adjust the current bonus model, increase the composition of indicators that we think align with the company’s broader interests, and reduce the proportionate influence of pure sales data. Finally, we can go to discuss the plan with the Sales Director. By doing this, we can solve the problem as quickly as possible and avoid conflicts to the greatest extent possible.

Sherry: In achieving this, there is a precondition that you have a deep understanding of your company’s business and maintain excellent relationships with various departmental heads. Apart from the role as APAC President for Westport, you have taken few senior positions in recent years. The rest are positions where people must have an immediate expectation on you, before internal trust had been established. How did you deal with these difficulties? How did you establish their trust in the success of these new originations?  

YG: This is the best question of today. Trust is earned but not given. People won’t trust you simply because you have an excellent credential in your resume or you come on board with a big title and a senior ranking in the company. You need to do your job to justify it. The reason for a career move is that you assume the next place will be better than your current one. Then, why do you think they should give you something better, say a salary increment? They provide you with something better, so they would expect something better from you. So you have to make efforts to justify this.

Firstly, you have to excell in your profession, legal. Next, you should try understanding your company’s business, thus making one or two positive impacts on your new company within your expertise range, as soon as possible. And then, if possible, achieve in the area that is outside your expertise range, to impress and surprise people who were not expecting this. Since then, people will see how good you are, and they certainly want to collaborate with you.

Secondly, you have to stand firm. No one can please everyone. I didn’t become a successful General Counsel because people like me; I am a successful General Counsel because I can deliver results that no one else can. Once again, you have to take care of your team, firmly support their work, and care about their development, because they are the warriors who help you fight in every battle.

Finally, take time to take stock of a situation. Remember not to focus on short-term gains or losses. Be patient! Great opportunities will come to you in the long run as a result of changes in the organization.

Sherry: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today.  Your insights are incredibly inspiring to all of us.

YG: Thank you very much.

[1] Overcharged Three and Five Dollars, a short story written by Chinese writer Ye Shengtao. The novel was published in the inaugural issue of Literature on July 1, 1933. There was a bump in the Chinese grain harvest of 1932. Famers from all over the country thought that they could sell the crop at a good price, but unfortunately, the price of grain dropped to only five dollars, less than half of in the past, pushing the farmers further into poverty. The novel describes this situation.

Hughes-Castell: 2019 Leading Adviser Award for Leading Specialist Legal and Compliance Recruitment Consultancy of the Year, Hong Kong

Hughes-Castell was honoured as “Recruitment Consultancy of the Year, Hong Kong” in the AI 2019 Leading Adviser Awards.

No matter how successful a business or individual may be, it goes without saying that away from its own assemblage of talent and expertise, there will always be a network of trusted lawyers, advisers and consultants behind the scenes helping to inform, guide and shape the way in which it operates.

Since 2014, AI Media have looked to highlight some of the most renowned and innovative professionals from around the world. Those recognised have been handpicked, based on the comprehensive analysis of our in-house team, who have left no stone unturned to ensure that these awards are allocated only to the individuals and firms that truly deserve them.

Whether those put forward hail from the largest, international corporations, or the small firms and individuals that work alongside them, they are aiming to highlight the industry’s shining lights.

Hughes-Castell: 2016 CV Recruitment Award for Best Legal and Compliance Recruitment Consultancy

Hughes-Castell was honoured as “Best Legal and Compliance Recruitment Consultancy” in the CV Recruitment Awards 2016.

The CV Recruitment Awards are designed to focus on the firms, and the people behind them, that have driven the industry to this enviable reputation.

The program is looking to reward and recognise the very best consultants, recruiters and industry experts from around the world, regardless of business size or reputation.

Hughes-Castell: 2015 Sector Performance Awards for Best in Sector – Legal Recruitment

Hughes-Castell was honoured as “Best in Sector: Legal Recruitment” in the 2015 Sector Performance Awards.

The AI award is run by AI Global Media, a monthly magazine that seeks to inform, influence and shape global corporate conversation.

The Sector Performance Awards honour the businesses and individuals at the top of their game in their sector, and get an inside look at how they not only deliver but exceed expectations for their clients.

Clifford Chance Loses Seoul Glow

Clifford Chance’s decision to close its Seoul office is not necessarily a surprise since the Magic Circle firm had had no resident partner in the city for some time but it may also be indicative of a wider trend of global firms reducing their Asia footprints. Upon liberalisation of the South Korean market in 2012 a flurry of international openings occurred as firms dashed to secure teams and partners to establish footholds in the market but, as was previously the case in Singapore, the market is divided between foreign and local firms and remains dominated by the larger native entities. Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and McDermott Will & Emery also shuttered their Seoul offices in 2018 and 2019 respectively, although Dentons continued to expand their international network by merging with local firm Lee International IP & Group to form Dentons Lee in 2020, a move which bridges the gap between the local and foreign firm markets.   

Clifford Chance also withdrew from Jakarta and Bangkok in recent years, seeing more value in consolidating their South East Asia practices in Singapore, and a widely acknowledged effect of the pandemic has been firms having to adapt to servicing clients remotely where necessary. As they have become more successful at this, and as the global economy suffered, it’s no surprise to see firms looking at their second-largest outgoing (rent) more acutely and seeing where savings can be made. All three firms that have left Seoul publicly stated that they remain committed to the market but feel they can comfortably cover what is required from further afield.

As the world opens up again it will be interesting to see how firms adjust their international strategies. Although the world has become smaller due to advancing technologies and ease of travel, it is still invaluable to have a physical presence in a core market. But some firms are seeing less value in having multiple regional offices, especially where rents are high, there is fierce competition for local talent, and deal flow and fees are unpredictable. If larger firms feel that the margins are becoming too squeezed in such markets, this gives smaller firms with more flexible fee structures opportunities to carve their own spaces, perhaps in specific niche practice areas that ordinarily pass under the radars of the global behemoths. With exceptions, the biggest firms seem to remain ambivalent about putting offices in, for example, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Taiwan, leaving the door open to smaller firms that may only enjoy second- or third-tier status in established markets such as Hong Kong and Singapore but could quickly establish themselves as market leaders in those jurisdictions.    

How to ace your partner interview

Partner recruiting in general is a complex and lengthy process. It can take anywhere from a couple of months to over a year. At the core of the process are the interviews with prospective colleagues and leaders at other firms. In preparing a partner-level interview, you have to be able to present a compelling appraisal of yourself and your practice. To help partner-level candidates prepare, here are some key pointers.

Leadership and management style

Law firms are comprised of talented legal professionals, but only a few are chosen to ascend to partnership. Capable partners with distinct leadership and management styles can heavily impact a law firms’ business. Hence, you need to show any prospective new firm that your leadership experience/skills and management style are the right fit for them. Explain how you have taken a leadership role in your current firm or practice, where you might have demonstrated leadership, including in recruitment, associate development, firm administration, syndicating best practices for business development, etc. Also, don’t forget to highlight any specific accomplishments as leaders.

Partners’ management styles can impact the performance and productivity of associates or business teams by empowering their colleagues. You need to demonstrate how your management style can motivate and encourage associates to perform tasks eagerly, effectively, and efficiently. Your style may be collaborative, visionary, commanding, or mentor-mentee coaching; you need to be flexible and adapt your management style to suit the prospective firms and situations you are dealing with.

Character traits matter

Prospective law firms will look at more than just a book of business. Character traits matter when hiring a partner. Law firm recruiters assume all partner-level candidates are intelligent and capable. Hence, their goal is to assess your personality, find out what you are like as a person, and determine whether you have the right mix of personality traits to fit their prospective firm’s particular culture. So, do not leave your personality at the door during a partner interview. Let the interviewers see the real you.

Among other things, critical candidate qualities that law firms always look for are team spirit, ambition, good communication skills, self-motivation, and strong leadership.

Portable business delivery

If the size of your portable book of business is impressive, it will likely be broken down in detail during the interview. Although you will address it in your business plan, it will still be a major discussion point. When you address this topic, numbers should be presented with clarity and firmly backed up. Any uncertainty in this area will lead the interviewers to question your ability to bring in business.

It is easy to exaggerate portable business levels. Please note that firms will want to confirm as far as possible that yours are real and will expect targets to be hit accordingly. If you do not have a sizeable book of business, instead of artificially inflating the number perhaps you can discuss your major clients, how you have been able to build those relationships, and how confident you are that you will be able to extend those relationships to more lucrative effect from a new platform. 

Compensation expectations

Compensation expectations should be assessed fairly. Therefore, whenever you are asked about your compensation expectation, your answer should be fair and realistic. Ratios tend to hover around the 3:1 mark (projected billings: compensation).  Performance-related incentives are increasingly prevalent in compensation packages, especially in times of turbulent markets, so be honest with yourself about what you can achieve before committing to such an arrangement. Regardless of how impressive your traits, technical skills, or experience may be, billings are key. Firms will also put a lot of stock in what your current package is so being open and up-front early is on is worthwhile. Going through several rounds of interview only to discover that expectations on both sides are too far to bridge is a frustrating experience for all concerned.

Cultural fit

Think about how what you like and dislike about your current and previous firms’ cultures and assess what your priorities are for your next home, and what would terminate your interest. It’s sometimes difficult to bring up a firm’s working culture at interview as incumbent partners will want to sell the firm as well as they can whatever the reality, so it’s a good idea to do some due diligence on the culture of the firm. Talk to people who work there, consult the recruiter involved, or contact fellow law school alums for insight and information.

Have a firm grasp on any recent developments in your area

Partner candidates are bound to be tested in some way about their commercial awareness, both in an interview with partners and in how they present their business case. Therefore, make sure you have a good grasp of latest developments in legislation, changes in procedure, and market developments that could affect how you go about building business.

Firms will also see value in partner candidates for their personal brand, professional networking, articles they’ve written, panel talks, presentations, etc. Partners should show they are a strong collaborative and team-oriented subject matter expert with a solid understanding of their clients’ businesses and views about their sector’s future, such as any ‘hot’ or growth areas.

Anticipating the length of the interview process

A partner interview in general can last anything from 40 minutes to a couple of hours. An engaging discussion may well be extended by more representatives of the firm joining the interview, time and availability permitting. An organically developing conversation is often more productive and efficient than a series of shorter interviews where a lot of similar ground will be covered multiple times. Make sure you are well-rested and have plenty of energy (and ideally some flexibility for extending the interview) to take advantage of such an eventuality.

A successful partner-level interview relies on insightful responses, thoughtful and relevant questions, and thorough preparation and presentation of your capabilities, experience and personality. If you need any insider-guidance or advice on CV and business plan drafting, interview preparation, contract negotiation or market insight, we are delighted to offer our unrivalled expertise. Hughes-Castell has been a premier legal executive search firm since 1986 with a notable track record of partner placements in Asia.

Firms look to go green in 2021

As firms continue to strive to look beyond the core strategies of improving client service, profitability, market share expansion, talent acquisition, and so on, ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) criteria are becoming increasingly promoted, with firms appointing dedicated senior staff members to oversee multi-pronged programs and initiatives that fall under this banner.

Hughes-Castell spoke with many senior women in the legal profession to commemorate International Women’s Day to learn about what is being done and what progress is being made to advance gender equality in the industry [Tackling Gender Diversity in Law in the Covid-19 Era]. Mental health has been a topic increasingly discussed over the past decade after concerns were raised over demanding expectations and resultant stresses being put on junior lawyers in particular. Suicides and breakdowns have been an all-too-common recent feature of “BigLaw”. While firms and the industry as a whole have taken steps to implement structures and accessible resources for those struggling with the psychological strains associated with a high-pressure profession with long working hours, there is an argument for greater observance and outreach for those not confident of asking for help or not recognising the symptoms of elevated stress. The advent of the Covid-19 pandemic has brought further issues with the imposition of the working-from-home culture. While this has been lauded for shining light on the benefits of increased flexibility of working hours, reduction of commuting time and increased family time, and has likely changed the structure of the traditional working week forever, many have suffered from feelings of isolation and loneliness, being largely divorced from human contact beyond video conferencing.

As the world belatedly wakes up to the peril of the ongoing environmental crisis, law firms are not alone in examining how to reduce their carbon footprint. Greetings cards for Christmas, Chinese New Year, etc, are now almost universally delivered electronically, whereas previously such a gesture may have been received as something of a lazy, impersonal afterthought. It’s a small shift but it reflects more broadly changing attitudes.

The pandemic obviously all but ended international travel, and firms and clients had to forego the actual meeting room for virtual remote video conferencing. As firms and individuals have adapted to this, and technology has been forced to improve to keep pace with more demanding requirements, it will be interesting to see whether firms go back to the previous model of extensive travel. As greater scrutiny is placed on the preponderance of air travel and its effect on the environment, will firms adopt a more conservative approach – one which is more time-efficient and cost-effective, as well as “greener”? Firms’ brochures nowadays are far more likely to promote examples of deal activity in carbon-neutral and zero-emission energy projects than fossil fuels, further evidence of firms recognising how perception in the market and among clients matters.

While financial performance has been at the forefront of the minds of all law firm management over the past 18 months, it is gratifying to see that the pursuit of the almighty dollar is no longer, seemingly, the be-all and end-all. The increasing prevalence of ESG, and its presumed influence on the topics above as well as others, is only to be welcomed.



How your firm can stand out and hire the “right” lawyers in the post-Covid-19 period?

