In a compelling display of resilience and adaptability, legal professionals convened virtually on 24 November 2023, for the second consecutive online IHC Counsel of the Year Awards ceremony. This event not only celebrated the outstanding achievements of legal professionals in South Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, but also cast a spotlight on the dynamic evolution of legal practice across the globe.
Rahul Prakash from In-House Community
Rahul Prakash, publisher of In-House Community, set the stage with insightful remarks on the shifting landscape of the legal profession. He noted that, with the return of travel and the introduction of a new hybrid office model, the term “legal eagle” has taken on a new meaning. Prakash also reflected on a perceptible shift in the legal landscape over the past 18 months. Over this time, lawyers have been at the forefront of monumental tasks, ranging from overseeing large multi-jurisdictional deals to orchestrating comprehensive restructurings. Their role has extended beyond traditional boundaries, encompassing innovative process changes that have reshaped the way legal services are delivered. A common trend emerging is the significant digital transformation initiatives being undertaken across industries.
Against this background, the 2023 In-House Community Counsel of the Year Awards are a true reflection of excellence and innovation, covering a spectrum of categories and illustrating the diverse nature of the profession. The awards included the prestigious In-House Industry Teams of the Year, Commended External Counsel of the Year, In-House Best Practice Management Awards, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Diversity & Inclusion, Innovation, In-House Teams of the Year, and In-House Counsel of the Year.
The event reached the zenith of legal prowess with a record-breaking 160 nominations and 51 shortlisted in-house teams. The unenviable task of selecting the winners was placed on esteemed judges Fei Meng Chee and Peter Connor, along with the team at In-House Community.
Fei Meng Chee from Hong Leong Investment Bank Berhad
Fei Meng has extensive experience in corporate finance, capital markets and securities regulations over her illustrious career. She served as a legal practitioner, in house counsel in conglomerates, a partner in one of the top law firms in Malaysia, an equity capital markets banker and as a regional head of legal in one of the leading banks in Malaysia prior to serving as the General Counsel of the Securities Commission of Malaysia from April 2019 to June 2022. She is currently serving on the board of an investment bank in Malaysia.
Peter Connor from AlternativelyLegal
Peter has worked in Asia for many years as a General Counsel and more recently conducting his T-Shaped Lawyer Workshops as an advocate for the rising need for lawyers to act with both legal expertise and business mindsets. He has recently published the first of two books on reimagining the role of the in-house lawyer and the legal department.
Both judges acknowledged the remarkable quality of the submissions, underscoring the industry’s commendable work over the past year and expressed the difficulty in selecting winners. Fei Meng was dazzled by the quality of the submissions received this year noting that she was
“very impressed and inspired by the agility, innovation and dedication displayed by the shortlisted individuals and legal teams. They have each demonstrated how in house legal support can be transformed to be assessable, usable and relatable making them a valuable partner to their business teams in ensuring transactions are executed and completed effectively and efficiently with minimal legal and regulatory risks.”
She went on to congratulate all the winners for being recognised for their remarkable achievements.
Peter Connor was equally complimentary, noting
“just how much work legal teams are doing throughout Asia, Africa and the Middle East. I can also tell how much it means to the nominated teams and individuals to have that work recognised in the Awards”.
He also gave praise to In-House Community for “providing a forum to give the in-house community the credit they deserve and so dearly cherish.”
These words are made even more impactful when considering the combined experience of the judges for this year’s awards.
Before jumping into the recipients of the awards, it is essential to extend recognition to the remarkable teams that, while not ultimately selected as winners, demonstrated outstanding dedication and innovation. Each shortlisted team showcased commendable achievements, and it would be remiss not to acknowledge and appreciate their invaluable contributions.
Some of the highlights include the dedication to customer experience and championing of new business activities by the legal team of Manulife Financial Asia Limited all whilst pursuing various CSR and diversity projects to benefit the broader community. The team at GSK had a busy 2022 with various strategic projects including the establishment of the local entity in Vietnam and the delivery of the global business development project. Although a relatively small group of three, the legal team at GMR have developed specialised skill sets apart from general corporate advisory. This has allowed them to close noteworthy transactions such as the internal restructuring and demerger of a listed entity in the GMR Group. Similarly, Velio’s team of four does not back away from challenges, including the ever changing regulatory requirements that come with working in the environmental industry. Not only does the team ensure compliance with all new regulations, but they have also established an exhaustive safety management system to mitigate risks to the business.
