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Welcome to the fourth Financial Times Innovative Lawyers report for the Asia-Pacific region.
The FT’s Innovative Lawyers’ reports have for more than a decade provided a showcase for European and North American law firms’ innovations and the stories behind them. Those are the world’s leading legal sectors. But now, with the Asia-Pacific region home to the second-largest economy in the world, China, there is a sense of growing maturity among the region’s law firms.
Their clients are hungry for legal expertise. Some of Asia’s biggest corporate names are on the hunt for acquisitions in the west and closer to home. Other smaller, but ambitious companies also seek to raise finance for expansion. Governments want funds to build bold infrastructure projects.
They are pursuing their ambitions against a backdrop of caution among the authorities. For instance, Chinese regulators have moved to curb capital outflows from the country.
In response, lawyers — homegrown and international — are developing their legal skills, whether it is in clever structuring of cross-border deals or negotiating complex rules; and they are also restructuring themselves, from their physical work space to the way they share out their work. They are even showing a willingness to ditch the partnership model. Throughout, they recognise that technology is critical to being able to offer the best service to clients. Just as would-be tech hubs sprout across the region, law firms are seeking to win a digital edge in what they can offer.
On a darker theme, smugglers trafficking people overseas for exploitation is a global challenge, but some of the most cruel cases in recent years have emerged in Asia. Revelations of the victims’ misery, from online child abuse to slave labour on fishing boats, have increased the pressure on governments and companies to act. This has provided lawyers with opportunities to deploy their insights and ingenuity for a social cause. Law firms have joined with anti-trafficking groups to scrutinise how the law can be used to tackle the problem, including the use of corruption law to beat the smugglers.
For this report, we received 502 submissions and nominations from 71 law firms and 90 in-house legal teams.
After extensive research, 50 of the most innovative law firms to submit entries were ranked, along with 18 company legal teams and we also publish here our annual selection of 10 individuals who are making a difference.
The writer is the FT’s Asia editor