The competition for legal talent remains fierce, even with the pandemic still hampering the economy globally. While approaching the post-pandemic period, law firms, alongside companies across all industries and sectors, in need of new talent will have to hire externally to support their anticipated quick recovery. Therefore, finding the “right” talent is a core driver for growth, especially when organizations are facing unprecedented cost and cash flow pressures caused by the pandemic.

How organizations stand out from the crowd and convince the best-suited candidates to join them will define their success. What follows are five tips to help your organization stand out to hire the perfect-fit candidates.

Craft a winning strategy

Firms and companies should carefully define their primary hiring objectives to best organize and streamline the hiring process. A detailed plan should be crafted incorporating specific strategies in order to achieve its objectives. The plan may include leveraging internal referrals, external networking, exploring advertising channels, and engaging with experienced recruiters to source talent more efficiently.

Nobody knows the vacant position you need to fill, or indeed the firms itself, as well as you do. Therefore, it is important to give clear, detailed, and accurate information to whoever is handling the recruitment process. Ensure that they fully understand your culture, structure and growth plans, and give them the opportunity of being able to present your firm to prospective lawyers in the best possible light.

Draft well-thought-out job descriptions

Too often, law firms and companies fail to view the job description as a key way to attract candidates. Firms should be able to articulate why the role they are looking to fill provides a great career development opportunity for candidates. Take this unprecedented period as an example; stability and flexible work polices are among the most important thing to current job seekers, so any firm should highlight these aspects on the job description.

Focus the job description on credentials that are advantageous rather than required. This is particularly true when the position has general rather than specific responsibilities or skillsets. If you merely concentrate on rigid requirements, you may miss out on a chance to hire someone with a proven ability to learn rather than those who have experience in certain things but are not interested in expanding their horizons.

Introduce key members of your organization

Your senior legal staff are busy people who will likely have been working remotely during the pandemic. It may be hard to find time in their schedules to meet with candidates in person. Having candidates meet with representatives of the firm online or via video conference is often the only practical method. Candidates always want to know who their future leaders will be and hear about what it is like to work at the firm. Delaying such interaction may end up with the candidate going elsewhere.

Maintain an expansive online presence

Legal recruitment is changing. To keep up in a talent war nowadays, you need to promote your brand on social media. Companies no longer take to social media just to answer customer services questions or sell their products/services, but to promote social policies, charitable initiatives, community outreach projects, and so on.  For example, over the last twelve months and beyond law firms post Covid-19 related content on different channels to demonstrate how they have dealt with the various challenges.

Digitalization is the new normal in recruitment. Your firm needs to utilize technology, such as recruitment tools, virtual screening methods, interview scorecards, and online conferencing software. A virtual interview will frequently be one of a candidate’s first interactions with your firm. So, your recruiting team needs to make sure you are ready to be in front of the camera to communicate smoothly with the candidate. Also, your team should understand how virtual interviews are different from in-person ones and hone best practices as a group.

Form a working relationship with a reliable agency

Organizations need to ensure that hiring remains efficient and effective over time. If your firm cannot find the right lawyers or if your hiring processes aren’t working, then your firm needs to take the initiative in effecting changes. Hiring processes can be long, tiring, and arduous as firms and companies will see a high volume of applications that hiring managers have to assess and evaluate comprehensively. Partnering with a seasoned and trusted legal recruitment agency offers up-to-date insight into the current talent pool, an already-developed pool of active/passive candidates that can be filtered according to your bespoke requirements, and a second pair of experienced eyes to help your candidate search and evaluation. Candidates also welcome the opportunity to consult with recruiters over the interview processes and the professional and cultural environments of different firms so working closely with a firm that you exchange information with frequently will be mutually beneficial.

Legal Move Updates (Apr – Jun 2021)

Editor’s note: This is an ongoing list.

June 2021

30 Jun – McDermott Will & Emery (Singapore, Singapore)

McDermott, which is launching an office in Singapore a year after it shuttered its offices in China and two years after closing its operation in South Korea, has added projects partner Merrick White from the Singapore office of King & Spalding. The firm has also applied for a Foreign Law Practice (FLP) license for its Singapore outfit and is awaiting approval from the Ministry of Law. (from

30 Jun – Tanglin Venture Partners (Singapore, Singapore)

Arun Scaria, a Bengaluru-based partner at Khaitan & Co, has joined VC firm Tanglin Venture Partners as general counsel in Singapore.

Scaria, who started his career with Nishith Desai Associates in 2009, joined Khaitan in 2017. According to media reports, Khaitan has also seen the exit of Bengaluru partner Rishabh Bhardwaj, but his destination is currently not clear. (from

29 Jun – Norton Rose Fulbright (Hong Kong, China)

Norton Rose Fulbright hires White & Case transactions duo in Hong Kong. Private equity partner Peggy Wang and banking and finance partner Victor Sim make the move as deal activity picks up. (from

29 Jun – Morgan Lewis (Hong Kong, China)

Morgan Lewis & Bockius has hired Vivien Yu, who will be joining the firm as partner for its employment practice later this summer. According to the firm’s spokesperson, Yu will be based in one of the firm’s seven Asia Pacific offices, which has not yet been determined. The firm has offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore and Kazakhstan. (from

28 Jun – Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas (Gurgaon, India)

Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas has hired a new partner for its corporate practice, bringing on Sameer Chugh from New Delhi-based investment holdings company Bharti Enterprises.

At Bharti, Chugh was group general counsel, managing over 50 lawyers based across India and Sri Lanka. At Cyril Amarchand, Chugh will focus on technology, media and communications, and regulatory work. (from

24 Jun – Hylands Law Firm (Beijing, China)

Hylands Law Firm has recently hired healthcare lawyer Yan Lin as a partner in its Beijing headquarter from Real Long Law Firm, where he was the executive director.

Yan’s practice focuses on healthcare, energies and private equity. He has advised government institutions, biotech companies and medical institutions, involving healthcare project compliance management, infrastructure construction, shareholding structure, IPO of biotech companies and dispute resolution. (from

21 Jun – HFW (Singapore, Singapore)

Global, sector-focused law firm HFW has continued to strengthen its market-leading shipping practice with the hire of Master Mariner Mark Myles. Mark has more than 20 years’ experience in the shipping industry as a mariner and lawyer, and joins HFW’s Singapore office from Reed Smith. (from

21 Jun – MinterEllison (Sydney, Australia)

Australia’s largest law firm, MinterEllison, has chosen property law partner Virginia Briggs to replace Annette Kimmitt as the firm’s chief executive and managing partner. Ms Briggs has been acting CEO since Ms Kimmitt left the firm in March in the wake of an email she sent to staff about the firm giving defamation advice to Attorney-General Christian Porter. Her appointment is a change in direction for Minters, given that Ms Kimmitt and her predecessor, Tony Harrington, were both non-lawyers who came from a consulting background. (from

21 Jun – Dentons (Perth, Australia)

Dentons continues its momentum on growth, welcoming its fifth new partner for 2021, Andrew Shearwood. Andrew will join the Dentons team as a corporate partner in the Perth office, a move which further strengthens the Firm’s client offering in Western Australia, and bolsters its national corporate practice. Specialising in corporate and commercial law, Andrew brings almost 40 years’ experience advising on mergers and acquisitions; funds management and financial services; equity capital markets; regulation of listed and unlisted companies and their directors; and general corporate governance across industries including financial services, property development and management, agribusiness and resources. (from

21 Jun – Mayer Brown  (Hong Kong, China)

Mayer Brown announced the addition of Joanne Du as a partner. Originally from Mainland China, Ms. Du, who will divide her time between the Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai offices, will be a key member of the globally integrated Oil & Gas industry team. Previously a partner at Baker Botts, Ms. Du advises international oil and gas companies, Chinese oil and gas companies, and other PRC-based corporations and state-owned institutions on their domestic and cross-border energy transactions. (from

18 Jun – Australian Broadcasting Corporation (Sydney, Australia)

Reed Smith’s London-based head of film and TV will leave the firm to join Australia’s government-owned television and radio broadcaster as general counsel. Ingrid Silver will start at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in September and will replace current GC Connie Carnabuci, the ABC said. (from

17 Jun – AZB & Partners (Mumbai, India)

AZB & Partners has hired restructuring and insolvency specialist Avinash Subramanian as a partner in Mumbai from L&L Partners, where he spent the entirety of his legal career. Subramanian, who joined L&L in 2012, also has experience private equity, M&A, and banking and finance. (from

15 Jun – Gilbert + Tobin  (Sydney, Australia)

Australian corporate law firm Gilbert + Tobin has hired M&A partner Karen Evans-Cullen from PwC Legal for its corporate advisory practice. Evans-Cullen is also a member of the Australian Takeovers Panel, a peer review body that regulates corporate control transactions in widely held Australian entities. (from

10 Jun – Huen Wong & Co. (Hong Kong, China)

Huen Wong, a former Greater China managing partner at both Simmons & Simmons and Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, has launched a sole proprietorship focused on arbitration and mediation, Asian Legal Business has learnt. The firm, which revives its earlier name of Huen Wong & Co., will also hear tax appeal cases as part of Wong’s role as chairman of Hong Kong’s Inland Revenue Review Board. (from

10 Jun – Anagram Legal (Mumbai, India)

Shuva Mandal, general counsel of Mumbai-headquartered multinational conglomerate Tata Sons, has left the company to join recently established Indian law firm Anagram Partners.

Anagram was set up in Mumbai in April by two Nishith Desai Associates partners, M&A specialist Simone Reis and international tax expert Rajesh Simhan.

Mandal, who started his career at AZB & Partners in 2000, joined Tata Sons in 2017. Prior to that, he spent nearly two years as national practice head for M&A and corporate at Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co. (from

10 Jun – Greenberg Traurig (Seoul, Korea)

U.S. law firm Greenberg Traurig has bolstered its presence in Korea after hiring corporate lawyers Eun Sang Hwang (L) and Jang Hyuk Yeo as shareholders.While Yeo joins from Korean law firm Lee & Ko, where he spent more than nine years, Hwang, previously a counsel at Greenberg Traurig, re-joins the firm after a four-month stint at Paul Hastings. The hires come a few months after Greenberg Traurig’s Seoul office lost Iksoo Kim to Paul Hastings. (from

10 Jun – Deacons (Hong Kong, China)

Deacons, Hong Kong’s largest local law firm, has hired banking and finance lawyer Erica Wong as a partner from offshore firm Ogier, where she was a managing associate. Wong’s practice focuses on cross-border banking and financing transactions, and also experience in dealing with syndicated, club and bilateral financing, real estate financing, acquisition financing, pre-IPO financing, and margin financing. (from

9 Jun – Macquarie Capital (Hong Kong, China)

Khoon Jin Tan, a former partner at Winston & Strawn in Hong Kong, has left to join CBC Group, a healthcare-dedicated investment firm, as managing director. He will be based in Singapore. Tan joined Winston in March 2019 from rival U.S. firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. He started his career at the legacy Herbert Smith, and also had a stint as managing director of Macquarie Capital in Hong Kong. His practice spanned IPOs, compliance, M&A, restructuring, and financing arrangements. (from

8 Jun – Hamilton Locke (Melbourne, Australia)

Australian firm Hamilton Locke has hired corporate and commercial partner Alex Ninis and two lawyers from DWF as the U.K.-listed law firm downsiizing continues. (from

8 Jun – Broad & Bright (Beijing, China)

Broad & Bright has hired Liang Fan, an intellectual property (IP) lawyer, as a partner from Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. Liang has also worked as an in-house counsel in Geely and Hewlett-Packard. Liang focuses on foreign IP litigation and application. He has participated in IP-related deals like Geely’s acquisition of Volvo and Raytheon’s acquisition of Websense. He has also dealt with several patent litigation cases in federal courts and trade secret litigation in state courts in the United States. (from

8 Jun – Duane Morris (Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)

Duane Morris names Dr. Nguyen Thi Lang as Chair of Duane Morris Vietnam.  (from

7 Jun – Goodwin Procter (Hong Kong, China)

Goodwin Procter has hired a new partner, Edwin Chan, in Hong Kong as the U.S. firm expands private equity offering to meet rising demand in the region.

Edwin Chan joins from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison where he was counsel. Chan advises private equity sponsors on transactions through the life cycle of their investments; he’s worked on deals including pre-IPO investments, special situations investments, private investment in public equity and investment restructuring and exits. (from

3 Jun – Thomson Geer (Sydney, Australia)

Fast-growing Australian law firm Thomson Geer has hired a partner and an of counsel from Baker McKenzie to join its construction and infrastructure practice.

Partner Franco Aversa is a lawyer who specializes in major projects with a particular focus on front-end construction law and is dual-qualified in both the legal and building fields, Thomson Geer said. (from

2 Jun – K&L Gates (Sydney, Australia)

Global law firm K&L Gates is expanding its labor, employment and workplace safety team in Sydney with the addition of partner Stephen Hardy, who joins from Baker McKenzie. (from

2 Jun – Trilegal (Mumbai, India)

Indian law firm Trilegal has beefed up its banking and finance practice with the hires of Pranav Sharma and Mallika Chopra as partners from Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas (CAM).

Sharma spent around 13 years at CAM and the legacy Amarchand Mangaldas combined, with a six-year stint in-between as a managing associate with Linklaters in London. Specialising in banking and finance, and debt capital markets, he advises banks, financial institutions, and other credit providers on onshore and offshore financings, and also sponsors and borrowers on such financings.