Nupur Nadir from GMR Group
In-house Industry Teams of the Year:
Having acknowledged the commendable shortlisted teams, the focus shifted to the winners of the evening. Selected from an exceptional pool of contenders, these winners stand as exemplars of legal prowess, innovation, and unwavering dedication to best practices. Tim Gilkinson, founder of In-House Community and Pacific Business Press, was called upon to present the awards for In-house Industry Teams of the Year.
Tim Gilkinson of Praxonomy and founder of In-House Community
This coveted award recognises teams demonstrating exceptional dedication, innovation, efficiency, integration, encouragement, improvement, CSR, and diversity. Among the distinguished winners were Alexforbes led by Carina Wessels. The team has overseen dramatic improvements in improved client service delivery across regulatory compliance and business solutions and successfully defended complex litigation brought against them.
The rest of the industry winners saw a spread that reflects the vast expertise across the Asian region. Embracing technology and innovating legal services were a cornerstone of many of the winners. The team at AIA Singapore proactively worked with various business units to innovate including the digitalisation of the in-house legal services delivery model. This project saw AIA Singapore’s Legal division collaborating with their Technology division to digitalise their internal contract approval process/depository. For these efforts, AIA Singapore were also winners in the Technology Integration and Innovation Asia categories.
AIA Singapore team
Aboitiz Equity Ventures embarked on “GT 2025” with the goal of becoming the first techglomerate in the Philippines. This will see all businesses under the Aboitiz Group working together to harness the benefits of technology and innovation to add value across the group.
Tech unicorn M_Service has continued making strides in its innovative approach to legal delivery including the roll out of its e-contract project, while Bayer Holding concluded the successful digitalisation of signatures/seals and developing a chat-bot to answer questions on contract management, compliance and data privacy.
Phuoc Doan and Nam Le from M_Service
Akiko Kikuchi from Bayer Holding
Another key theme emerging was the dedication to compliance. Although a modestly sized team of six, the DNV Group legal team supports the business across 28 countries and has been key in rolling out an internal regulatory and tax compliance program. This has led to several improvement projects including larger activities in Indonesia, India and the Philippines to better respond to local legal requirements and business needs. Meanwhile, IBM’s team of over 40 professionals supported one of the business’ largest markets in various consulting deals in excess of 50 million USD, and emergency responses for multiple client related privacy, cyber incidences, and outages. FedEx Hong Kong maintains a dedicated regional compliance team that has overseen various initiatives to drive a culture of compliance, including the 24/7 FedEx Alert Line and Compliance Automation project to promote ease of tracking requests. Nikon Greater China has also recently assisted in the launch of online retail services, a project involving privacy protection and cross border transfer of personal data in multiple jurisdictions.
IBM Japan team
Chee Hoong Pang from Nikon Greater China
Over and above the legal prowess of the winners in this list, various teams used their legal skills for the greater good within their communities. Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) continues to be a global leader in nutrition and agricultural processing and has been well supported by its legal team in key joint ventures. In its commitment to a more ethical approach to business, the team has also facilitated the cooperation between ADM and World Vision Vietnam to support smallholder farmers. Chalhoub Group’s commitment to diversity and impact has supported Emirates Red Crescent (ERC) in their emergency relief effort ‘Bridges of Giving’, to assist with the crisis in Turkey and Syria. The team has also received formal recognition from the Dubai Foundation of Women for their charitable and volunteer contributions.
These awards recognise those who set a new benchmark for the legal community in their respective industries and have become testament to the evolving and dynamic nature of the legal profession.
Commended External Counsel of the Year:
Based on recommendations from the in-house community, this award was the conduit to acknowledge private practice lawyers who have served as a partner in the extension of the in-house legal teams. Fourteen finalists vied for the Commended External Counsel of the Year award, exemplifying excellence and commendable service in external legal support.
In-house Best Practice Management Awards:
In a rapidly evolving legal landscape, change management has assumed paramount importance. Recognising this, the awards in this category celebrate teams that have exhibited exceptional adaptability. For their dynamic approach to change management Alexforbes and M1 Ltd were selected as winners in South Africa and Asia respectively.
Karen Teo from M1 Ltd
Notwithstanding all the change occurring in the profession, compliance remains a cornerstone of in-house practice management. TI Fluid Systems and Nestle Group (Greater China) demonstrated their continued dedication in this arena and were acknowledged as co-winners in this category.
Stanley Lui from TI Fluid Systems
Technology adoption and integration are also vital, especially as the need for global legal teams to work collaboratively and seamlessly increases. The legal team from Syngenta Group comprising of 45 members, the majority of which are millennials, are worthy co-winners in the Integration Category. This team supports over 190 subsidiaries and has developed contract playbooks and policies for the multinational company. The team operates from the core principle of “One SGC Legal”, which enables the sharing of resources and synergies within the team.
