As in other years, Asian Legal Business continues its annual tradition of picking Asia’s standout lawyers working for offshore law firms. These are legal professionals who have not only met but also exceeded client expectations.
To compile this list, ALB surveyed clients of offshore law firms, asking them to recommend lawyers who stood out not only for their ability to provide sound advice, but also their commitment to client service.
The names below are in alphabetical order.
Stephen Adams has been practising offshore law for close to two decades. He has advised on a full range of commercial cross-border matters including joint ventures, mergers, acquisition finance, asset and project finance, investment funds, alternative investments, private equity and capital market transactions.
Adams also has experience in trust and private client matters from the senior positions he had held in several trust and corporate services businesses.
“2017 was an exciting year for Collas Crill. Our merger with BVI law firm Farara Kerins was finalised, we opened our Hong Kong representative office,” says Adams. “Since then, the early months of 2018 have been encouraging and we are being instructed on larger and more complex transactions as our reputation continues to grow in the region.”
Adams points out that there has been an incredible amount of interest in cryptocurrency funds and ICOs across all our jurisdictions, particularly Cayman and Jersey.
“However, with increasing regulation on the horizon and considerable weakness as of late in the more popular cryptocurrencies, there is tremendous uncertainty surrounding the development of the space,” says Adams.
He believes that this will be a significant area going forward.
“We are still seeing a lot of interest in the Cayman fund space, with a little more interest on the hedge side as of late, and a surprising amount of interest in the BVI incubator and approved fund products,” he says.
Conyers Dill & Pearman
Christopher Bickley is a partner and head of the Hong Kong office of Conyers Dill & Pearman. Christopher joined Conyers in 1994.
Some of the notable work Bickey was involved in recently include advising Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation on its multi-tranche equity fundraising exercise (which raised approximately $969 million), working with Xin Point Holdings Limited in connection with its HK$855 million initial public offering (IPO) of 500,000,000 shares on the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong (SEHK) and providing Bermuda and British Virgin Islands legal advice to RKI Overseas Finance 2017 (A) Limited with its issuance of $300 million 7 percent senior guaranteed perpetual capital securities.
This year, Bickley foresees a notable increase of IPOs in the Asian market, with Cayman companies being particularly active in the Asian markets, as he noted 133 new listing on the SEHK in 2017.
Globally, Bickley sees the fintech makings its ever-increasing presence felt.
“This is a fast-moving sector and in 2017 our Bermuda, BVI and Cayman practices were involved in several significant transactions,” he said.
Bickley adds that Cayman, BVI and Bermuda continue to be central to the increases in fund formation through China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
“Infrastructure conglomerates are looking to independently raise funds for development, particularly in Western China, we expect to see increases in funds formation,” he said.
Fiona Chan is a partner in the corporate department of the Hong Kong office of Appleby, where she advises on a full spectrum of banking and finance, non-contentious insurance, private client and trust matters relating to the laws of Bermuda, British Virgin Islands and Cayman Islands.
She has extensive experience in the offshore space, having previously worked at two other offshore firms. Chan also spent 10 years working in the London and Hong Kong offices of Clifford Chance before entering the offshore field.
Her practice spans banking and finance transactions including acquisitions, leveraged and project financing, shipping and aircraft financing, and bond issuance.
In 2017, myriad international and regional geopolitical and economic factors led to a drop in the volume of M&A, financing and bond transactions, says Chan. “For an offshore counsel, there was a bigger role in providing assistance and advice on novel/alternative structures,” she says. “(The) flow of work was also hampered by the slow-down of outbound investment.”
“However, this was somewhat overtaken by the rapid expansion of the OBOR initiative,” she adds. “The key offshore jurisdictions such as Bermuda, BVI and Cayman are well-placed to provide stable and tax-neutral structures, particularly when investors are yet to gain confidence in the legal and regulatory framework of the developing countries.”
Maggie Kwok is a partner at Harneys’ Hong Kong office with a broad range of experience spanning from fund formation, downstream investments, capital markets and corporate finance.
Kwok’s practice has a particular focus on formation, structuring and maintenance of various types of open ended and close ended funds including hedge funds and private equity funds. She believes China’s capital controls on outbound foreign investments has not dampened the appetite or enthusiasm for the use of offshore vehicles.
“We continue to witness a robust demand from China for offshore structures across all our service lines. We expect this trend to continue particularly in the funds space given the phenomenal pace at which the asset management business in China is growing. This underpins a strong demand for funds lawyers with Chinese language capability by offshore firms,” Kwok says.
However, the increasing intensity of the regulatory environment means businesses now need to devote more resources than ever to ensure the industry remains compliant.
“For offshore firms, this means we will need to work even more closely with our onshore counterparts to ensure compliance with FATCA, CRS, AIFMD and the likes,” Kwok says.
“We make a conscious effort to devote a considerable amount of resources to ensure compliance by teaming up with onshore advisors. At the end of the day, our goal is to make sure our clients’ needs are met and their interests are protected within the regulated framework.”
Prior to joining Harneys in 2018, Kwok practised for several years with Ogier and subsequently with Appleby’s corporate and funds team in Hong Kong. Some of Kwok’s recent experience includes advising a mainland Chinese investment group on the set up of a HK$1.6 billion ($204 million) Cayman Islands partnership fund investing into a HKSE Main Board issuer.
She also advised a leading mainland bank on the setup of a Cayman partnership with a total commitment of $700 million which funded the purchase of a gaming company by Tencent from Softbank Group.
Conyers Dill & Pearman
David Lamb is a partner in the Hong Kong office of Conyers Dill & Pearman.
Lamb’s practice centres on mergers and acquisitions, essentially takeovers of public companies listed on many of the world’s major stock exchanges including SEHK, NASDAQ and NYSE. A recent transaction of Lamb’s involved the privatisation of JA Solar.