Chopra, who moved to CAM from Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas in 2018, also worked for IndusLaw, the legacy Amarchand Mangaldas and ICICI Bank. She advises on banking and financing matters with a special focus on structured debt transactions, real estate and asset backed financings. Chopra represents lenders as well as private equity sponsors and corporate borrowers. (from

2 Jun – HSA Advocates (Delhi, India)

HSA Advocates has hired a team of projects and infrastructure lawyers in Delhi from Advaita Legal, including partners Shailendra Kumar Singh, Alok Shankar and Monali Dutta.

Singh, who headed the projects and infrastructure team at Advaita Legal, has almost 19 years of experience in these sectors. He joined Advaita in early 2014 from L&L Partners (known as Luthra & Luthra Law Offices then). Singh began his legal career at Trilegal.

Meanwhile, Shankar has 15 years of regulatory and projects experience. He joined Advaita in 2018 and was previously also a lawyer at L&L.

Dutta, who has 13 years of experience across infrastructure, aerospace & defence, IT & ITES, healthcare and project development, returns to HSA, where she spent four years between 2011 and 2015. (from

1 Jun – Chang Tsi & Partners  (Beijing, China)

Chang Tsi & Partners has hired IP lawyer Kim Lu as a partner in its Beijing office. Prior to joining Chang Tsi, Lu practiced at AnJie Law Firm. Lu focuses on patent, anti-monopoly, anti-unfair competition and dispute resolution, with expertise in patent application, litigation, business secrets and corporate IP strategy related to communication systems, computer software, digital cameras, electrical connectors, wireless communications, electronic circuits, optoelectronics, semiconductors, smartphones, GUI, haptic technologies, etc.  (from

1 Jun – Hylands Law Firm (Beijing, China)

Hylands Law Firm has recently hired M&A lawyer Mu Chechang as partner in its Beijing office from Zhong Xin Law Office, where he was a partner. Mu focuses on M&A, dispute resolution, real-estate, and construction. With experience in primary land development, collective land use and real-estate cooperation between urban and rural areas, he has advised the Ministry of Finance, Beijing Land Arrangement and Reserve Centre and a few large enterprises. (from

1 Jun – Chance Bridge  (Beijing, China)

Beijing-headquartered boutique firm Chance Bridge has hired cross-border investment and finance partner Zou Yongzhong in its Beijing office from Hogan Lovells. Zou has expertise in FDI, cross-border investment and finance, and M&A. he has advised a few multi-national enterprises, Chinese state-owned and private owned companies, international and domestic banks and financial institutes on their cross-border transactions. (from

May 2021

31 May – Ashurst (Perth, Australia)

Global law firm Ashurst has hired a disputes partner, Matthew Blycha, from Holman Fenwick Willan to join its Perth office and help it grow in Western Australia. Matthew Blycha, previously the managing partner of HFW’s Perth office, is a construction disputes specialist who advises on the development, construction and operation of large-scale resources projects in Australia and around the world, Ashurst said. (from

26 May – White & Case (Singapore, Singapore)

White & Case has added a capital markets partner, Rahul Guptan , in Singapore focusing on India deals. Rahul Guptan most recently co-led the global India practice for Clifford Chance where he’d been a partner since 2008. Guptan advises on India-related equity and debt capital markets deals. Last year, he led Clifford Chance’s representation of the underwriters on Mumbai-based Kotak Mahindra Bank Ltd.’s $993 million capital raising. (from

25 May – K&L Gates (Hong Kong, China)

U.S. law firm K&L Gates has hired Eugene Yeung, who focuses on aviation finance and restructuring and insolvency, as a partner in Hong Kong from Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, where he was a counsel. Yeung acts for financial lenders, aircraft owners, airlines, and ultra-high net worth individuals on commercial transactions within the aviation sector, including aviation finance, restructuring, bankruptcy and insolvency, and investments and general corporate advisory matters. (from

25 May – Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas (Bengaluru, India)

Bengaluru-based Tatva Legal co-founding partner Manav Nagaraj will be joining Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas (SAM) with his team, including partner Bhargava KS, we have reliably learned. His and his team’s joining will be a welcome addition to SAM in the Garden City after the firm in April announced partner Roshan Thomas moving to SAM close unicorn client Byju. (from

24 May – Dentons (Brisbane, Australia)

Dentons has hired a corporate partner to join its Brisbane office as it continues to expand in the north Australian city. Caroline Snow joins as a corporate partner specializing in equity capital market transactions, complex governance, regulatory and compliance matters. (from

21 May – Hai Run Law Firm (Beijing, China)

Hai Run Law Firm has hired Zheng Jianou as a senior partner in its Beijing office from King & Capital Law Firm, where he was a senior partner. Zheng has experience in commercial dispute resolution and has advised companies like large state-owned and private enterprises. Zheng is also an arbitrator of Guangzhou Arbitration Commission. (from

18 May – Hylands Law Firm (Beijing, China)

Hylands Law Firm has hired Guo Yuancheng as a senior partner from Jingsh Law Firm, where he was a partner. Guo has experience in domestic and foreign private equity, cross-border M&A and foreign direct investment. He has represented clients in areas such as domestic and foreign finance and investment, private equity projects, M&A deals and cooperation projects, involving industries like TMT, education, healthcare and cybersecurity. (from

18 May – K&L Gates (Brisbane, Australia) 

K&L Gates has expanded its corporate team in Australia with the addition of partner Tom Young, who joins the firm’s Brisbane office from Norton Rose Fulbright. Young, who joins the firm along with special counsel Julie Brown, has experience in the aviation and transport, tourism and hospitality and infrastructure and real estate sectors, K&L Gates said. (from

13 May – Grab (Singapore, Singapore)

Christopher Betts, a Skadden, Arps Slate, Meagher & Flom corporate partner in Hong Kong who has worked on some of the largest deals coming out of Greater China in recent years, has left the firm to become general counsel of the Singapore-based ride-hailing, food delivery and financial services company Grab Holdings. (from

12 May – Anli Partners (Beijing & Xi’an, China)

Anli Partners has hired partner Qu Jingang to head its Xi’an office, and another three partners Li Yongqi, Zhang Yiqing and Zeng Liqing to join its Beijing office.

Qu focuses on government legal matters and commercial litigation and arbitration. Prior to joining Anli, Qu was the managing partner at W&H Law Firm’s Yan’an arm. He is also the current Vice President of Shaanxi Province Lawyers Association.

Li has expertise in commercial litigation and arbitration, energy and construction, merger & acquisition and restructuring, as well as technology, media and telecommunication. With extensive experience in dispute resolution, Li has advised over 100 litigation and arbitration cases involving large multinational enterprises and state-owned enterprises.

Zeng has expertise in investment and finance, restructuring and M&A, litigation and arbitration. He has extensive experience in advising real estate companies, government platforms and listed companies on their investment and finance projects, involving industries like non-ferrous metals, banking, education, etc.

Zhang’s practice includes real estate and construction, corporate governance, equity investment, civil and commercial litigation and arbitration. He has advised a number of large state-owned enterprises and listed companies. (from

12 May – Jones Day (Perth, Australia)

Jones Day has hired a second global disputes partner, Michael Lundberg, this week. Michael Lundberg joins from Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan and will be based in the Perth office. His arrival follows that of Frankfurt partner Amy Kläsener, who joined on Tuesday from Dentons, as Jones Day continues to bolster its global disputes practice. (from

11 May – Shearman & Sterling (Singapore, Singapore)

Global law firm Shearman & Sterling today announces the appointment of David Clinch as a Project Development & Finance partner in Singapore. David brings extensive experience advising clients on a wide range of acquisitions & disposals in the energy and infrastructure sectors as well as project development matters. His expertise spans oil & gas (including LNG), power, infrastructure, chemicals and refining. David has advised clients worldwide for over 25 years from Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong, London and Bangkok. His appointment follows the promotion of Asia-based Jean-Louis Neves Mandelli to the partnership in October 2020, the promotion of Joe Freeman to counsel in the region and the relocation of international energy counsel Angela Heywood Bible from Houston to Singapore. (from

11 May – Morrison & Foerster (Tokyo, Japan)

Morrison & Foerster has hired a locally qualified litigation partner in Tokyo as the firm sees growing needs for regulatory export control advice in Asia. Takahiro Nonaka joins from DLA Piper where he was a Tokyo partner advising Japanese and foreign multinationals on employment and general commercial litigation as well as compliance and investigations in anti-corruption, antitrust, data privacy and other enforcement matters. He joined DLA Piper in 2016 from Sidley Austin and became a partner in 2019. (from

8 May – JunHe (Shenzhen, China)

JunHe sincerely welcomes new partner Mr. Jin Liu to our Shenzhen office. Mr. Liu advises clients on matters involving banking and finance, corporate, mergers and acquisitions, private equity and venture capital.Currently, he is going through relevant formalities before joining JunHe.

Mr. Liu received his Master of Laws from the University of Durham, UK and his Bachelor of Laws from the East China University of Political Science and Law. He handles a broad range of banking and finance matters, including bilateral and syndication loans, trade finance, project finance, debt restructuring, setting up financial institutions, compliance, financial leasing, and trust and assets management. Mr. Liu provides comprehensive advice for a wide variety of clients with respect to domestic and overseas M&As, asset acquisition, fund investments, asset restructuring of listed companies, public-private partnerships and other complex transactions. (from

7 May – CM Law (Beijing, China)

Shanghai-headquartered CM Law has hired Wang Wenrui, an anti-monopoly expert, as a senior partner in its Beijing office from T&D Associates. Wang has over ten years’ experience in anti-monopoly compliance, declaration of concentration of business operators, anti-monopoly investigation and litigation. (from

6 May – Haiwen & Partners (Shanghai, China)

Haiwen & Partners has hired private wealth expert Bao Han as international partner in its Shanghai office from Zhong Lun Law Firm. Bao focuses on private clients’ domestic and foreign wealth inheritance planning, family trust, asset protection and tax planning. She has legal professional qualification in China and New York State in the U.S. and has worked in Hong Kong SAR for many years. With extensive experience in family trust and private wealth management, Bao has been a long-term counsel for many private clients. (from

6 May – HFW (Shanghai, China)

Global, sector-focused law firm HFW has continued to expand its fast-growing Greater China transactional practice with the hire of senior partner Brinton Scott and of counsel Danielle Peng in Shanghai. (from

6 May – IndusLaw (Delhi, India)

India’s IndusLaw has added yet another partner in Delhi, with the hire of employment law specialist Vaibhav Bhardwaj, who joins from Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas. Bhardwaj, who has more than 12 years of experience, advises clients on issues such as employee policies, social security, compensations and benefits, investigations and contract labour. (from

6 May – Baker McKenzie Wong & Leow (Singapore, Singapore)

Baker McKenzie Wong & Leow, the Singapore firm of Baker McKenzie, has hired Kay Moon as principal in Singapore from Linklaters, where she worked for more than 10 years in London and Hong Kong. Moon advises on cross-border corporate and M&A transactions across the technology, energy, natural resources and infrastructure sectors. (from

5 May – Squire Patton Boggs (Perth, Australia)

Squire Patton Boggs has expanded its global construction and engineering industry group in Australia with the addition of Perth-based construction partner Donna Charlesworth. She was previously head of the Perth public sector group at Clayton Utz, where she was a special counsel. (from

5 May – Christopher & Lee Ong (Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia)

Christopher & Lee Ong (CLO), Rajah & Tann Asia’s Malaysia member firm, has named Shanti Geoffrey as the co-head of its white-collar crime and investigations practice. At CLO, Geoffrey will advise and represent clients before the courts on different aspects of regulatory compliance and enforcement matters involving possible accounting and corporate fraud, criminal breach of trust, market manipulation, insider trading, and corruption. (from

5 May – Quahe Woo & Palmer (Singapore, Singapore)

Singapore law firm Quahe Woo & Palmer has added Melvin Lum as a director in its dispute resolution practice from Big Four firm WongPartnership, where he was a partner. Lum, who has more than 15 years of experience, focuses on banking and finance, and corporate and commercial disputes. (from

4 May – K&L Gates  (Melbourne, Australia)

Global law firm K&L Gates has further strengthened its intellectual property practice with the addition of Patrick Sands in Melbourne. Sands, who joins from Herbert Smith Freehills, is a key addition to K&L Gates’ global team of intellectual property lawyers, with K&L Gates being the only integrated law firm to offer IP services on four continents. (from

3 May – Ashurst (Melbourne, Australia)

U.K.-based Ashurst has hired real estate partner Arthur Chong to join its Melbourne office from DLA Piper. Chong, who is also admitted to practice in Malaysia, has expertise in investment and development, and will bring added strength to Ashurst’s project and real estate practice, the firm said in a statement. (from

3 May – Kennedys (Perth, Australia)

Global insurance and litigation law firm Kennedys has poached a partner and his team of nine from Clyde & Co to launch a Perth office. Jonathan Wyatt and his team of lawyers and paralegals will launch the office to continue the firm’s strong growth, Kennedys said. (from

3 May – Clifford Chance (Sydney, Australia)

International law firm Clifford Chance is expanding its Australian transactional practice with the hire of two corporate partners from local corporate firm Gilbert + Tobin and the promotion of two lawyers to partner. David Clee and Elizabeth Hill, who joined Clifford Chance’s Sydney office on Monday, bolster the firm’s public and private M&A, IPO and distressed M&A capabilities, the firm said in a statement. (from