Joining Syngenta Group as the other co-winner in this category are the team from Max Life Insurance Company. This team prides itself in providing innovative solutions to the business including enabling the disbursement of over 30,000 death claims in the 2022 financial year, resulting in the highest claims paid ratio of 99.34%, auTimating contracts, litigation management and introducing a compliance tracker.
Corporate Social Responsibility:
The importance of Corporate Social Responsibility in the legal community was highlighted with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) securing the coveted award, showcasing the industry’s commitment to broader societal impact. ADB’s Energy Transition Mechanism (ETM) initiative showcases the design and execution of a replicable and sustainable financial mechanism that uses public-private collaboration to retire coal-fired power plants on an accelerated basis and replace those with clean power capacity.
Jogendra Ghimire from Asian Development Bank (ADB)
Diversity & Inclusion:
FedEx Hong Kong was honoured for its exemplary efforts in fostering Diversity, Inclusion & Equity (DE&I), reflecting a commitment to a legal profession that mirrors the diversity of the communities it serves. The work in the DE&I space includes establishing a DE&I Council chaired by the Senior Vice President Legal & General Counsel AMEA and the creation of a DEI Dashboard for capturing data on gender and age. By uncovering the gender and age distribution across teams, markets and job levels, FedEx are able to design targeted actions to build diverse teams.
The policy and legal team at Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) showcased a series of remarkable achievements introducing innovative legislative initiatives, including sweeping changes to the capital markets regime, fostering the world’s first fully regulated carbon trading exchange, and enhancing regulations for private capital markets and over-the-counter leveraged products. These achievements position ADGM as a global leader in financial services innovation and regulation and for these reasons the team has been recognised for in the Innovation Middle East category.
Lawrence Paramasivam from ADGM FSRA
In-house Teams of the Year:
Recognising both small and large teams, the awards celebrated the achievements of both. M1 Ltd and State Grid Overseas Investment Ltd (SGOI) emerged as co-winners in the small team category.
Dingxian Wang from State Grid Overseas Investment Ltd
In the large team category, Flydubai and Malayan Banking Berhad (Maybank) Group secured top honours as In-house Teams of the Year in the Middle East and Asia. Flydubai’s legal team are a talented and diverse group of individuals, coordinating with counsel, courts and various experts across six continents on a daily basis. The transactions team has strategically managed the acquisition of 20 new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft through a combination of sale-and-leaseback and debt finance transactions. Equally impressive, the litigation and regulatory team has prioritised Flydubai’s compliance effort in the data protection and intellectual property spaces.
The global team at Maybank comprising over 100 lawyers has also continued to support the business as the largest financial services group in Malaysia. The team has taken steps to create an integrated, collaborative and highly efficient global in-house legal team in order to work more efficiently, seamlessly and cost-effectively in supporting the business. Some of the innovative steps taken recently include the auTimation of the screening and review process of law firms and the introduction of the legal firm work distribution monitoring tool.
Josephine Chin from Maybank
In-house Counsel of the Year:
In a fitting conclusion, individual excellence was acknowledged with Carina Wessels from Alexforbes as the In-house Counsel of the year for South Africa. Carina is both a lawyer and business person. She is well respected by her team and colleagues who note that “she treats everyone with respect” and is “a leader in the true sense of the word”. Carina assisted with the negotiations of the investment by Prudential Financial Inc in Alexforbes at a total value in excess of R2.3 billion and was instrumental in giving governance, legal and compliance comfort to the US listed investor.
Carina Wessels from Alexforbes
Penny Koo from AIA Singapore bookended the evening following on the awards for her team earlier in the evening by being recognised as co-winner of In-House Counsel of the Year for Asia (impressively having won this award in 2021 as well). Whilst Penny is the youngest member of AIA Singapore’s Executive Committee, she is driving some of the business’ most significant initiatives. She is known for her “faster, simpler, more connected” approach which has not only transformed AIA’s legal function to be more digitally-enabled, it has also fundamentally changed the way customers engage with the company. Penny has been instrumental in redefining the role of in-house counsel as a business partner and driver of innovation, including the refinement of the compliance department’s fraud detection and investigation process. According to her team “she has redefined the counsel role by driving innovation with her agility and creativity, providing the critical thought leadership and support to enable our business to achieve greater heights despite the challenging business environment.”
