Malaysia

In-House Community’s Firms of the Year, 2022, with In-house Counsel Insights on Talent & Budget

Annually, we survey our community to garner an on-the-ground understanding of the prevailing in-house legal environment. This includes both that which is within our lawyers’ immediate orbits in terms of teams and work, as well as their relationships with external counsel, particularly those which, in their eyes, deserve recognition for outstanding service to the in-house community.

We invited more than 17,200 in-house counsel to partake in this In-House Community survey through a controlled online survey process or in the course of their attendance at various In-House Community events, both in-person and online, over the last year.

Those survey respondents which took up the call to participate came from a multitude of jurisdictions across the globe: China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Myanmar, Cambodia, Oman, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, Taiwan, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, & Vietnam!

These in-house counsel represent a full spectrum of industry sectors, including aviation, banking, energy & natural resources, financial services, insurance, manufacturing & engineering, retail, and technology, media & telecommunications. The richness of this diversity has allowed us to draw in-house insights and pick winning law firms from across the spectrum of legal services offered.

590 In-house Counsel From 18 Jurisdictions Responded To The In-house Community Firms Of The Year Survey

First up, survey results covering team size, project management of work, as well as key issues and concerns projected for legal departments in the coming 12 months will be unpacked. With those insights gathered, we’ll switch gear to sharing our community’s much deliberated picks for In-House Community Firms of the Year, 2022!

Our In-House Community Shares its Thoughts

Human resourcing has been an enduring obstacle over the last few years, both from the employer and employee perspectives. The pandemic saw largescale layoffs across the board as business slowed and employers were forced to make tough decisions to stay afloat.

On the other side of the bank, employees were given an opportunity to pause and reconsider career priorities. Working from home saw an uptick, as was necessitated by lockdowns, and this has perhaps given employees a flavour for flexibility.

These concerns were clearly evident when asking our respondents about what they view as their in-house legal department’s key issues and concerns for the coming year. Almost half listed HR concerns such as finding the right talent, staff engagement and attrition rates, hiring costs, together with issues of training and re-training due to digitalisation, as amongst their most pressing concerns for 2023. We delve deeper into this issue of finding and retaining the right talent in the accompanying Q&As.

Our in-house respondents reported limited variability in team size across jurisdictions, with largest teams on average coming from China (20) and Thailand (17), with others hovering in the low teens and single digits: Hong Kong (10), India (11), Indonesia (8), Japan (5), South Korea (12), Malaysia (8), Philippines (15), Singapore (6), South Africa (5), United Arab Emirates (10), and Vietnam (5).

When asked whether they foresee their team sizes expanding or contracting over the next year, 61% of respondents indicated that they predict no change at all, while 37% expect an increase in team size (perhaps an indication that pandemic pressures on headcount could be easing), leaving only 2% anticipating a decrease.

Other key concerns widely shared amongst respondents include budgeting and costs (sentiments likewise held by more than 50% of respondents and given expanded focus in the Q&As); managing increasing workloads (particularly given increasing budgetary pressures); disuse of office space and work-from-home arrangements; issues around legal tech, AI and “going digital”; compliance amidst growing regulation; cybersecurity and data privacy; as well as increasing costs of external lawyers and how to establish good external counsel relationships in key markets.

What respondents foresee happening to their team size in the next 12 months:

97

How respondents project manage legal work:

100

Given the general sense of business rebounding post pandemic while budgets have been slower to regenerate, we thought it would prove interesting to hear from our respondents about how they are currently project managing their legal work. Most respondents indicated that their teams manage the majority of their projects in-house (41%) followed closely by those utilising a balanced approach between in-house management and outsourcing of legal work (32%). Few respondents take on the entirety of legal work in-house (10%), with fewer yet majorly outsourcing legal work (9%).

While differently focussed, our in-house and external lawyers represent one family, working toward the common goal of providing the best legal services to their respective businesses or clients. As the numbers show, very rarely is legal work managed entirely in-house. By building a strong network of external counsel, outputs can be optimised through specialist skills particular to a project at hand.

It is in recognising the importance of this collaboration that we deem it worthwhile to annually acknowledge those law firms offering stand-out service to our in-house community.

In-House Community Firms of the Year, 2022

As our in-house community knows well (and has been indicated as a key concern in our survey results), the past years have necessitated challenging budgetary restrictions which have yet to ease to pre-pandemic levels. These have naturally included pressures on external legal spend by in-house buyers of legal services. However, as results on project management show, collaborative efforts by in-house and external counsel continue to be the favoured approach.

Survey Methodology

This annal survey presents an opportunity for members of our community to have their say on which firms most made an impact on them over this last period.

We are glad to have received responses to the annual In-House Community survey from a wide range of jurisdictions, as mentioned above. Respondent results for Firms of the Year from China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Vietnam, South Korea, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Singapore, and Philippines (being countries most significantly represented in responses) have been collated to determine our picks for top firms in 2022.

Shortlists of firms were not provided, leaving responses open-ended to best capture our community’s views. Survey respondents were asked which legal service providers had stood out to them in the preceding year (including considerations of external counsel responsiveness and in-house satisfaction with work done) and which they would recommend to their peer and – most importantly – why.

From these responses, our In-House Community Firms of the Year, 2022 were drawn through consideration of both aggregate votes as well as the sway of individual testimonials. We have presented these winners separately by jurisdiction and industry. Honourable mentions are given to firms which have received noteworthy recognition from in-house respondents. Where possible, individual category winners are given. However, where results came in too close to call, joint winners have been awarded.

Results

Our respondents provided us with abundant glowing reviews of numerous domestic law firms working across industries. These firms made an impact on our respondents through the quality of work provided and their responsiveness to our respondents’ needs – establishing themselves as a valued extension of the in-house team.