April 2021

30 Apr – K&L Gates (Shanghai, China)

Global law firm K&L Gates LLP welcomes Roberta Chang as a partner in the firm’s tax practice. Ms. Chang joins the firm’s Shanghai office from Hogan Lovells, where she was a partner and the head of its China tax group. (from

30 Apr – Hall & Wilcox (Newcastle, NSW, Australia)

Another partner and his team have left DWF to join a local Australian firm as the exodus from the London-listed firm continues while it downsizes in Australia. Planning and environmental partner Brendan Tobin, a senior assochina.legalbusinessonline.comciate and a lawyer all join Hall & Wilcox’s Newcastle office.  (from

30 Apr – Helmsman (Singapore, Singapore)

Shipping and commodities-focused law firm Helmsman has expanded its corporate capabilities after hiring Lynette Koh to lead its corporate and finance practice in Singapore from Mizuho Bank, where she headed the legal function. Koh is Helmsman’s first director hire since Maureen Poh, joined the firm from Ince last year. Her practice focuses on finance needs and funding structures across industries, and she has experience in commodities and trade financing transactions. (from

29 Apr – Gilchrist Connell (Brisbane, Australia)

An employment partner has left DWF to join a local firm, becoming the latest in a stream of lawyers to leave the London-listed law firm as it downsizes in Australia. Mark Curran has joined the national workplace law and employment practices liability team at Gilchrist Connell in Brisbane. (from

28 Apr – Gibson Dunn & Crutcher (Hong Kong, China)

Gibson Dunn & Crutcher has hired a partner-led financial services regulatory team from Herbert Smith Freehills in Hong Kong. The four-lawyer team is being led by financial services partner William Hallatt, a statement by Gibson Dunn said on Wednesday. Associates Emily Rumble, Becky Chung and Arnold Pun are making the same move. (from

28 Apr – Conyers (Hong Kong, China)

Offshore law firm Conyers has added insolvency and disputes specialist Michael Makridakis as a partner in Hong Kong. Makridakis joins from litigation finance firm Delta Capital Partners Management, where he was a managing director. He joined the company in 2019 from offshore firm Carey Olsen, where he had been a partner. (from

28 Apr – Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas (Bengaluru, India)

Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas (CAM), India’s largest firm, has hired Karan Pahwa as a corporate partner in Bengaluru. Pahwa joins from an in-house role at venture capital firm Bessemer Venture Partners, where he spent about a decade. (from

27 Apr – Cooley (Beijing, China)

Cooley has hired a capital markets partner in Beijing from rival Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. Ethan Jin is dual-qualified in Hong Kong and New York and advises Chinese issuers on Hong Kong listings and related transactions. Last year, he led the team advising the underwriters on television program producer China Bright Culture Group’s $116 million initial public offering on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. (from

26 Apr – Paul Hastings (Shanghai, China)

Paul Hastings is continuing to bolster its Greater China life sciences practice with another hire, this time a partner. Phoebe Yan joins Paul Hastings’ Shanghai office from Hogan Lovells, where she had worked for eight years. Since 2018, she had been based in the firm’s Shanghai Free-Trade Zone associate office Hogan Lovells Fidelity. Previously, she was an associate at local firm JunHe.  (from

26 Apr – Gadens (Melbourne, Australia)

Local Australian firm Gadens has hired an employment partner and seven lawyers from DWF, the latest departures from the U.K.-based firm in the wake of its move to scale back its Australian operations. Melbourne-based partner George Haros brings two senior associates, three associates and two lawyers along with two legal assistants to the national firm. (from

26 Apr – DLA Piper (Sydney, Australia)

Global law firm DLA Piper has hired Stephanie Lambert from HFW to join its Australian real estate practice as a partner. Lambert, who will be based in DLA Piper’s Sydney office, specializes in major property projects which cross a number of industry sectors acting for institutional developers, foreign investors and developers, and listed and unlisted property trusts, the firm said. (from

22 Apr – IndusLaw (Hyderabad, India)

Indian law firm IndusLaw has hired real estate expert Praveen Kumar Thodupunuri as a partner in the southern city of Hyderabad from rival Tatva Legal, where he was a principal associate. Thodupunuri, who has more than 15 years of experience, focuses on real estate agreements including commercial leases, joint development agreements, construction agreements and operation of common area maintenance agreements. Prior to his time at Tatva, Thodupunuri worked with Fox Mandal and Associates and the erstwhile Amarchand & Mangaldas & Suresh A. Shroff & Co. (from

22 Apr – J. Sagar Associates (Bengaluru, India)

India’s J Sagar Associates (JSA) has welcomed back real estate and M&A specialist Karthik BM, who joins the firm as a partner in Bengaluru from IndusLaw. (from

22 Apr – Byju (Bengaluru, India)

Roshan Thomas, a former Bengaluru-based partner at Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas (SAM), has joined Indian learning platform Byju’s as group general counsel. Thomas is the latest in a recent trend of established law firm partners in India moving in-house in leadership roles. Earlier this month, Pratibha Jain left Nishith Desai Associates to join Everstone Group, and before that Damini Bhalla left L&L Partners for Zomato. (from

21 Apr – JunHe (Hong Kong, China)

JunHe has hired Qiao Zheyuan as a partner in Hong Kong. Prior to joining JunHe, Qiao has practiced in Clifford Chance, Ashurst and Linklaters. Qiao’s practice focuses on banking and finance, capital market and foreign investment. She is specialized in derivatives and structured finance. Qiao has extensive experience advising international banks, funds, Chinese financial institutions and fintech companies in the areas of OTC derivatives, exchange-traded products, structured products, asset management, cross-border finance and HKMA/SFC regulatory advisory. (from

20 Apr – DLA Piper (Sydney, Australia)

Global law firm DLA Piper has hired intellectual property and technology partner Anthony Lloyd from local Australian firm MinterEllison. Lloyd, who will be based in DLA Piper’s Sydney office, previously led MinterEllison’s technology law business unit and has extensive experience advising on major technology, media and communications projects across Asia, the U.S. and Europe. (from

20 Apr – DLA Piper (Singapore, Singapore)

DLA Piper has added a leading Hogan Lovells partner with significant experience in Southeast Asia to head up its Asia investigations practice. Singapore-based Maurice Burke joins after seven years at Hogan Lovells where he led the firm’s Southeast Asia disputes practice. He began his career in 1997 at Herbert Smith Freehills, where he spent 17 years. (from

19 Apr – Dentons (Sydney, Australia)

Dentons has hired Donald Robertson, a 34-year veteran of Herbert Smith Freehills, as a competition and regulation partner. Robertson had practiced at Herbert Smith Freehills since 1987. (from

16 Apr – Ashurst  (Sydney & Melbourne, Australia)

Global law firm Ashurst is pleased to announce the appointment of three new partners in its Global Energy practice. Paul Curnow joins Ashurst in Sydney, bringing with him partners Zoë Hilson and Kate Phillips in Sydney and Melbourne, respectively. The hires consolidate Ashurst’s position at the leading edge of the global energy transition. (from

16 Apr – GEN Law Firm (Beijing, China)

GEN Law Firm has hired Caidan Cao, an expert in environmental energy, as a partner in its Beijing office from Winners Law Firm, where Cao was a partner and head of its Beijing office. Cao has extensive experience in energy and environmental compliance, development, construction, M&A and investment and finance of energy projects, climate change and green finance, environment litigation, energy litigation and international energy cooperation. (from

15 Apr – Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas (Mumbai, India)

Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas Partner Gaurav SInghi has joined Argus Partners as a Partner in Mumbai. He will be part of the firm’s corporate practice. (from

15 Apr – J. Sagar Associates (Gurugram, India)

Indian law firm J. Sagar Associates (JSA) has added Niruphama Ramakrishnan as a partner in Gurugram from rival AZB & Partners. Ramakrishnan, who has practiced for more than a decade, focuses on regulatory, general corporate, equity, capital markets, structured products, InvITs and REITs. (from

15 Apr – Pernod Ricard (Mumbai, India)

Bijoya Roy, formerly vice president and group general counsel at Indian e-commerce company Flipkart, has joined French alcoholic beverage producer Pernod Ricard as South Asia general counsel in Mumbai.
Roy has experience working in the information technology, media and services industries. She is an expert in negotiations, M&A, leading global compliance initiatives and partnering with HR and finance to create a robust corporate framework. (from

15 Apr – Yoon & Yang (Seoul, Korea)

Big Six Korean law firm Yoon & Yang has bolstered its disputes offering with the additions of three new partners: Former presiding judges Su Yeol Lee and Sang Jae Park, and former chief prosecutor Young Hyun Kim. (from

14 Apr – Charles Russell Speechlys & Reed Smith (Hong Kong & Singapore)

Hong Kong partners Silvia On and Ian Devereux will join Charles Russell Speechlys while Singapore partner Timothy Cooke departs for Reed Smith. (from

13 Apr – East & Concord Partners (Wuhan & Hangzhou, China)

East & Concord has hired partner Pingping Qiu in its Wuhan office and partners Dan Hu, Peng Huang, Jinhua Yang and Xiaojiang Zhu in its Hangzhou office.

Qiu’s main practice areas include corporate and M&A, dispute resolution and labour law. She has advised a number of large listed companies and state-owned enterprises with extensive experience in investment and finance. Prior to joining East & Concord, Qiu was a partner at Lifeng Law Firm.

Hu practiced at Hangzhou branch of Grandall Law Firm. Her practice mainly focuses on corporate and M&A, private equity and investment fund, and dispute resolution. Hu has advised a number of domestic and overseas listed companies, state-owned-enterprises and foreign enterprises, involving industries like sports, movie and television culture, energy, biological technology and healthcare.

Huang has expertise in corporate and M&A, private equity and investment funds, and dispute resolution. Huang previously was a partner at Grandall’s Hangzhou branch. In his over 20-years’ practice, Huang has worked in the financial services department of Fortune 500 companies in the design of structured products, and also served as legal director in charge of cross-border M&As of US listed companies.

Yang is an expert in intellectual property (IP), dispute resolution and compliance. Prior to joining East & Concord, she was a partner at Zhe Jiang Nuo Li Ya Law Firm. Yang has extensive experience in trademark and anti-unfair competition, and has dealt with over 100 IP cases involving trademark infringement and verification.

Zhu focuses on dispute resolution, government legal affairs, and corporate and M&A. Before joining East & Concord, he practiced at Grandall’s Hangzhou branch and had been a partner at Guantao Law Firm. Zhu has extensive litigation and arbitration experience in trade, finance, corporate governance, investment and M&A, involving sectors like land, real-estate, planning and construction and tax. (from

12 Apr – Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan (Shanghai, China)

Nine months after returning to the firm, a Shanghai investigations and life sciences partner has left Paul Hastings for Quinn Emanuel. White-collar investigations and life sciences disputes lawyer Haiyan Tang has joined Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan’s Shanghai office as a partner from Paul Hastings. (from

8 Apr – Adani Group (Ahmedabad, India)

Indian multinational conglomerate Adani Group has tapped PM Devaiah to be its new general counsel. Devaiah joins from Everstone Group, which has hired Pratibha Jain, a former partner at Nishith Desai Associates (NDA), to replace him. Devaiah, who joined India-focused private equity firm Everstone Group in 2007, was the group’s vice-chairman and general counsel. His entire career, which began in 1990, has been spent in in-house roles, including legal head positions at ICICI Venture, The Carlyle Group and BPL Cellular. (from

8 Apr – Everstone Group (Bengaluru, India)

Indian multinational conglomerate Adani Group has tapped PM Devaiah to be its new general counsel. Devaiah joins from Everstone Group, which has hired Pratibha Jain, a former partner at Nishith Desai Associates (NDA), to replace him. Meanwhile, Jain, who helped launch NDA’s Delhi office in 2011, joined the firm from Goldman Sachs. Her previous firms include Sullivan & Cromwell and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Jain’s practice focuses on private equity, M&A, corporate and regulatory advisory and public policy. (from

8 Apr – Skrine (Kuala Kumpur, Malaysia)

Wong Chee Lin, who spent three decades at Malaysian law firm Skrine before a brief stint on the bench, has returned to the firm as a litigation partner in Kuala Lumpur. Wong is Skrine’s third lateral partner hire in a month; the firm recently brought on board Islamic finance lawyers Hafidah Aman Hashim and Sharifah Shafika Alsagoff as partners. (from

8 Apr – Veritas Legal (Mumbai, India)

India’s Veritas Legal has hired Manav Raheja as corporate partner in Mumbai from J Sagar Associates. Raheja, who has over 15 years of experience, focuses on M&A, private equity and venture capital investment transactions, and commercial dispute advisory matters. (from

8 Apr – Perkins Coie (Taiwan)

U.S. firm Perkins Coie has welcomed back Marcus Woo as a partner from Taiwanese mobile phone manufacturer HTC Corporation, where he was vice president and general counsel. Initially based in New York, Woo will move to Taipei once registration formalities are completed. At the firm, Woo will represent clients in Taiwan and beyond on intellectual property and corporate matters, including U.S. IP litigation work for Taiwanese companies. (from

8 Apr – Anagram Partners (Mumbai, India)

M&A specialist Simone Reis and international tax expert Rajesh Simhan, who both left Nishith Desai Associates (NDA) after more than 12 years at the firm’s Mumbai office, have set up a boutique firm called Anagram Partners in Mumbai. (from