Penny Koo from AIA Singapore
Joining Penny as the other In-House of the Year for Asia is Kenneth Wong who serves as both chief legal officer and company secretary of Link Asset Management. He has been instrumental in overseeing a HKD 1.8 billion rights issue, the largest in Hong Kong by a non-financial institution. Kenneth ensures that effective risk management plays an integral role in the achievement of Link’s strategic objectives and the sustainability of the business.
Link Asset Management team
The 2023 laureates stand as living testament to the unwavering spirit of the legal profession. Their accomplishments echo through the legal corridors (virtual and in offices), resonating with the promise of a future where excellence, ethics, and innovation converge, shaping a legal landscape that is not only proficient but also profoundly impactful.
As the virtual curtain descends on the 2023 awards evening, the resounding successes of the evening’s winners serve as beacons illuminating the path for future lawyers. Their dedication, innovation, and commitment to best practices set a formidable standard, inspiring the legal community to reach new heights. As we reflect on this year’s achievements, there is a collective anticipation for the return to in-person celebrations in 2024, where the camaraderie, networking, and shared passion for legal excellence will once again fill the venue. Here’s to the winners, the future they inspire, and the eagerly awaited return of the awards evening in person next year.
Standard Chartered Bank team
Martin Chen from Hektar Asset Management
David Blanco from Bayer SEA
Kris Daswani from Standard Chartered Bank
Najah Che Omar from Petroliam Nasional Berhad (Petronas)
Veolia Korea team
Ngoc Tran Linh from MB Shinsei Finance Liability Limited Company (MCredit)
Dang The Duc from Indochine Counsel
Bui Ngoc Hong from LNT & Partners
Nguyen Anh Tuan from LNT & Partners
Rossana Chu from LC Lawyers
Tuan Nguyen from Bizconsult Law Firm
Mark Gorriceta from Gorriceta Africa Cauton & Saavedra
Richard Stapley-Oh from KPMG Law
Napatorn Termglinchan from Baker McKenzie
Gilbert Gan from Zaid Ibrahim & Co (in association with KPMG Law)
IN-HOUSE INDUSTRY AWARDS
Banking & Finance (South Africa)
Banking & Finance (Asia)
Malayan Banking Berhad (Maybank) Group
Aboitiz Equity Ventures
Energy & Natural Resources (co-winner)
Energy & Natural Resources (co-winner)
Petroliam Nasional Berhad (Petronas)
M_Service (MoMo eWallet)
Life Sciences & Pharma
Manufacturing & Engineering
Archer Daniels Midland Company
Property, Infrastructure & Logistics
FedEx Hong Kong
Retail (Middle East)
Nikon Greater China
Technology, Media & Telecommunications
Nestle (China) Ltd
Change Management (South Africa)
Change Management (Asia)
TI Fluid Systems
Nestle Group (Greater China)
Max Life Insurance Company
China Machinery Engineering Corporation
Standard Chartered Bank Hong Kong
Corporate Social Responsibility
Asian Development Bank
Diversity & Inclusion
FedEx Hong Kong
Innovation (Middle East)
IN-HOUSE TEAM OF THE YEAR AWARDS
Small Team (co-winner)
Small Team (co-winner)
State Grid Overseas Investment Ltd
IHC Team of the Year (Middle East)
IHC Team of the Year (Asia)
Malayan Banking Berhad (Maybank) Group
COMMENDED EXTERNAL COUNSEL OF THE YEAR
The following Commended External Counsel attending the awards ceremony. The full list of winners can be read here.
Bui Ngoc Hong, LNT & Partners
Dae Sagong, Yoon & Yang LLC
Dang The Duc, Indochine Counsel
Laura Liu, Baker McKenzie FenXun
Nguyen Anh Tuan, LNT & Partners
Richard Stapley-Oh, KPMG Law
Rossana Chu, LC Lawyers
Samuel Yang, AnJie Broad Law Firm
Tuan Nguyen, Bizconsult Law Firm
Napatorn Dasananjali Termglinchan, BakerMcKenzie
Mark Gorriceta, Gorriceta Africa Cauton & Saavedra
Gilbert Gan, Zaid Ibrahim & CO. (in association with KPMG Law)
Deepak Sadasivan, Adnan, Sundra & Law
Jude Ocampo, Ocampo & Suralvo Law Offices
Carina Wessels, Alexforbes
Penny Koo, AIA Singapore
Kenneth Wong, Link Asset Management
The IHC Counsel of the Year Awards, 2024 will be back in Q4 2024. For submissions and nominations, please email email@example.com