Listen to this article
In Mumbai, Uber users can now book a speedboat across the harbour to the Unesco-listed cave temples on Elephanta Island, or to the popular beaches near Mandwa Jetty using the ride-hailing company’s latest app. UberBoat, currently in a pilot phase in India, is a new offering from the US company, which is diversifying into other services including bicycle and scooter hire.
An Asian competitor, Go-Jek, began in Indonesia in 2010 as a ride-hailing service for motorbike taxis, a preferred method of transport because of their ability to zip through congested traffic in the capital Jakarta and other large cities. The app has introduced a digital wallet, which can be used to pay for goods online or in a store, book a makeover or find a mechanic.
The legal teams at Uber and Go-Jek are at the forefront of the growing digital economy in the region, and the pace of growth and change at these companies makes the job of their in-house lawyers both challenging and impactful.
“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,” says Katrina Johnson, Asia-Pacific head of legal at Uber. Operating under a high degree of government and public scrutiny, her legal team helps shape regulation to allow the business to launch in new markets.
As Uber prepares to list its shares publicly this month, market commentators have pored over the company’s financials. At the same time, it is facing many legal and regulatory challenges including litigation and government investigations in the US, Europe and Asia. The risk that the business would be adversely affected if drivers in certain markets were classified as employees instead of independent contractors is an area where Uber’s lawyers continue to play an important role in determining the company’s fortunes. The legal team won two cases before the Australian Fair Work Commission in 2017 and 2018, which found that Uber drivers were not employees.
Such legal uncertainties require a different set of skills from the lawyers. David Oskandy, general counsel at technology consulting company Avanade, says: “A general counsel under legal or regulatory or public scrutiny needs to bring broader thinking and capabilities to bear beyond a strictly legal role.”
Legal teams at technology companies have grown quickly over the past few years. Finding the right kind of broadly skilled lawyer has been a challenge.
Nathaniel Mangunsong joined Go-Jek three years ago to head a team of three lawyers. He now leads a group of nearly 50 at the company, which is valued at around $10bn after its last round of fundraising, and is among the 20 most valuable start-ups in the world, according to analytics company CB Insights.
The Go-Jek legal team is organised into product streams with experts on various subjects, but Mr Mangunsong says that the business changes so quickly that highly specialised lawyers are not always nimble enough. Instead, he looks for “people who have good understanding of the law and some experience, but who are also able to be stretched and grow”.
This year’s Innovative General Counsel award winner Gladys Chun joined fast-growing ecommerce company Lazada in south-east Asia with a team of two other lawyers. In five years she has supported its growth through to its acquisition by Alibaba in 2016, and its more recent expansion into areas such as “shoppertainment” — adding gaming or live-streamed concerts to the online store.
With the growth of technology companies in south-east Asia, Ms Chun says: “There already is not enough talent available that could meet the demands of these growing unicorns. Finding a ready-made individual doesn’t happen.” Lawyers fit for the future need to develop legal skills as well as broad business skills, she says, and must be highly inquisitive about what is happening around the world.
Ms Chun believes the region’s new technology companies are providing a valuable training ground for a new pool of talent, however.
Lawyers are expanding their roles at more established companies too. In Microsoft’s Asia-Pacific legal team, for instance, general counsel Andrew Cooke is leading a pilot that brings together lawyers with public policy and government affairs staff at the company.
He says: “The days of the in-house lawyer being a somewhat reactive function have long since passed. We are having ever more complex and external-facing conversations relating to new and emerging technologies.”
Mr Cooke adds: “It’s a challenging but fun time to be an in-house lawyer.”
Innovative General Counsel
WINNER: Gladys Chun, general counsel and head of government affairs, Lazada
Ms Chun leads a team of more than 50 across six countries, which shaped regulation across the region to enable the launch of new products, and supported Lazada’s acquisition by Alibaba in 2016. Ms Chun supports women inside and outside of the business, through entrepreneurship programmes and promoting asset ownership among women.
PM Devaiah, general counsel, Everstone Capital
As general counsel for 12 years, Mr Devaiah has played a broad strategic role within the private equity firm.
He manages a legal team, structures complex deals, counsels buyout companies on compliance and chairs the risk committee.
Mr Devaiah helped develop detailed processes to support socially conscious investing by the company.
Berenice Lim, head of legal at Takeda Pharmaceutical, Asia-Pacific
Leading a team of four lawyers covering 10 jurisdictions and 1,500 employees, Ms Lim has to use talent and technology in smart ways to support the business in a rapidly changing environment.
A former oncologist, Ms Lim created online practice groups in areas including vaccines and data privacy to allow lawyers to develop new areas of expertise.
Nathaniel Mangunsong, group general counsel, Go-Jek
Mr Mangunsong aided Go-Jek’s rapid growth into the new areas of digital payments and delivery services.
He managed the concurrent acquisition of three Indonesian fintech companies to launch its e-wallet service, Go-Pay, and helped the company navigate diverse regulatory requirements for continued expansion in south-east Asia.
Andrew Cooke, assistant general counsel and regional director of legal, industry and government affairs, Microsoft Asia
Mr Cooke works with regulators and customers on challenges around new technologies, such as new governance frameworks for artificial intelligence and cloud banking.
His team created an open web resource on the regulatory and compliance aspects of cloud computing for lawyers across the Asia-Pacific region.
Katrina Johnson, associate general counsel and head of legal, Uber Asia-Pacific
Ms Johnson joined Uber four years ago with a focus on developing regulation alongside policymakers for Uber’s ride-hailing business.
She has introduced numerous operational tools and processes to create a more efficient legal team.
Ms Johnson also played a leading role structuring complex and sensitive deals such as the sale of Uber’s south-east Asian operations to local rival Grab in 2018.
Anna Lozynski, general counsel, L’Oréal
To meet the growing legal needs of the business, Ms Lozynski developed tools that allow business colleagues to create automation agreements for themselves.
With 12 such applications now in use, she has freed up resources to grow her legal team and concentrate on strategic initiatives. She is also an advocate for law students to consider career paths in-house at companies or in legal technology.
Chaman Sidhu, chief legal officer and company secretary, Xero
Since joining the cloud-based accounting software company in 2016, Ms Sidhu has supported the business through a period of change. Xero consolidated a dual listing to become one of the 100 largest companies on the Australian Securities Exchange.
She changed the way her team drafts documents, removing legal terminology to make them more user friendly.
The table below ranks in-house legal teams for the FT Innovative Lawyers Apac awards.
Most Innovative In-house legal teams 2019:
Explore the Innovative Lawyers Asia-Pacific rankings 2019
- FT Most Innovative Law Firms
- Rule of Law and Access to Justice
- Most Innovative In-house legal teams
Business of Law
- Data, Knowledge and Intelligence
- Managing and Developing Talent
- Innovation in Diversity and Inclusion
- New Business and Service Delivery Models
- New Products and Services
- Strategy and Changing Behaviours
Get alerts on Professional services when a new story is published