7 Apr – King & Wood Mallesons (Sydney, Australia)

Chinese-Australian law firm King & Wood Mallesons has strengthened its cross-border finance capability with the appointment of banking and finance partner David Lam, who returns to the firm after a near two-year absence. Lam, who joins the firm from Allen & Overy and will be based in King & Wood’s Sydney office, has 18 years of cross-border finance experience and a “deep understanding and connectivity” with clients in Hong Kong and Mainland China, King & Wood said. (from

7 Apr – Jingtian & Gongcheng (Hong Kong, China)

Chinese-Australian law firm King & Wood Mallesons has strengthened its cross-border finance capability with the appointment of banking and finance partner David Lam, who returns to the firm after a near two-year absence. Lam, who joins the firm from Allen & Overy and will be based in King & Wood’s Sydney office, has 18 years of cross-border finance experience and a “deep understanding and connectivity” with clients in Hong Kong and Mainland China, King & Wood said. (from

6 Apr – Squire Patton Boggs (Sydney, Australia)

Corporate M&A partner Michael Gajic has left Australian law firm MinterEllison to join international firm Squire Patton Boggs in Sydney, the latest of several partners to join the firm this year. Squire said Gajic brings “a wealth of experience in public M&A having acted for bidders, targets and major shareholders on schemes of arrangement, takeovers (hostile, unsolicited and friendly), takeover defences and take-privates of ASX listed companies by private equity bidders.” (from

1 Apr – Clyde & Co (Hong Kong, China)

Clyde & Co has hired Rosie Ng as a partner in the firm’s global insurance group in Hong Kong from HFW, where she was a consultant. Ng focuses on director and officers insurance claims, professional indemnity, commercial crime, fidelity, employment practice and product liability, insurance regulatory and policy wordings, and product development. (from

Singapore Flings Back in Style

In the wake of closures of several international firms’ offices in Beijing and Hong Kong over the last 12-24 months it is interesting to observe how firms in this sector recalibrate their Asia strategies. By far the most notable positive recent activity has been seen in Singapore, the City State having previously been a hotbed of office openings and investment during, at various times over the years, the advent of the JLV programs allowing closer integration between foreign and local firms, loosening of local legislation governing mergers between foreign and local firms, a concerted push to establish the Singapore International Arbitration Centre as the pre-eminent arbitration venue in the region, increasing investment in neighbouring regional economies, all of which were catnip to expanding firms. Also there is a recognition that expat lawyers of a certain age, seniority and family status seem to gravitate there, not least because of its family-friendly environment, international school accessibility, high quality of living standard, travel convenience, low air pollution levels, low taxes, the list goes on.

Such recalibration is perhaps exemplified by the activities of McDermott Will & Emery. The Chicago-headquartered firm followed up the closure of its Seoul office in 2019 with the severance of ties with its Shanghai alliance partner in the summer of 2020, the firm then called MWE China Law Offices itself subsequently tying up with Winston & Strawn (which itself had pulled back from Taiwan and Beijing some years prior). However McDermott is poised to reposition its Asia footprint with a Singapore office launch having hired former Squire Patton Boggs office head, energy and infrastructure specialist Ignatius Hwang. Hwang is currently listed as being based in London but all the signs point back to the Lion City.

Squire Patton Boggs has itself been extremely active in the market there, bolstering its ranks with partner-level hires from HFW, Reed Smith, Clifford Chance and ex-Eversheds Sutherland merger partner Harry Elias since 2019. Mishcon de Reya, traditionally targeting a high-net-worth client base, shifted its overseas focus from New York to Singapore with a new office opening in summer 2020.

For years various prestigious US firms danced around the idea of a Singapore opening, attracted by the location (being a regional “hub”) and access to a new client base but often failing to make the metrics work, or be able to attract the truly top talent to make such a splash worthwhile. A spate of high-profile withdrawals at the start of the 2000s (Slaughter and May, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Morrison & Foerster to name but three, albeit two have subsequently returned) indicated that Singapore was perhaps losing its lustre and firms preferred to focus investment and resources in Hong Kong and mainland China. Perhaps the pendulum is swinging back.

Leaders in Law: Interview with Sarah Wang

When the AstraZeneca vaccine was first introduced, it was hailed as a milestone in turning the tide on the coronavirus and now is a global gamechanger. In this interview, Sherry talks with Sarah Wang, Deputy General Counsel, International & Japan for AstraZeneca, about her secrets to success in this UK-headquartered pharmaceutical giant. Highly respected in Shanghai’s legal community, Sarah is known for her intelligence, determination and graciousness. Before meeting her, I was told that she is an exceptional lawyer with a charismatic personality. During the interview, I found her to be a likable, engaging, enthusiastic person who often dared to step out of her comfort zone. And in every step in her career, she succeeded.

Sherry: Sherry Xu (Hughes-Castell, Director)

Sarah: Sarah Wang (AstraZeneca, Deputy General Counsel, International & Japan)

The Making of a Gentle Warrior

Having graduated from Shanghai No.3 Middle School for Girls, its twin predecessors being the St. Mary’s Hall and McTyeire High School, her school motto, “independence, ability, care, elegance,” was imprinted on Sarah’s mind.  She was also profoundly influenced by Chinese author Lin Yutang. Lin regards life as a journey, not a destination. His attitude of focusing on enjoying the process rather than the result has clearly impacted Sarah’s view of life.

In the late 1990s, Chinese law graduates generally had three career options: judicial organizations, enterprises, or law firms. After having interned briefly with the court and a brief working experience with a bank, Sarah realized living a predictable life was not what she wanted. She was curious about the unknown outside world and keen on exploring more challenges and possibilities. Sarah applied for many US law schools, was accepted to a few LLM programs and decided to go to Northwestern University Law School in Chicago with a scholarship.

After LLM graduation, Sarah joined a mid-sized Chicago law firm to work on their newly formed “Chinese Desk”. As much as she felt lucky to land such a wonderful opportunity, she asked herself, “if I am only doing what I could have done in China, why did I come to the U.S.? ” With that thought in mind, she went back to Northwestern Law School to complete her J.D. studies and got licensed in both New York State and Illinois so that she could be a “regular” US lawyer just as her American peers. After graduation, her wish came true – she joined an international firm, DLA Piper, as a U.S. Associate in its Corporate M&A group in Chicago.

However, good days never last long – the financial tsunami occurred sooner after Sarah joined DLA Piper. The M&A practice disappeared overnight. Facing potential layoff,  adaption was rule No. 1 for survival. With a timely opportunity, Sarah switched to the real estate finance team, finding a niche in US REITs where overseas inbound investment was active.

With six years of hard work,  life seemed well settled in the US. Her family evolved into a typical middle-class Chinese American family – large house in a nice suburb, commuting to work downtown every day, and BBQs with other families during the weekends.   However,  predictable routine life never sits well with Sarah. “ In the US, new Chinese young professionals may have a good job and live an upper-middle class life, but we still struggle a lot to merge into the mainstream and feel truly empowered.” So, when opportunity came, the family moved back to China, and Sarah transferred to DLA Shanghai to continue her practice here.

Back then the model of law practice in China was significantly different than in the US. While in the US lawyers usually strive to become subject experts as years of experience increase, in China it is more of a generalist model.  As a mid-level associate coming from the “headquarters” with substantial US REITs experience, Sarah was on a new journey to become a senior lawyer in capital markets, M&A transactions, fund, FDI and general corporate, real estate, etc.

The pressure and workload were intense. it is easy for her to lose track of how many nights she went home blindly in the dark, so she could only tiptoe to see her sleeping children . Like many young female lawyers who struggled to find a little more time to be with their family and kids, an in-house opportunity with a different business environment and work style was welcomed with open arms. Here begins Sarah’s journey as an in-house counsel (although in a hindsight – never assume a good lifestyle is guaranteed, if you want to excel in any job!)

Sherry: Sarah, you have said you like working with lawyers who have private practice experience and always try to be “accommodating” to them because you understand their struggles to adapt to in-house as you have been through similar uncertainties. Would you share with us your transition experience?

Sarah: First of all, it takes a bit adjustment on self-esteem.  Some seemingly trivial matters can be hard to take in at the beginning – for example, moving from your private office to an open office environment. More significantly, it is a mindset change of how we provide legal service.  When we are in law firms, we offer advice to in-house lawyers on legal issues. How to carry out the advice usually is not our concern. When you are part of the company, you work with the business units side by side, day in and day out, to solve real business problems and provide practical solutions. In the beginning, it is hard for lawyers coming from law firms to walk the fine line between legal and business advice because a company’s structure is far more complicated than that of a law firm. When our legal expertise are encountered with commercial, finance, HR…expertise,  in-house lawyers may either become defensive or start to doubt about their judgment. My advice to new in-house lawyers is that, believing in your judgment and instinct. Never doubt your professional capabilities. Also, never take your business partners as your opponents and waste time trying to figure out who is right and who is wrong. Consider it a great opportunity to learn first-hand from other professionals what you are not good at, and be confident to express your own opinion to work as a team.

Sherry: I know you had a great time with AstraZeneca. There were extensive deals. As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi stated in “Mental Flow,” people are happiest when they feel in control of their inner thoughts and feelings and experience a sense of enjoyment, purpose, and meaning. You enjoy being fully committed and involved when doing deals. However, back in 2016, AZ’s legal team was small, with limited promotion prospects. So, when an opportunity presented itself, you decided to leave to see more of the outside world. However, consequently, you changed jobs twice within nine months and came back to AZ. Have you ever worried that your resume looks too jumpy or thought you should hang in there longer?

Sarah: Obviously I do not advocate for jumping around just for higher pay or title. However, if an opportunity presents you with the experience that you feel lacking in your current role,  I don’t think one should go against her heart and keep the status quo merely for the sake of making her resume look good. The decision to be made has to be in the context of the essential issues, such as industrial, technical, and managerial experience the job can offer.  The lesson I learned is that in-house jobs can vary in a wide span. Before making a decision, don’t just focus on the job description, but also do as much due diligence as possible on the industry, the company, the leadership team and your future peers.

Sherry: It must feel like coming home when you returned to AZ in 2017 as you know the company and the people there so well. This time you took a more senior role as a member of China leadership team. Can you share how you integrated yourself into the senior management team?

Sarah:  When I came back to AZ as the China General Counsel, I was a seasoned lawyer with more than a decade of legal practice. However, I was still an amateur as a leader in a large company. The first step usually is to learn from, and sometimes “copy”, your role model or predecessor’s style. And that’s what I did. However, I quickly figured out it doesn’t work. A true leader is someone who can lead with her authentic style and be comfortable to be different. Over the years, I have often heard comments that “you don’t look like a lawyer” perhaps because of my petty figure and seemingly soft style.  It bothered me for a while and I tried to look more like a “lawyer” by dressing sharp, speaking louder and hiding my feminine side.  But I soon realized it was foolish to pretend to be someone else because you can’t. Instead, what makes one valuable is actually her unique perspective and authentic leadership style. Later I found out my uniqueness is exactly my strength – good advice delivered in a soft voice actually walks a long way because while you deliver the message, you also deliver respect, understanding and willingness to work together.

Sherry: Speaking of leadership style, many General Counsels told me respect is earned, not given. Therefore, they work hard to fight for respect. On the contrary, your unique approach was to strive for success without a battle. Could you share with us your secret?


Sarah: My secret is to speak like a human with common sense (laughs). Forget about the image of those lawyers in “Suits”. As an in-house counsel, you earn respect by being a good lawyer and being a good team player. It is interesting I never feel I need to fight with someone on something. I see everyone in the company working towards the same goal: to make the company successful in a sustainable way. Once you have that mindset, you have less ego to always want to be right, but more motivation to find a truly workable solution as a team. Most lawyers have strong analytical skills, if you can couple it with empathy and good communication, you don’t have to fight for respect.

I also want to talk a bit about so called “office politics”. I have always been puzzled why one can have so many “enemies” in an organization (laughs). I think at the end, it is all about understanding other people’s perspective and communication methods. Everyone in the company has their own KPI, and people will always first consider any problem from their own perspective. However, this does not exclude mutually beneficial compromises and win-win cooperation. Most of the time, solutions are not that black and white. If we put our heads together through understanding each other by effective communication, most of the time we can reach a plan that meets both parties’ goals. For example, some time ago, our European region reported that low-priced medicines from a particular country under my region were dumped in many European markets, disrupting the European market price.  As a matter of fact, this country does have maximum price restrictions, and such exportation is not illegal under the local regulations. From the perspective of Competition Law, we cannot interfere.  Although this was not a purely legal issue, it is an issue that needs to be addressed. Firstly, I arranged a meeting for all parties to explain their concerns directly. Then, I helped both sides to report to their superiors the legal difficulty and unique problem that we are facing, and managed to persuade the business to adjust business arrangements and targets accordingly, thus reduce the pressure on all parties. At the same time we continue to explore arrangements that can mitigate the situation within the legal framework of the local market. As I told my lawyers, it is not enough to be a good lawyer, but equally important to be a good project manager who can turn her advice into a reality.

Sherry: As a Chinese sitting in Shanghai, your current role as an International General Counsel of a UK-headquartered company is unprecedented, and truly deserved. Do you have any tips for mid to senior-level in-house lawyers to prepare for future senior promotion?

Sarah: First of all, we have to be a good lawyer because practicing law is our profession, the real value of our career. When I was the China General Counsel, I was personally in charge of all China business development projects’ legal support. The legal advisory side is what I like and a skill that I can never lose as a lawyer. Later on, I got promoted to be the International Head. Despite that, I am still more than willing to handle these matters myself whenever appropriate. I keep telling myself that I must remain familiar with the company’s operation and business and my legal practice.

