Krishna Ramachandra, Managing Director of Duane Morris & Selvam, speaks to Ranajit Dam about the firm’s Asian expansion strategy, what it takes to thrive in Singapore’s legal market, and his optimism for 2016.

ALB: It’s been about five years the Duane Morris & Selvam JLV was formed. What are some of the biggest achievements you’d say the firm has notched up till date?

Ramachandra: Our cross-border work has increased substantially. We went from local to global overnight and I am pleased to say that we are now able to serve clients in most key jurisdictions globally. In addition to our expansive footprint in the U.S., Europe and Middle East, the joint venture provided us with a ready regional presence through the offices of Duane Morris in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. Supported by our existing headquarters in Singapore, this has enabled the firm to further branch out across the region as well as develop a series of country-specific practice groups.

In addition to geographical reach, the joint venture has enabled Selvam, a reputed corporate finance boutique firm, to grow into a multi-practice firm with a fully fledged dispute resolution practice and many additional areas of specialisation. We have been able to leverage the support of our colleagues overseas in specific niche areas, and by way of secondments and other collaborative initiatives, we have developed new practices to complement areas of strength for the Duane Morris network globally.

And we have achieved this without compromising the qualities that Selvam has always been renowned for. As you may be aware, Arfat Selvam was awarded the prestigious CC Tan Award from the Law Society of Singapore in November for demonstrating the highest ideals of the profession – honesty, fair play, courtesy and personal integrity. Her influence has enabled the joint venture to develop in a highly accelerated yet responsible manner.

Finally, although I would not seek to specifically compare our model with those of other firms, it is clear that our joint venture is one of the few that has demonstrated true and sustained integration. We adopted the enhanced JLV structure which allows for meaningful economic integration, and this has resulted in a truly collaborative approach. A large part is due to the accommodating nature of our Duane Morris colleagues, a long-term perspective and of course, our commitment to a common cause. It takes plenty of effort and selflessness on both sides to make things work out in a new partnership. Looking back at the evolution of the venture, I am very pleased with the outcome to date and this is certainly one of our most notable, if not, understated, achievements.

ALB: How would you describe the firm’s strategy for expansion?

Ramachandra: In Asia, we have offices in Shanghai, Yangon, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Singapore, and an alliance in Sri Lanka. We operate country practice groups for a number of jurisdictions including Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Nepal, Korea, Japan, Philippines and Australia. But for ASEAN, however we have a different expansion strategy: We will opt for “smart expansion” in each instance and choose the most efficient way to build our presence in a manner that best supports client needs. We do not want to be everywhere for the sake of being expansive. The “smart expansion” strategy has got us to think really closely about what our key strategic advantage as a firm is and then to act on it. Myanmar is a great example. We knew what we could achieve, and in less than three years we’ve been rated as the top law firm there.

ALB: There have been a number of international initiatives of late: the AEC, One Belt, One Road and others. How is the firm positioning itself to benefit from these opportunities?

Ramachandra: We are proactively educating clients on these developments with the aim of supporting those businesses that choose to take advantage of them. We are also actively engaged in seminars related to these from a new client development perspective. As you know, our Ambassador Series (where we invite the ambassador of a relevant jurisdiction to have an intimate closed door session with our key clients to uncover business nuances of that jurisdiction) has been a tremendous success in shedding light on ASEAN, China and TPP related issues. Our ability to bridge the East-West channel and our intra-regional capabilities position us well as a partner for those businesses who wish to take advantage of the opportunities ensuing from such initiatives.

ALB: What have been some key practice areas for DMS in the past year?

Ramachandra: Our dispute resolution practice as well as our core corporate practice have seen strong growth. I have taken the initiative to further develop our media/ telecommunications practice and our sports law practice, as these areas have been key. In fact, we recently advised on a $2 billion-plus regional telecommunications deal and worked closely on the much coveted global sports commercial rights related to the Olympics. So for us, these have been specific practice growth sectors.

In addition, our country practice groups have also taken a life of their own, with our India, China, Korea and Japan practice groups making notable progress. We were very closely involved with the [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi delegation that visited Singapore recently. For the Korea practice group, we represent an enviable list of Korean conglomerates across multipractice areas. We invested plenty of time on these country practice groups and it is paying off dividends now. This is a good example of the longer-term approach I spoke about earlier.

ALB: What kind of challenges and opportunities does Singapore’s legal landscape present to firms like yours?

Ramachandra: The Singapore legal market has evolved in conjunction with Singapore’s transformation into a global business hub. With increasing competition, local firms have been compelled to reassess their value proposition and develop an offering that is suitable for a more internationally astute and mobile client base. The ability to be truly flexible and adapt to client needs in a nimble manner is key to the success of any firm in this new environment. The beauty is that even new entrants could thrive if they adopt a similar strategy. Success is not going to be confined to long established practices.

We are fortunate that as a law firm these attributes are largely in alignment with our operating philosophy. The ability to marry quality legal advice with strong commercial acumen is what increasingly savvy clients demand time and again. This is the skill that we actively cultivate in our lawyers and it presents a huge opportunity for us.

ALB: How would you describe your strategy for the firm during your time as managing director?

Ramachandra: My personal strategy has been to keenly observe successful practices around me, to identify gaps in the market and to be innovative in the initiatives we institute. To carry out these initiatives successfully, I have consciously and actively engaged Eduardo Ramos-Gomez, the principal resident Duane Morris partner and John Soroko, the chairman of Duane Morris globally. They have been very supportive and that makes it easy for us as a firm to collaborate. In addition, it does require a leap of faith at times – you do not always get it right – but you must always stay true to the philosophy, often sacrificing short-term goals in order to ensure positive long-term outcomes.

ALB: What does 2016 look like for both Singapore’s legal market, as well as your firm?

Ramachandra: The legal market is probably going to experience a period of compression – I use this word because there is not necessarily going to be a decline in growth but rather a reallocation within the fraternity. So it will be a year for law firms that can be nimble, dynamic and focused on valueadding. I expect that 2016 will look different depending on the firm concerned. For us, there is a very distinct air of optimism as our strategy sits well with the forecasted economic climate.


1998 - 2002

Trainee / Associate,

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

2003 - 2005

Associate, Clifford Chance

2005 - 2010

Director, Selvam LLC

2011 - present

Managing Director, Duane Morris & Selvam LLP

Related Articles

Duane Morris Singapore JLV firm hires litigator from Oon & Bazul

by Sachin Dave |

Selvam, Duane Morris’ Singapore joint law venture firm, has added Jerald Foo as a director in its litigation and dispute resolution group from local firm Oon & Bazul.

CAM, Duane Morris, SAM, Links advise on India’s biggest IPO

by Mari Iwata |

​​​​​​​Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas (CAM) and Duane Morris & Selvam have advised Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) on its $2.7 billion IPO, with Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co (SAM) and Linklaters advising the bookrunning lead managers.

‘You must always stay true to your philosophy’

by Ranajit Dam |

Krishna Ramachandra, Managing Director of Duane Morris & Selvam, speaks to Ranajit Dam about the firm’s Asian expansion strategy, what it takes to thrive in Singapore’s legal market, and his optimism for 2016