When the Financial Times launched its first Innovative Lawyers report in the UK in 2006, its focus was greeted with some scepticism. Lawyers, said some commentators, are not innovative.
Some eight years later, however, most big law firms have made innovation a core value. Even smaller firms have had to embrace the concept as they wrestle with adverse economic conditions and the need to expand into new markets. Their stories are covered in detail by the FT in its annual Innovative Lawyer reports that now cover the whole of Europe and the US.
For some time, both European and US firms have focused on building their businesses in Asia – many see the emerging Asian markets as compensation for a slowdown in the developed economies. With the increase of bilateral trade and new opportunities such as the opening of Myanmar, their sights have been focused on building a bridgehead into the region.
Their market of choice has been Australia. In the past 24 months alone, there have been a number of significant tie-ups between British and Australian law firms: Ashurst with Blake Dawson, Herbert Smith with Freehills and Linklaters with Allens, Arthur Robinson to name three. Other firms such as Allen & Overy have chosen to build up practices organically with successful hiring of staff from other firms.
But the most significant merger in many people’s eyes was the one between Australian firm Mallesons and Chinese firm King & Wood, which recently cemented its international footprint with a successful courtship of mid-tier UK law firm SJ Berwin. The emergence of an indigenous Asia-Pacific powerhouse has sent a ripple through the established ranks of British and American mega-firms. It showed that the region – and its law firms – could not be underestimated when analysing threats and opportunities.
Following this wave of activity, the Financial Times is extending its analysis of innovation by lawyers to the Asia-Pacific region – the inaugural FT Asia-Pacific Innovative Lawyers report will be published in May 2014. It will follow the international firms seeking to win large pieces of the regional pie and the local firms that have to respond to new competitors, new markets and changing client demands.
The analysis will look at the firms that are innovating in their international and corporate strategies as well as those lawyers who are delivering the best solutions and ideas to an ambitious and hungry client base. The new FT report will also look at the work of in-house lawyers who have to deal with conflicting cross-border regulations, more active regulators and new ways of doing business.
As one partner in a leading global firm said: “The risk profile of Asian clients is different and it means a new style of lawyering and presenting. Asian clients look at business with new eyes and are focused on their own objectives.”