Secondly, communication. You must be willing to spend time to talk to people, and even more importantly, listen to people, and truly understand what they are saying. I don’t mind becoming friends with my colleagues, but I am also not bothered to have frictions at work. I don’t take it personally.

Thirdly,  is leadership skills. How to develop your leadership skills? Due to legal’s role in a company, most in-house legal teams are not likely to be a big department. In most circumstances, we have a flat and lean structure. Therefore, young lawyers must seize every opportunity in daily work to improve your management skills by so called “leading  without authority” through leading cross-function projects, training programs, or industrial legal groups, etc.

Fourthly, it is visibility. However, this must be a mutual interaction between the line manager and the lawyer herself.  First, the boss must actively seek opportunities for young talents to be  exposed to senior management locally and globally.  At the same time, young lawyers must also have the willingness to develop and seize every opportunity to present themselves actively. Smart leaders always notice when talents show their unique strength, so never underestimate any presentation opportunities, formal or informal. Of course, don’t fake your motivation; you should follow your heart.

Sherry: In the past few years, you have grown up in the Chinese team and have made yourself stand out from your regional General Counsel peers to become their boss now. But, I have to admire your high emotional intelligence for taking two successful role changes in a short time.

Your current role is a position initially set up in Cambridge, UK. However, because of the Chinese market’s importance and your family considerations, you chose Shanghai as a location. This led to a famous saying in the community, “Chinese manage the international market from China.” What have been your stand-out experiences so far in this role over the past two years?


Sarah: First of all, I realized that I couldn’t manage everything, so I need to prioritize. Our China legal team is very strong, and I know the business and team pretty well to be comfortable to delegate. For the rest of the team, since I don’t share the same culture background to build up a natural trust with my team members, I paid extra attention to my overseas teams in the first two years. Secondly, I tried my best to present my team to the commercial and legal community to provide them with opportunities to showcase their work. Thirdly, I spent a lot of time creating platforms for knowledge exchange and community building to connect my lawyers in China, Asia Area, Russia/Eurasia, Australia, Middle East & Africa and Latin America, because I think it is a unique asset the company has to truly navigate the complicated legal framework for a multi-national pharmaceutical company.

Sherry:  Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today.  Your career development is incredibly inspiring for all of us.

Sarah:  Thank you very much.

IWD 2021: Celebrating Women in Law Firms’ Leadership

In these troubled times of pandemic and market turmoil, we have striven to look for positive news. In one example, last year saw more female lawyers take on leadership roles for top international firms in Asia. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer made history by appointing Georgia Dawson as their first female Senior Partner in September, and Morrison & Foerster made Marcia Ellis Global Chair of the Private Equity Group and elevated her to a Member of the Board of Directors.  In addition, Ashurst, Clifford Chance, Herbert Smith Freehills, and Kobre & Kim appointed women into regional leadership roles in 2020.

  • In 2020, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer elected a woman, Georgia Dawson, to Senior Partner for the first time in its 277-year-history, also becoming the first Magic Circle firm to do so. Dawson began her legal career at Freehills in Sydney in 1999, spent time in Hanoi on a law reform project and moved to UK to study for a Masters in International Relations at Cambridge, joining Freshfields as an Associate in 2004. Since 2012, Dawson has been a Freshfields partner in the Hong Kong office, becoming regional Managing Partner in Asia in 2017. She splits her time between Singapore and Hong Kong, where her main practice is internal and regulatory investigations, complex multi-jurisdictional litigation, and compliance counseling. Dawson took over from former Senior Partner, Edward Braham, in January 2021.
  • Morrison & Foerster promoted Marcia Ellis to Global Chair of the Private Equity Group and Member of the Board of Directors last October. Ellis, a Morrison & Foerster stalwart, rejoined the firm as a Corporate Partner in 2013, having initially left in 2008 to become the Chief Legal Officer for Asia at D.E.Shaw, in charge of all its investments in Asia on both public and private sides, before a two year stint at Ropes & Gray.
  • Recently awarded Woman Lawyer of the Year (Law Firm) at the 2020 ALB Hong Kong Awards, Jini Lee was also named Ashurst’s new regional head of Asia last year, the second woman to lead their Asia practice. Lee took over the role from predecessor Patrick Phua. Lee takes the role only five years after joining the firm as a partner from Linklaters.
  • Clifford Chance promoted capital markets specialist Connie Heng to Asia-Pacific Regional Managing Partner, taking over the role from Geraint Hughes last November. The NUS law graduate has been at the firm’s Hong Kong office for more than 20 years and has been regional head of its capital markets practice in Asia since 2015, and a member of the firm’s Global Wider Leadership Group since 2018.
  • Herbert Smith Freehills has appointed May Tai, former Managing Partner China to lead the Asia-Pacific region as Managing Partner, following a global leadership restructure at the firm. After graduating from Oxford, Tai joined HSF as a trainee in 2001 and became a Partner in 2010 and Managing Partner China in 2017. She has practiced in cross-border Asian disputes in the firm’s Beijing, Hong Kong, London, Shanghai, Singapore, and Tokyo offices during her career at the firm, making the appointment to her new regional remit all the more appropriate. Ms Tai, was keen to share her thoughts with us on #ChooseToChallenge, the IWD 2021 campaign theme.

May“The pandemic has disrupted women’s progress in many areas, from education to the workplace.

A disproportionate number of women have lost jobs, left the workforce completely, or shouldered an enormous burden of family support while working.

We have much ground to make up as the world slowly returns to normal.

We all have much to do, and can’t delay. We need to challenge inequality, call out bias, question stereotypes, and help forge an inclusive world. We all have a responsibility to make this happen.

  • In February, former Global General Counsel of Honeywell Technology Solutions, Lian Lian, joined cross-border disputes and investigations specialists Kobre & Kim as Managing Director Asia Pacific. For the last decade, Lian has earned a strong reputation as a leading in-house lawyer in the Chinese legal community, but to move directly from a senior in-house role to a regional management position at an international law firm speaks volumes about the esteem the firm holds her in, and the trust they have placed in her. Read more about Lian’s career here (

These appointments are welcome, progressive moves. The presence of role models and mentors is a crucial ingredient of a successful diversity program. Despite the fact that female law firm leadership ranks are growing, they are still relatively rare in Big Law. Women still face a challenging route to the top of the legal industry, as demonstrated in the UK, where fewer than 25% of partners among Magic Circle firms are female.

Though the glass ceiling has cracks, it still remains an impermeable barrier to many women, and inequality and prejudice remain very much part of the industry. Hopefully these recent leadership appointments will encourage more of the same in the years to come.

Conversation with Natalie Kernisant, Chief D&I Officer, Morrison & Foerster

Diverse and inclusive workplaces have proven to earn deeper trust and more commitment from their employees and clients. With research showing the many benefits of a diverse and inclusive workplace (including higher revenue growth, greater readiness to innovate, increased ability to attract talent, higher employee retention), law firms now more than ever are prioritizing diversity and inclusion best practices. To learn more about this topic, we are delighted to invite Natalie Kernisant, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Morrison & Foerster, to share her views and experience. Natalie moved into the newly created C-level leadership role in December 2020, after having most recently served as Mofo’s Global Diversity and Inclusion Director, leading the firm’s D+I team to provide outstanding programming, training, and educational opportunities, as well as spearheading the development of four engagement committees focused on legal services, charitable donations, community action, and education. Natalie’s elevated role, (which includes providing strategic leadership to advance recruiting and retention of diverse talent, as well as supporting client development in the area of D+I), reflects the increasing importance placed on diversity and inclusion initiatives by the firm.

Since 2017, under her supervision, guidance and leadership, Morrison & Foerster has achieved Diversity Lab’s Mansfield Rule Certification three years running, acknowledging that the firm has affirmatively considered at least 30 percent women, attorneys of color, LGBTQ+ and lawyers with disabilities for leadership and governance roles, equity partner promotions, formal client pitch opportunities, and senior lateral positions. This February, the influential periodical Crain’s New York Business named Natalie to its list of Notable Black Leaders & Executives 2021, which recognizes black men and women who have impacted New York City in major ways and sets out to honor their professional, civic, and philanthropic achievements.

KF: Katherine Fan (Managing Director, Hughes-Castell)

Natalie: Natalie Kernisant (Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Morrison & Foerster)

Diversity and Inclusion

KF: In the drive towards greater diversity and inclusion within the legal industry, what do you see as the main challenges and opportunities going forward in the legal industry? Where have you seen greatest progress and most notable positive change in this area?

Natalie: The greatest progress I have seen over the last year is the spike in genuine and intense interest in allyship and learning about the black experience in America in particular.  For the first time in my career, people were making space for diverse voices, were legitimizing their experiences and were passionately looking for ways to engage and do better.  2020 created a foundation upon which meaningful progress could be made – people were eager to listen and learn, without the shield of defensiveness and/or denial.  People were open to learning about how inaction often made them inadvertently complicit in maintaining the status quo – this heightened awareness and willingness to learn is – I think – imperative if we are to make any progress on these issues.

The main challenges I see in the immediate term are (1) sustaining the level of engagement and enthusiasm the tragedies and challenges of 2020 brought about.  Diversity, equity and inclusion aren’t issues that can be sporadically attended to but rather require constant attention and consistent effort.  (2) Equally challenging from my point of view is trying to ensure that we don’t collectively lose sight of what lies at the heart of DE&I work – the real world experiences of diverse people in our organizations and communities.  With all the attention on diversity, many well intended allies are rushing to try to find quick solutions and push for results, without understanding the nuance behind the issues we face.  Those “quick fixes” often bring about unintended consequences and can – at worst – lead diverse people to feel like interchangeable cogs in a machine or build unspoken resentments between groups that lead to more deeply entrenched biases.

KF: How do we integrate diversity and inclusion into talent acquisition strategies in the legal industry? Do you feel that quota systems are a practical way forward or is it possible to create a greater balance in a more holistic fashion?

Natalie: I think it’s important to ensure we have diverse pools of talent from which we select individual talent.  We have to be mindful of where we are sourcing talent and the biases we assume from the processes those sources rely on (i.e. top tier schools)  I also think its important to educate those participating in talent acquisition to the implicit biases within our recruiting systems and how to recognize and interrupt those biases.  For example,  how unstructured interviews and relying on “cultural fit” lead to faulty decision making; How the lack of diverse interviewers impact your hires, or how things like confirmation and recall biases – which we all suffer from – impact our memory when recalling interviews.  I’m not a huge fan of “quotas” per se because I feel they reduce the full person to a statistic and teach us to think about diversity in superficial and transactional ways rather than looking at a person for all they bring to the table and understanding the many benefits diversity brings to teams, including fostering more innovative and creative problem solving.

KF: How do you utilize employee resource groups to foster inclusion at the firm?

Natalie: ERGs are a great way to build a sense of community and belonging for diverse professional.  They can serve to enhance and support associate or employee development, providing a forum to share business development tips, network, and facilitate cross-selling and profile raising.  We also leverage them to help educate allies about the issues and concerns of a particular affinity and what its like to navigate the organization as a diverse professional.  Often times our ERGs collaborate with ERGs at peer organizations and/or clients – in furtherance of community building, external networking and professional development.



KF: When and why did you decide to pursue this area of work?

Natalie: I don’t know if I chose to pursue the work or if the work found me.  You see, I identify as a Black American of French Caribbean descent.  My parents were both born and raised for much of their lives in Haiti.  My first language was French, then Haitian Creole, and finally English.  I myself was born in Brooklyn, NY then moved to Roslyn, Long Island where I spent most of my young life.  I was fortunate to spend many summers visiting Port-au-Prince, Haiti.  As an adult I’ve lived in seven different states and two countries and spent a lot of time traveling internationally.  I think growing up the way I did at the intersection of two cultures, seeing and adapting to two worlds that were in many ways vastly different from one other – especially socio-economically – providing me a cultural fluency, empathy and respect for difference that has I think positioned me well for a role like this.  I also am and always have been fascinated by the human condition, human interactions and psychology, how we communicate, miscommunicate and struggle for acceptance and belonging.  That fascination led me to study quite a few things – psychology, politics, the law, human capital, organizational development, diversity, and change management.  Again, scholarly pursuits that serve as a foundation for the work that I do every day.  Once I decided to leave the law, I just followed these passions – first working on diversity policy issues at Harvard Medical School, then Strategic HR at an Investment Bank that had quite a lot of diversity related work embedded in it, and then back to a law firm where I have been for the last 7+ years.

KF: What words of wisdom as a female leader can you offer to aspiring female leaders in overcoming obstacles that you have experienced in the past?

Natalie: To always believe in yourself.  Adversity comes with advancement – it’s a natural part of the growth process; don’t ever let it discourage you – use it as a tool for improvement.  That is the only lesson challenges should teach you – they aren’t a reflection of your capability or belonging – they are a constructive part of the process of growth and development.

KF: How do you define the terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion in your work, and how do you communicate this internally?

