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Dentons expanding Asean footprint

Dentons expanding Asean footprint

Source: Business Times
Article Date: 05 Apr 2021
Author: Tay Peck Gek

Move by world's largest law firm comes as other players in Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines combine with the network this year.

With already 12,000 lawyers in 80 countries, the world's largest law firm Dentons is still expanding its footprint, notwithstanding the pandemic.

A firm each in Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines is expected to combine with the network this year, Dentons global vice-chair and Asean CEO Gerald Singham said.

The 59-year-old helmsman, who leads Dentons offices in Singapore, Myanmar, Indonesia and Malaysia, told The Business Times that Laos, Brunei and Cambodia will come on board "very fast" after the combination takes place in Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.

He highlighted that Asean is a booming region with a young demographic, growing middle class and a population of about 600 million.

Dentons Rodyk & Davidson, the law firm led by Mr Singham as the managing partner following his appointment in January, was the first in South-east Asia to combine with Dentons when it joined the network in 2016. The firm celebrates its 160th year this year.

While Dentons Rodyk gets to leverage the resources and network of Dentons through a Swiss Verein structure, it remains autonomous in managing its own affairs and is financially independent.

A verein is an association of persons or companies, which together want to pursue a non-economic purpose.

Dentons Rodyk also plays a leadership role to help identify for combination purpose those firms in the region that have a long established understanding of the business environment and culture, as well as being in and of the community with strong roots - the hallmarks of Dentons Global's polycentric approach.

The Myanmar, Indonesia and Malaysia firms became part of the association in 2017 and 2018.

Dentons has been named the second best known law firm and third most favoured law firm in the Acritas Global Brand Elite Index 2021.

The poll by Acritas, a Thomson Reuters unit, surveyed 1,565 senior legal buyers from 55 countries with more than US$1 billion in global revenues.

Mr Singham told BT that the revenue of Dentons Global increased in 2020 despite the pandemic.

The legal practitioner, who has spent his entire professional career at Singapore's first and oldest law firm, said Dentons Rodyk is pursuing the strategies of scale, connectivity and innovation to steer it to greater heights in an increasingly integrated world.

Also, it is into the practices that focus on new sectors such as environmental, social and governance (ESG); it is establishing a dedicated ESG specialist team.

It will beef up its tax practice as well, as more family offices are set up here which require cross-border tax advice and other legal services.

Mr Singham took over the reins of Dentons Rodyk in January following his predecessor Philip Jeyaretnam's elevation to the Supreme Court bench.

Without leveraging Dentons' resources and network, Mr Singham is keenly aware that his firm would not be able to single-handedly bring the three strategies to fruition.

He noted that while opportunities are abundant, it is also important to have talent in the location. Thus, the need to plug the gap between opportunity and talent - joining the dots or connecting - is important.

Mr Singham cited one of the firm's oldest clients Nomanbhoy & Sons as an example of how a client can benefit from Dentons Rodyk's scale and connectivity, thanks to its combination with Dentons Global.

Nomanbhoy & Sons is able to get legal advice on setting up a pharmaceutical plant in Tanzania, Africa without the hassle of flying over to look for a local lawyer.

It is assured of the same service delivery standards as Dentons Rodyk, with which it has had a business relationship for about a century.

Mr Singham said: "Can a Singapore lawyer advise better than a Tanzanian lawyer who grew up in Tanzania, with all the intricacies and the regulatory bumps that you will go through? Of course not.

"But through Dentons Global, having our offices in 80 countries, a client can come to us, sign an engagement letter, and it's seamlessly connected to 80 countries in the world, including Tanzania."

Sixty per cent of Dentons Rodyk's work entails an overseas element. By tapping into the Dentons Global network, the Singapore firm helps its clients to be connected to the rest of the world.

Nowadays, clients expect lawyers to provide the same high service delivery standards, accessibility, accountability and one-stop-shop services, said Mr Singham.

Dentons Rodyk does not aim to employ the greatest number of lawyers here, even though it is the top fifth law firm in Singapore. It acknowledges however that quantity is a tool for quality.

Mr Singham said: "When you have got 12,000 lawyers, the chances of finding the expert in an area that any client around the world needs are exponentially higher than if you're a law firm of 500 lawyers."

Dentons Rodyk has been able to access business opportunities and valuable domain knowledge transfer through regular sharing with Dentons lawyers across 40 practices.

Mr Singham wakes up daily to 30 to 40 messages from the global network, such as requests for a lawyer in a particular practice in a certain geographic area.

"What's that telling me? While I'm sleeping, business goes on. And the Dentons world is being connected."

Mr Singham believes innovation - the third leg of its startegy - is critical to quality service delivery, which will set it apart from its peers in a fast-paced world.

The law firm has digitalised its workflow and levelled up infrastructure including using artificial intelligence to proofread documents, making it well-equipped to tackle the challenges of work-from-home directive last year.

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

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