From These Responses, Our In-house Community Firms Of The Year, 2022 Were Drawn Through Consideration Of Both Aggregate Votes As Well As The Sway Of Individual Testimonials

On the international front, stand-out players with the most nods in terms of law firm responsiveness across jurisdictions were Baker McKenzie and Allen & Overy.

While the pandemic hit both firms financially and predicated some difficult headcount decisions in 2020, Baker McKenzie announced global revenues of USD3.3bn, up 5.5% for the year ended 30 June 2022, with Asia Pacific revenues jumping 3.3% and EMEA up by 3.4%. Allen & Overy, meanwhile, saw client revenue increase by 10% for the year ended 30 April 2022 reaching USD2.65bn, driven largely by a strong performance in the US, UK, Europe and Middle East. These improving results reflect our own community’s sentiments on the noteworthy performance of both firms.

The awards which follow do not purport to offer a law firm ranking but rather an opportunity for the In-House Community to acknowledge and celebrate collaborative efforts that have helped to achieve best results for business partners and clients; we are, as always, better together. We congratulate all our winners on a job well done!

In-house Insights on Budget and Talent

As we edge toward a “postpandemic” era, are you finding budgetary constraints to be easing or, if not, what is your approach to managing a tight bottom line in 2023?

Budget constraints or increases are not the only solution that factor in my oversight of the legal section. The crux of the matter is how the budgets are planned, done, checked and acted upon. It is not a matter of the number of hires, it is a matter of hiring the right persons for the right kind of value-added services. It is very important that the team must be able to work together with other divisions and that their efforts are appreciated by C-Suites in our region. I am still counting my blessings that my workload-budget gap has not created pressure on the manner I run my department.

It Is Not A Matter Of The Number Of Hires, It Is A Matter Of Hiring The Right Persons For The Right Kind Of Valueadded Services

103

Chee Hoong PANG is the Head of Legal, Legal Section at Nikon Holdings Hong Kong Limited

The preceding years have been a catalyst for change in staff considerations of when, where and how to work. In your view, what will be key in 2023 to finding and retaining the right talent?

Retaining talent inextricably hinges upon the in-house department culture. An ambience which centres on good training programs, supportive environments and an open-door policy, allows them to feel heard. People will tend to do more when they feel appreciated and celebrated. Sometimes it is not about the money. Strategies I would use to recruit and retain more talent include equity, competitive and fair packages, identification of those who believe in the company’s philosophies and visions, provision of on-going education and clear paths to advancement, options for hybrid remote work, and engagement in ongoing work.

COVID-19 was a springboard for legal tech. Is digitisation a part of your budgetary and staffing strategies? If so, what challenges or opportunities does this provide?

Technology adoption has now become the most important skill needed by futureproof in-house legal professionals. As we are branching out into new and important areas of business – such as environmental, social and governance, digitisation plays a key role in the way we deliver results. Digitisation is the key to realising drivers like: better data, measurable service, enhanced risk management, improved client/user experience, alignment with business, speed to market, and business continuity plans.

However digitisation is not something we buy off the shelf and use. We are continuing to turn to our regional in-house IT Team to develop technologies to free and save time for the in-house legal team so they can do the most important tasks needed by the region while still ensuring that the routine and lowervalue tasks are being properly serviced.

104

Brian Downie is the Deputy Director of Legal, Procurement & Supply Chain at MTR Corporation Limited

As we edge toward a “postpandemic” era, are you finding budgetary constraints to be easing or, if not, what is your approach to managing a tight bottom line in 2023?

Pandemic restrictions may have eased or ended but economic uncertainties remain. For us, this means tighter budget controls will remain for the foreseeable future. This requires continued focus on managing internal and external legal costs. Efficiency is critical to this and outside counsel who can deliver quality services and demonstrate sensitivity to cost are increasingly important business partners. A key challenge is to manage our budget while concurrently exploring workflow efficiencies that adopt proven process and technology best practices. This demands that we make compelling business cases for any new investments.

A Key Challenge Is To Manage Our Budget While Concurrently Exploring Workflow Efficiencies That Adopt Proven Process And Technology Best Practices

The preceding years have been a catalyst for change in staff considerations of when, where and how to work. In your view, what will be key in 2023 to finding and retaining the right talent?

We expect 2023 to be a continuation of our approach in recent years where there has been an increased focus on creating a positive environment in which people can thrive. This includes more flexibility in our approach to things such as more openness to hybrid WFH models, enhanced staff engagement to address concerns and looking to see what positive process/technology we can adopt that will further improve our work environment and ethical culture on all levels. A large part of this is simply listening and responding to what our staff are already telling us. Shifting the focus beyond performance management to more holistic staff engagement has positive impacts both for our existing staff and recruitment.

COVID-19 was a springboard for legal tech. Is digitisation a part of your budgetary and staffing strategies? If so, what challenges or opportunities does this provide?

Digitisation is a central part of our strategy both in the legal department and across the company. This provides significant opportunities to improve efficiencies, risk management and service delivery. Importantly it reduces the amount of wasted effort and administrative work our staff perform and allows them to focus on more value-added and intellectually challenging work. Finding and implementing correct solutions will require intelligent planning and procurement. It will also ensure we equip our staff with new skills that will enhance their further development and prospects for a rewarding career.


 

Firms Of The Year China 

Firms Of The Year Hong Kong 

Firms Of The Year Malaysia 

Firms Of The Year Philippines

Firms Of The Year Singapore

Firms Of The Year South Korea

Firms Of The Year Thailand

Firms Of The Year UAE

Firms Of The Year Vietnam


This article was published in Feb 2023 issue of IHC Magazine. You can read the full magazine by clicking here.

Firm of the Year 2022 Results In-House Community Magazine

Tags: Firms of the Year, In-House Community Magazine
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