Natalie: Diversity is largely about the presence of diverse people, its about representation while equity and inclusion are – to me – about the experience one has in an organization or environment.  They are about the interactions you have in the hall way, the mentors and sponsors who take interest in you, they are about the sense of belonging and fairness you feel.  Equity and inclusion are by far more important to me in the work that I do – because I support and serve individuals – whole human beings.  I truly believe that diversity is often either a premature or lagging indicator of how well you are doing on equity and inclusion – so I try to focus more on the latter two.  That isn’t to say that diversity – or achieving a critical mass within an environment – isn’t important but rather that representation is not necessarily inclusion and DE&I work is far deeper and more nuanced than just having a certain number of diverse faces in the building.



KF: What can employers in Asia do to better practice diversity and inclusion?

Natalie: I don’t know that I have specific advice for employers in Asia – but I will say we can all do better by seeking to educate ourselves about other people’s experiences; we ought to truly engage people who are different from ourselves and actively listening to their stories. I also think its always important to understand that there is a difference between intent and impact while we engage in these difficult conversations – we can intend no harm but still impact someone else negatively with what and how we speak to one another.  So lead with empathy and make room for different voices. Seek to learn and support your colleagues as whole human beings with different but legitimate experiences.  Only then will you inspire loyalty and empower your people to bring their best to the work they do for you everyday.  That’s my advice for employers everywhere.

Tackling Gender Diversity in Law in the Covid-19 Era

We should recognise that diversity and equality matter as a point of principle in the workplace, but we can now draw conclusions that they have an uplifting effect on business performance. The legal profession has spent years wrestling with gender diversity but, for all the progress made, we still have some way to go. Law firms are reluctant to change until it makes sense in purely business terms. It is encouraging, therefore, that a stronger focus on diversity is increasingly likely to lead to greater financial returns and create a competitive differentiator that shifts market share positively.


The recently published Acritas’s report (2020)[1], Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law, shows that gender-diverse teams in law firms attract a significantly higher client spend. McKinsey’s Diversity Matters (2015) [2]found that companies (in Canada, Latin America, the UK, and the US) in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.


Client pressure plays a growing role in promoting gender diversity. Acritas found that, globally, close to three-quarters of law firms reported client pressure to increase gender diversity among their ranks, which generated more momentum in their efforts. Whether driven specifically by clients’ ideals or not, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, one of a few firms to announce notable promotions and appointments of women in 2020 ( to senior positions, has undergone a spurt of growth to expand its stateside footprint with a number of women hires[3].


In Japan, fairly or unfairly seen as a society that puts significant value on the traditionally male-dominant senior workforce, partners at the recognised “Big Four” firms admit that in order to compete for international work, they can no longer ignore the need to make diversity and inclusion part of their firms’ core values. Especially when their clients, especially in the financial sector, now field transaction teams typically comprised of over 50% women[4].


Remote working is regarded as a game-changer for achieving gender diversity and was widely adopted during the Covid-19 pandemic. Will the aftermath of Covid-19 improve gender diversity in law? During the pandemic and the ensuing closure of schools and leisure facilities, and with home lockdowns being imposed, female lawyers invariably suffered from the burden of unequal family duties of childcare and schooling, supervising kids’ remote learning during the day and fitting in working hours where possible. Paradoxically, there are reports that some women have found the remote work situation to be bolstering their cause by thrusting the issue of unequal family duties front and center. Increased paid family leave and universal childcare are becoming more frequent topics of conversation in the legal market.


On the topic of diversity, we are happy to have May Tai of Herbert Smith Freehills and Hong Tran of Mayer Brown share with us their diversity and inclusion strategies or initiatives:

Screenshot 2021-03-05 170811


[1] Acritas,‘Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law’,, Thomson Reuters, 2021, (accessed 25 February, 2021)

[2] Vivian Hunt, Dennis Layton, and Sara Prince, ‘Why diversity matters’,, McKinsey, 2015, (accessed 25 February 2021)

[3] ‘Freshfields Taps First Woman Leader, Still Rare in Big Law’,, Bloomberg Law, 2020, (accessed 25 February 2021)

[4] Jessica Seah, ‘Even in Japan, Law Firms Boost Diversity Initiatives to Attract Women Lawyers’,, American Lawyer Media International, (accessed 25 February 2021)


Firms eye return to Capital Markets boom times

As the world awaits the roll-outs of the various vaccines at varying rates of distribution, variable according to region, optimism is returning to the Asian markets. In some minds cautious optimism is being favoured following the devastating consequences of the global pandemic and its ongoing fallout, others report a return to regular compensation distribution levels and bonus payouts thanks to belatedly strong deal activity as the world got to grips with the new reality. Talk of a “coiled spring” market reaction to the downturn may be overly optimistic but the skies are certainly bluer.

Amid this recovery has been an interesting trend in hiring in capital markets. Previous indications were that major firms outside the Magic Circle and established US players had all but given up on trying to make Hong Kong IPOs a viable source of profitable income, with US firms such as Davis Polk, Milbank, Shearman & Sterling and others allowing their practices to fade following key departures in recent years, finding increasingly competitive pricing too burdensome to factor into budgets and turning their attention to the perceptibly higher margins of, for example, private equity.

But recent hires may show a resurgent confidence in the sector. Kirkland & Ellis welcomed back Mengyu Lu after six years at Sidley Austin, while Sidley themselves made the surprising hire of Dominic Tsun who could be viewed as moving in the opposite direction if not for the fact that he had left Kirkland, and seemingly practice altogether, in 2017. Two swallows do not a summer make but these are sufficiently high-profile moves to catch the attention of the market and maybe encourage others to start betting big again on what was once a highly popular and lucrative sector.

Indeed, PRC firms have been ramping up capability in the sector for a couple of years now, enticing high profile names from seemingly disenchanted international firms to ride the wave of Hong Kong listings emerging from the mainland. Their more flexible pricing structures, cultural and physical proximity to clients, and vast and cost-efficient personnel resources all justify this willingness to attack the gap in the market and make a success of it. Indications are that those firms still with an eye on this market are seeing the sense in building up the staff numbers in Beijing in preference to Hong Kong, where overheads are smaller. Davis Polk’s extremely recent hire of Jason Xu from Freshfields is an example of this, and an indication that the firm remains committed to maintaining activity in HK IPOs, albeit with a different approach than previously.

Low margins will seemingly remain a factor on deals outside the top bracket and firms on the sponsor side were for a time prepared to take those on in an effort to penetrate the market or maintain visibility and prestige. Time will tell if this is a market blip or a major shift.

Tips To Take You To The Top

For many law students and attorneys, becoming a top law firm partner is the ultimate career milestone. What does it take to make partner? Certain things you can learn in law school, but the path to partnership is forged in the workplace. Nowadays, delivering very high-quality legal work and being a rainmaker may no longer be enough by themselves to get you promoted to partner. The partnership measure is a test of both business and personal acumen. Individuals looking to become a partner will need to be a real business asset to the firm as well as a mentor to junior staff.


You need to be well-prepared when the opportunity knocks. We share six essential tips to prepare yourself on work and personal requirements on the path to becoming a Partner:


On a Professional Level

  • Be client-centric to make yourself into a business asset. The ability to perform good quality technical work is primary. In doing this, you should also spend time understanding your clients’ businesses and learning to hone the delivery of your legal advice accordingly. Also, associates need to keep in mind there are always business development opportunities. You can focus on institutional clients at the firm while attempting to generate more business from them, and beyond.


  • Don’t just network but forge genuine relationships with clients. “Growing your network” seems to be a golden rule for any associate who is gunning for partnership. But networking is not just a matter of building a stack of business cards on your desk. Law firms want partners who can build substantial relationships with clients. Developing a genuine relationship creates trust and a strong bond that involves connections of honesty, commitment, loyalty, and being culturally sensitive, respectful, and wise. In other words, you are someone clients want to hire. Especially if you are at a large firm where the perceived potential to bring in business is an important consideration.


  • Take on greater responsibility. Don’t avoid responsibility because you see something as unimportant. Firms want to see that you will commit to the execution of something from start to finish even if it does not benefit you directly. If a firm can’t trust you with the small details, why should they trust you with the huge complex deals? We see many superstar associates waste their careers by not growing beyond a certain level. You must push forward in your position so you can move to the next rung on the ladder by showing that you are a leader capable of handling responsibility and making strong recommendations and decisions.


  • Be a team player and role model. Law firms will endow you with responsibility because they are confident in your integrity and skill, and there is no better way to honor that than by showing the firm you are a team player who will always “muck in”. The best way to build strong, supportive, and collaborative teams is to be a good role model for junior teammates.


On a Personal Level

  • Seize opportunities to learn. To be a partner, you cannot just rely on existing legal knowledge, but embrace a willingness to continue to expand capabilities in other areas. With the rapid advancement in technologies and telecommunications, associates must also have the drive to learn new methods of communication, research and outreach to achieve targets and objectives.


  • Dare to be bold. Lawyers are inherently conservative people. Risk aversion is at the core of client advice. But it is very easy to stagnate if you remain in your shell professionally. Engage with colleagues, supervisors, HR and (yes!) recruitment consultants frequently to monitor your career progression, measure yourself against contemporaries and ensure you are meeting the firm’s requirements. A path to partnership is not always possible directly from a traineeship, and often this will not be a reflection of the capability of the lawyer. There is a window to partnership and you should be aware of when this opens – and when it closes – so you can look at alternative firms which offer a more realistic chance of success.

Asia LegalTech Overview, Singapore

Singapore has a thriving LegalTech industry more advanced than most of its Asian neighbors, as LegalTech startups and programs have received substantial government backing in the past few years. We believe nowhere else in Asia has the same level of sovereign investment in LegalTech and innovation as Singapore. LegalTech initiatives are supported as part of the Singapore government’s commitment to creating a first-class Smart Nation. In this article, we highlight the LegalTech development in Singapore and the associated challenges.

Why Singapore?

Singapore’s government has been open about its commitment to making the nation the regional hub for LegalTech in the past few years. Unlike other countries in the region, Singapore develops the LegalTech industry through a top-down, government-led approach.

Singapore government’s commitment is exemplified by the Future Law Innovation Programme (FLIP)[i] launched in 2019 by the Singapore Academy of Law. It aims to drive innovation and encourage the adoption of new technologies across the legal sector. Global Legal Innovation and Digital Entrepreneurship (GLIDE), as part of FLIP, is Asia’s first LegalTech startup accelerator program. It is intended to help both local and international LegalTech startups scale and improve in-house legal capabilities by facilitating innovative solutions. Since the GLIDE launch, there have been 6 LegalTech projects launched: Anduin, Briefbox, Checkbox, LegalFAB, LexKnights, and Remedium.

In 2020, Singapore’s Ministry of Law had launched a 10-year sector-wide plan, the Technology and Innovation Roadmap (TIR)[ii], intending to promote new technology and innovation adoption and development in Singapore’s legal industry on existing government initiatives and grants available. The plan includes working with LegalTech companies to help law firms assess their digital readiness and identify technology they can adapt, enabling qualified lawyers to count LegalTech upskilling programs as part of their continuing professional development, infusing relevant technology or digital skills law schools’ curriculum.

The Centre for Technology, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence & the Law (TRAIL)[iii] was launched by the National University of Singapore (NUS) in Dec 2019 as a think tank to explore legal and regulatory issues associated with the deployment of AI, IT, data analytics and robotics in the practice of law. The Centre seeks to contribute to the conversation on how they harness and integrate technology into the legal sector in a useful and equitable way.

Singapore LegalTech Companies to Watch

Encouraged by government support, a handful of Singapore-based LegalTech companies have launched. Here are four key LegalTech startups/projects:

Alpha LegalTech has developed CompareNow[iv], a text comparison or mark-up tool for legal professionals, through Clifford Chance’s LegalTech innovation lab, Create+65. Supported by the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) and in collaboration with the FLIP, Create+65 identifies, incubates, tests, and pilots new legal technology solutions to enhance client services. CompareNow is one of the most successful projects in Create+45 by saving an average of 75% of time previously spent on email/text comparison and an average of 41% of time on longer, more complex documents.

Rajah & Tann Technologies (RTTech)[v], a digital arm of Singapore’s Big Four legal firm Rajah & Tann, was set up in 2018 to offer a suite of technology-enabled legal solutions, including electronic innovation, cybersecurity, and data breach response. Covid-19 has accelerated companies’ and individuals’ reliance on digital data, and the startup has spotted a much-needed service on cybersecurity at this most challenging of times. Last December, they joined with cybersecurity service provider Resolvo Systems to establish Rajah & Tann Cybersecurity (RTCyber), a platform to integrate legal and cybersecurity expertise to help clients mitigate against cyberattacks or security breach disruptions.

VanillaLaw[vi], a Singapore’s boutique law firm, launched its own web-based platform VanillaLaw Docs, in 2016. It is an interactive web-based platform that allows their clients to insert relevant information to prepare the first draft of legal documents in return. Clients, especially SMEs, can reduce legal costs and streamline the legal process.

LawCanvas [vii]is a legal startup that offers a cloud-based contract management platform for small businesses in Asia, launched in 2014. They provide a virtual library of free legal templates, with a smart editor that their clients claim makes editing clauses easy. In 2016, LawCanvas expanded its services into three more jurisdictions – Australia, Malaysia, and Hong Kong.


What’s holding them back?

The Singapore government has invested heavily in fostering the LegalTech industry. The Covid-19 pandemic has given a strong push on tech adoption across the industry now more than ever. Despite this, Singapore’s legal sector as a whole has yet to make substantial investments in LegalTech and many law firms remain “old school” in practice. What is holding them back from embracing LegalTech development?

