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A case for making it to ranks of best law firms

A case for making it to ranks of best law firms

Source: Straits Times
Article Date: 15 Nov 2021
Author: K.C. Vijayan

Singapore's Best Law Firms 2022 saw 101 law firms listed in 17 categories, with 25 law firms appearing for the first time.

Included in Singapore's Best Law Firms 2022 list among big and familiar names is a little-known firm that was established only in December last year.

BTPLaw LLC, like the proverbial mouse that roared, made the list of the best law firms in the Banking and Finance category, one that even some prominent and seasoned players may jostle to get into.

Set up by lawyer Brandon Tee, BTPLaw LLC is arguably the newest firm to hit the Best Firms list in the shortest time from its formation.

Mr Tee, who started his legal career in 2013 and has also worked elsewhere, said when contacted last month: "I decided to set up my own firm and then I went from having zero lawyers working for me to having five lawyers working for and with me, with the headcount expected to grow."

Now in its second edition, Singapore's Best Law Firms 2022 saw 101 law firms listed in 17 categories, with 25 law firms appearing for the first time.

Several firms earned spots in more than one category.

The new edition of the list was dominated by the Big Five that chalked in the most appearances in the 17 categories.

Rajah & Tann headed the list, appearing in 16 out of the 17 categories. The 17th category exclusively involves international firms with an offshore practice based in Singapore.

The firm's remarkable feat comes as it celebrates its 45th anniversary this year.

Allen & Gledhill bagged awards in 15 categories while Drew & Napier and WongPartnership scored in 14 categories.

Registering one category fewer was Dentons Rodyk, Singapore's oldest law firm.

Together, these firms make up the Big Five - heavyweight firms with a lawyer headcount of about 200 or more.

But smaller and boutique firms also made firm imprints such as in the Criminal Law category.

The top five names there - Trident Law, Regent Law, Peter Low & Choo, Eugene Thuraisingham LLP and Kalidass Law Corporation - effectively snuffed out the big players on the list.

Other categories where smaller firms made bigger impacts included Family Law and Negligence.

It is tempting to look at the Big Five firms as being similar to the big five football clubs dominating the English Premier League, rotating the championship among themselves year after year through sheer skill and outfit strength.

But some points bear reflection.

Being the best law firm does not necessarily equate with being the most successful. You could measure success based on per capita revenue, and it is any layman's guess who would top that list.

Some United States media report the largest law firms ranked there, based on revenue.

But the value of ST Best Law Firms 2022 cannot be understated.

Among other things, it helps in identifying the go-to persons for specialised help.

"When choosing an external lawyer, the most critical parameter is the right expertise," said Singapore Corporate Counsel Association executive director Mel Nirmala. "That includes high legal knowledge, hands-on experience, and a specialised understanding of the specific industry that the company operates within."

The ST/Statista survey of the best law firms helps in-house counsel and businesses have a better overview and more insights on commercial aspects.

"The valuation allows internal teams to make better choices," explained Ms Nirmala.

As Singapore's best law firms consolidate their standing with this survey and more in the years ahead, the familiar names are reassuring and boost the survey's credibility.

But looking ahead - and given the headwinds of strong borderless, on-going competition - the big names will have to ask themselves if they could indeed be the best in the region and beyond, as well as where they fit in such a landscape.

The full results can be accessed at this website.

Top 5 models for charity, pro bono work in legal sector

This year's best five law firms listed for charity and pro bono work in the Singapore's Best Law Firms 2022 survey has a newcomer which is also the smallest of the five.

Ranked with heavyweights like Rajah & Tann and Allen & Gledhill is Eng & Co, a three-year-old corporate and commercial law firm headed by veteran Rachel Eng, who has almost 30 years' experience as a corporate lawyer. She is also a member of the CPF board of directors, and was named in Forbes' Asia's Power Businesswomen 2020 list.

Among the work Eng & Co does on a pro bono or reduced fee basis is to help clients set up charities, said Ms Eng. "We also support a non-profit organisation that is active in South-east Asia with their legal needs. Among our partners, we serve the community actively in various pro bono organisations and activities," she said.

"Covid-19 has impacted our lives greatly, and severely affected the ability of charities to raise funds. As a firm, we have contributed towards efforts by the community to raise funds to provide food for front-line health workers. We feel we have both directly and indirectly contributed to the charity ecosystem."

She noted a trend of corporate entities increasingly pursuing goals related to environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) through the use of charity structures. ESG investors incorporate concerns and values such as environmental impacts when choosing investments instead of profitability only.

Topping the charity/pro bono list in the survey was Adsan Law, which retained its pole position from last year.

Following Rajah & Tann in second place was Quahe Woo & Palmer in third, and Allen & Gledhill in fifth. These four were also in the top five for this category in the inaugural survey last year.

A spokesman for Rajah & Tann said the firm had built a strong partnership of pro bono work with various organisations over the years, including the Law Society, the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre and Dementia Singapore.

It is the first law firm to set up a charity foundation in Singapore, the Rajah & Tann Foundation, which channels donations to charities in a focused and organised manner, she said.

"We are deeply humbled to be listed among top law firms. This recognition serves as a pat on the back for our lawyers and staff, who regularly provide hands-on contribution to needy communities such as underprivileged children, the elderly, and disadvantaged groups and individuals. As we continue lending our hand to the less fortunate, we hope to leverage our presence in the region and spread our reach to the rest of Asia," she added.

Speaking for Allen & Gledhill, Mr Chan Hian Young, the co-head of the firm's pro bono programme, said its lawyers across Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Vietnam have given their time to serve their respective communities since the pro bono programme was set up in 2008.

"In 2020 alone, our lawyers were engaged in over 5,000 hours of pro bono work for close to 50 different organisations and 36 individuals," said Mr Chan.

Adsan Law said it did more pro bono work this year than in the past year. "We conducted more pro bono talks for community organisations and charities as well as for clients and associates and provided pro bono legal services to other non-profit organisations," said Ms Susan Leong, Adsan Law's chief executive officer.

The firm's chairman, Mr Adrian Peh, is a Justice of the Peace and sits on several public service boards such as the Chinese Development Assistance Council.

"This recognition is humbling and a constant reminder that even as the world propels itself into the digital age, people and human insight remain the heart of all that we do as a law corporation," said Ms Leong.

"We are grateful to our staff, clients, charity partners and associates for their support and belief in us."

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.


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