A man exercises along a promenade as a section of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, rear, stands in the background in Zhuhai, China, on Monday, Oct. 22, 2018. The $15 billion, 55-kilometer (34-mile) bridge, which Xinhua News Agency says is the world’s longest sea link, opens for business on Wednesday. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg
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Welcome to the sixth Financial Times Innovative Lawyers report for the Asia-Pacific. Europe and North America remain the leading legal sectors, but law firms in this region — home to the world’s second-largest economy, China — have a growing sense of their ability to meet the ever more complex and ambitious aspirations of clients, homegrown or overseas.

Some of the law firms feel well-placed to contribute to China’s plans to link Hong Kong and mainland cities in the “Greater Bay Area”. The megacity is designed to match other innovation and economic growth generators such as San Francisco, New York and Tokyo.

All are boosting their plans to exploit digitalisation in order to offer more services seamlessly across the region, or to slash the time taken to respond to clients’ requests. Inevitably, that is changing the nature of lawyers’ jobs: as well as professional skills, they need insights into, if not actual expertise in, data and artificial intelligence.

In-house legal teams are also evolving as they develop answers to problems thrown up by the pace of change. As one general counsel, describing a new breed of tech companies with new business models, puts it: “We do not have the benefit of established case law, well-formed regulatory frameworks and clear-cut legislative environments to guide us in our legal work.”

The region also includes emerging markets that require sophisticated legal advice to help accomplish big, complex deals such as the Petronas-Saudi Aramco tie-up. Such advice may even create new jurisprudence, to be followed by courts in the west.

On a darker note, as Victor Mallet, the FT’s Asia news editor until late last year, warns, law firms and their clients should be wary of the erosion of freedoms that underpin the conduct of business. That is why the work of law firms to support press freedom and civil liberties, featured in the Rule of Law ranking, is important.

Finally, for this report, we received 537 submissions and nominations from 81 law firms and legal service providers, and from 40 in-house legal teams. A total of 60 law firms and 27 company legal teams are ranked. Ten outstanding individual lawyers are highlighted.

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