The willingness to retreat from the foundation of the “billable hour” is the main barrier for LegalTech growth in Singapore. Lawyers at most law firms are used to be paid based on the time invested, but offering efficient yet convenient technological solutions as part of lawyers’ services cuts directly into profit. This creates a paradigm shift in pricing from the working time invested to the services’ value/quality. Let us take Rajah & Tann partnership as an example. When its legal tech unit (RTTech) was founded in 2018, they had difficulties convincing their partners to participate in the tech transformation[viii].

Lawyers are generally too busy to have spare time to understand, analyze, and learn the new technology solutions that best-suited their practices. They are not trained with new technology at law schools. With time constraints and limited resources, legal professionals have been slow to adopt technology and innovation.

Cost is an issue, especially when law firms are cash-strapped in the post-Covid-19 period. Law firms, notably local or small firms with limited budgets and are less willing to make substantial investments as well as potentially huge maintenance costs. Maybe an upturn in the markets in 2021 will see this change.


[i] ‘The Future Law Innovation Programme’,, Singapore Academy of Law, 2019, (accessed 19 January 2021)

[ii] Jacqueline So, ‘Singapore Ministry of Law unveils technology and innovation roadmap for legaltech adoption’,, Key Media, 2020, (accessed 19 January 2021)

[iii] Hariz Baharudin, ‘NUS launches new think tank to explore legal issues surrounding the use of technology’,, Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co, (accessed 19 January 2021)

[iv] ‘Clifford Chance partners with Singapore start up Alpha LegalTech to launch CompareNow in Asia Pacific’,, Clifford Chance, 2020, (accessed 20 January 2021)

[v] Aparna Sai, ‘Rajah & Tann tech arm launches cybersecurity platform’,, Thomson Reuters, 2021, (accessed 20 January 2021)

[vi] Mark Goh, ‘3 business lessons I learned from running my own firm for 24 years’,, Tech in Asia, 2018, (accessed 20 January 2021)

[vii] ‘Singapore-based legal startup LawCanvas expands into Australia, Malaysia and Hong Kong’,, Asia Law Portal, 2016, (accessed 19 January 2021)

[viii] Jessica Seah, ‘Lawyer Mindset Still Barrier for Legal Tech Growth in Asia’,, American Lawyer Media International, 2020, (accessed 20 January 2021)

Leaders in Law: Interview with Lian Lian

Lian Lian is the Managing Director, APAC at Kobre & Kim, an international law firm specializing in cross-border disputes and investigations.  She started out as an associate at international law firms focusing on cross-border transactions and corporate practice, then worked her way up as in-house counsel at Honeywell through various APAC General Counsel roles until she became the Global General Counsel of Honeywell Technology Solutions. For the last decade, Lian has been a leading lawyer in the Chinese legal community. Sherry recently sat down with Lian to talk about Lian’s career development path, her keys for success, the difference between in-house and private practice roles, and her advice for young lawyers.

Sherry:Sherry Xu (Director, Hughes-Castell)

Lian:Lian Lian (Managing Director, APAC, Kobre & Kim)


After graduating from Fudan University, Lian started her career in Otis’s Shanghai HR department the year Otis sponsored the Special Olympics. Lian was given the opportunity to work on the Special Olympics Asia Pacific Organizing Committee. Inspired by her international experience, Lian decided to explore overseas opportunities to broaden her education and experience, and concluded that the United States was the place to go. She initially studied in Boston to obtain an undergraduate degree with a major in political science.  This laid a strong foundation for her later Juris Doctorate study. During her law studies, she actively participated in legal aid activities working with the local Chinese community and also undertook an internship at a law firm in her 2L in the law school. For the next two years, she worked non-stop during the day and then rushed to her study courses after work. Her dedication paid off because by the time Lian graduated, she was already a well-known “practitioner” in Boston’s legal community concerning US/China affairs. She had attained the profile of a professional who knew the Chinese legal system and business culture, spoke Mandarin and English fluently, and had client connections as well as a US law degree and US legal practice experience.

Lian’s profile and background helped her attain an associate position at a regional firm in Boston’s highly competitive legal market. She focused on China practice right after her graduation. As a first-year associate, apart from legal practice, she worked closely with the partners on business development matters. At that time, Lian, who was still under 30, was interviewed by both the Boston Globe and the New England In-house Counsel Journal as a leading China cross-border practitioner. However, Lian worried that staying on her current track would only utilize her China connections and enhance her business development skills, whereas she was keen to get back to the nitty-gritty of practicing law. In 2008, Lian decided to return to China and joined Jones Day’s Shanghai office.  This helped strengthen her track record in cross-border M&A, private equity investment, and related corporate practice.

Although Lian loves business, being in a pure sales role is not something that she enjoys. Lian nevertheless observes the increasing importance of sales as part of a partner’s duties in a law firm. She also realized that, as an external advisor, she was not able to fully understand a client’s underlying business rationales as well as the methodology of the internal decision-making process. She observes that, as an external lawyer, “we tend to offer conservative legal advice rather than offer business driven solutions”. Given this perspective, Lian decided to move in-house and accepted an offer from Honeywell where she would spend the next decade.

Sherry: Lian, you were in Honeywell for 10 years and worked in various positions. Would you share with us insight into your opportunities and career growth in Honeywell?


Lian: When I first joined Honeywell, I started working in Honeywell APAC Corporate Legal Team, assisting the Asia Pacific General Counsel Gerard Willis. He was and continues to be a wonderful mentor to me.

I joined Honeywell at the perfect time. When I started, Honeywell had just obtained a substantial Aerospace contract, to act as a major supplier for China’s first commercial jet, C919 of COMAC. At that time, Honeywell won four supply contracts. Under Chinese law, we had to establish a joint venture under each contract. Gerald asked me to take charge of the Wheels & Brakes joint venture.

This 50/50 joint venture project was not easy to negotiate, especially when many negotiation partners were university professors and scientists. They are excellent in engineering science and technology field, but they had never done any business JV negotiation with international companies like Honeywell. The negotiations were particularly challenging in terms of differences in business and legal concepts, practices and culture. As a world technology leader, Honeywell was quite aggressive in the negotiations, especially on IP matters. Looking back, this was probably the most difficult project I have worked on in my career. I needed to build international bridges between legal, business culture and technical engineering issues to close the gaps that had opened. It was indeed a challenging task and I was very proud of handling and successfully delivering one of the most important projects in China for Honeywell. After this project, my capability was noticed internally and I was recognized as someone of “high potential” at Honeywell, and put into their executive development program.

During my following two years at Honeywell APAC Corporate, I had been working on the joint ventures for the C919 project and was a board director of the Wheels & Brakes JV company. In the meantime, a second key opportunity emerged when Honeywell established its High Growth Region corporate division. I worked with Gerald to provide legal support for new business on all market-entry matters in high growth regions, specifically Asia, Russia and South America.

With my successful track records at APAC Corp, I was promoted to become APAC General Counsel of Honeywell Performance & Material Technologies Group (“PMT”).  The PMT business has many technology components and grew rapidly in APAC.  We had many joint venture projects with Chinese state-owned enterprises, and many significant supply contracts with Japanese and Korean OEMs. During this period, my team and I worked very closely with our PMT business colleagues, who understood that my legal team and I would always try to help them achieve their business goals. We identified and mitigated risks but also came up with creative and innovative solutions. PMT is a tech-oriented business group, with many valuable patents and extensive know-how. During those three years I came to realize how a creative legal professional could help an innovative business. This period was also the peak of our Asia Pacific PMT business.

After accumulating all the valuable experience I have described, another opportunity arose and I seized it. There was a vacancy as Honeywell Technology Solutions Global General Counsel. Taking this role would be a good promotion for me although I was concerned at the beginning that working in this business unit seemed limited to only dealing with engineers. Later, after further study and communication internally, and especially after I assumed the role, I realized that this position actually was the most rewarding and this is the role that also most helped me fully achieve my goal of becoming more than just a typical lawyer. In the past, every one of Honeywell’s products had been developed within Honeywell. We came to understand as a company that if we stuck to this module, our development may not keep ahead of our competitors. Therefore, our Honeywell Technology Solutions (HTS) decided to adopt an open innovation approach — we would collaborate with world-renowned universities, customers and industrial players on innovation and product development. My role was to tailor-design and implement different cooperation structure modules and IP strategies according to each parties’ requirements. I also helped set up the Honeywell In-House Start-up process as an internal incubator to encourage engineers to build their own “start-ups.” During the 3-years I was the Global GC of HTS, we incubated more than 20 projects in China alone, with an adoption rate of 25%, and external venture capitals successfully invested in other projects. Later, we applied this successful model to our operations in the Czech Republic, Mexico and India. My role was to design and implement legal business concept models and train the local engineers to become entrepreneurs, converting their technological innovations into viable businesses.

Sherry: Many of our clients are now ask for relevant industry experience while hiring. You have served various industries at Honeywell, from Aerospace to chemical and then to R&D, without prior relevant industry experience. You thrived in those positions through learning on the job. Could you share your tips for success?


Lian: As long as you are curious enough to learn the business and related industries, and know how to partner with your business team, you will be a good General Counsel in the end. Instead of merely being a lawyer, you need to be a business advisor. So when I had already been with Honeywell for a while and had acquired some institutional knowledge of the company, changing industry focus was not too difficult for me to continue being both a good lawyer and leader for the business. Especially in Honeywell, we had the culture that senior management and business units’ staff are always willing to involve legal in projects and business ideas from an early stage.  It is because the legal team touched every aspect of our businesses, including compliance, transaction structure, and so on. I think the legal team should be the center of the wheel, backed by business trust and thorough communication from other teams. We should certainly build and earn trust from the different business teams when switching roles – I always tell my team that we would not simply say “No” to our clients but instead help find a solution. We should never be a deal killer, but a facilitator, providing the necessary legal structure and facilitating the business to succeed.

Sherry: What have been the most critical moments in your career? What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced? How did you overcome them?


Lian: Since I started as a transactional lawyer, I found it smooth to transfer from the Corporate Legal arena to the PMT business unit, where my primary duty was still transaction-centric. When I moved to the R&D business unit from PMT, I faced some unique challenges. I had to work directly with engineers on innovation processes and technical-driven procedures. The key at that time was to find out a way to leverage company resources. I was glad that I had an excellent Head of Intellectual Property colleague at that time, Jerry Xia, in our corporate legal team. Then I went back to the basics of the in-house legal work: I need to understand my clients, the engineers. I think that I overcame the challenge that is not to confine Legal Department in a technical IP process and function support but instead to guide engineers to connect their innovation with market demands and commercial value and deploy much more proactive and protective IP strategies in a R&D organization.

Sherry: While you were serving in different business units, what qualities were you more keen to see when recruiting? Does each business unit hire for its specific requirements?


Lian: No. First of all, the required legal skill sets are pretty basic. As long as you already are a well-trained and polished lawyer, I would be more concerned with business acumen, even now I am working in private practice.  Even for a private practice lawyer, if you cannot run your business well or cannot satisfy your clients, then you will fail. For an in-house lawyer, internal clients are your business. If your client is trying to avoid you, that means you are not a successful in-house lawyer. On the other hand, if your client takes the initiative to look for your help/assistance, this is a good indicator that you have succeeded in being partners with them. If your clients think of coming to you and asking “is this plan on the right track?” or “does this make sense?” before they kick off any new projects, this indicates that you have been very successful in building a trusted relationship. Second, I think communication skills are vital. Lawyers ultimately serve as guardians for their clients. But how can you convince others to accept your constructive advice and follow your instructions without doubts? It is not easy. You need to use your personality, cogency and influence to convince them take your advice wisely and willingly. Third, high EQ is necessary. If you plan to work for a large company or a leading law firm, you must have high EQ. This will be manifested in various communication channels such as the way you speak on the phone and write emails. You must be part of the team and be likable; otherwise, everyone in the team will suffer. It is essential to make clients and team members feel comfortable with you and your advice.

Sherry: Lian, you have been chosen for many internal promotions benefiting from Honeywell’s great talent development schemes. While nowadays not many young talents they have chances working in a company like Honeywell. Do you have any suggestions for them? How can they fight for opportunities and stand out from the competition?


Lian: First of all, I think you should be willing to speak up, work hard and work smart, and make your voice heard across the table. Don’t be too humble, especially when you are sure you are making the right call. When you are given a chance to shine, you must then seize it, not hide it. But remember not to claim any credit. Credit comes to you; it should not be claimed by you. You should work “smart”, know what exposure you are getting from each project and try your best when you are given an opportunity to thrive.


Sherry: Now you are at Kobre & Kim, having returned to private practice from in-house. Any unique experiences you have accumulated from the in-house world that you can pass on to the associates to be a good client-serving lawyer?


Lian: Firstly, nowadays law firms are no longer doing business in a captive client market.  Therefore, we must reform and should not operate in the traditional model. We should not offer legal services as a commodity. Nowadays you may see negative issues of private practice in the market, such as fierce competition, price “wars”, etc. This is definitely unhealthy. I aim to apply my background and experience to innovate the firm’s operations, making sure the products we offer match our clients’ needs and expectations and upgrading our products through their feedback and changes in market demand. Also, I’d suggest external lawyers be more business orientated and practical. You can talk about millions of laws, but if your advice doesn’t address business issues, it’s useless. This is key advice I would pass onto the young lawyers I can reach.

Sherry:  Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today.  Your career is incredibly inspiring for all of us.

Lian:  Thank you very much.