“I also get involved in other capital markets work including restructuring and contentious corporate work. The deals are frequently award-winning transactions,” says Lamb.
He foresees a “formidable trend” towards greater regulation and transparency in all financial markets.
“The trends in offshore are driven by the need for innovation in laws to make cross-border capital markets work more efficient and realise higher returns on investment/capital. This is reflected by the fact that technical amendments are often made to companies’ legislation, in some cases every year,” Lamb says.
“There are many and varied macro headwinds as I call them, a mix of political, social, economic and regulatory considerations by various governments and quasi-government bodies often aimed at maximising tax revenue,” he adds.
Lamb says he is often asked to “be creative” by clients, which he believes is also key in the practice of it.
“The practice of law allows creativity and innovation, for example, in structuring transactions in new ways. You can legally exercise your imagination to meet the demands of clients,” says Lamb, who likens law to an “utterly fascinating five-dimensional chess.”
“I like to think of life as an adventure but it’s the people make the journey memorable,” he adds.
Linda Lee is the managing partner of Carey Olsen’s Singapore office and lead partner in Asia. She focuses on cross-border M&A, corporate finance and corporate restructuring transactions throughout Asia as well as into Europe and the US.
“Carey Olsen’s practice in Asia has continued to develop during the past year, with further additions to the team in Singapore and the ramping up of the Hong Kong office which launched at the end of 2016,” says Lee.
“New clients won in the last year include notable financial institutions, funds, law firms and fiduciary businesses,” she adds. “The firm is seeing a continuing upward tick in offshore work from China involving Cayman and BVI structures coming directly into Singapore.”
The outlook for Asia-Pacific M&A for 2018 is positive, and the firm expects to see a significant amount of both strategic investor and financial investor capital being deployed in the ASEAN markets, with offshore structures continuing to play their part.
“Challenges include very significant competition between offshore law firms for the work on offer, increasing EU, US and OECD attention to offshore structures, and multinationals consequently becoming more conservative with their tax planning strategies,” says Lee.
Ian Mann is the head of Harneys’ Litigation and Restructuring practice group in Hong Kong.
As a leading offshore litigator and senior tactician, Mann believes that offshore litigation will primarily be driven by corporate governance disputes in listed companies within the next three years.
“This is, in large measure, due to increased shareholder activism following sub-par returns from other private equity investments. We have experienced an increasing demand to support Hong Kong-listed companies incorporated offshore in managing disputes and providing advice at various stages of their growth including initial public offerings, day-to-day compliance, corporate governance issues, and mitigating the risks involved in de-listing,” says Mann.
He feels the greatest challenge that offshore litigation faces is court venue arbitrage and calls for vast improvements in the architecture of the current e-platforms to drive down the costs of the administration of justice for court users.
On his recent work, he cites the decision in the matter of Shanda Games Limited (CICA 13 of 2017) as a “monumental victory” striking at the heart of the booming “fair value” litigation market that has taken hold in the Cayman Islands’ Courts.
“The client saved nearly $17 million in the share valuation litigation and resulted in a precedent that will affect most ongoing and future dissent actions in the Cayman Islands,” says Mann.
Understandably, his clients are quick to sing his praises.
“We decided to change lawyers once we met Ian Mann. He is like no other lawyer we have ever met. He has a huge reputation in the People’s Republic of China amongst top corporates for being the best offshore lawyer,” says Samuel Qian, CFO of Shanda.
“Clients involved in litigation come to me when they are at their lowest ebb and feel least empowered. I am driven by a genuine desire to help with their dilemmas and troubles,” says Mann.
“The Dalai Lama once famously said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion,” he adds. “It’s a different way of looking at litigation and is what I teach all my young Harneys associates. The fame and profits will come to you as a lawyer, with patience, if your starting point is pure. Genuine mindful compassion for clients’ needs also means you are more likely to win your litigation disputes in court.”
Maples and Calder
Ann Ng specialises in investment funds. She has recently advised on a significant number of new investment funds for the largest and most high-profile wealth manager in China and assisted with the launch of multiple investment funds in support of the Belt and Road Initiative.
Ng has expertise in the formation, structuring and restructuring of all types of open and closed-end funds including hedge funds, private equity and venture capital, real estate and infrastructure funds.
Her clients include a wide variety of international players including hedge fund and private equity fund sponsors, investors, asset managers, banks, trustees, administrators and other service providers.
Her practice also involves advising several international family offices on their strategic investments.
Last year some of these transactions included advising a family office of the founder of a leading Chinese e-commerce company on their acquisition of significant shares in a high-profile American professional sports club, the Brooklyn Nets.
“In light of recent change in China policies including capital control changes after the March 2018 meetings, we are expecting to continue to see: more funds investing into single identifiable assets; more single investor funds; and different underlying investment themes to be pursued,” says Ng.
In 2017, Maples and Calder’s funds team acted for six of the world’s top 10 private equity managers (ranked by five-year fundraising total) and eight of the world’s top 10 hedge fund
managers globally (ranked by assets under management).
Last year, the team has also established approximately 37 percent of all newly registered Cayman Islands Monetary Authority (CIMA) funds and 40 percent of all new Exempted Limited Partnerships (ELP), the most popular vehicle for private equity funds.
Ng regularly speaks at industry conferences and seminars as an offshore expert.
Nicholas Plowman’s primary focus is building Ogier’s Cayman Islands and British Virgin Islands investment funds and venture capital practice in Asia. He acts for a variety of Asian fund managers in the private equity, long only and hedge fund spaces. His clients represent some of the more sophisticated and respected fund managers in Asia. Plowman has been consistently named among the top 10 offshore lawyers in Asia by Asian Legal Business’ Offshore Client Choice List since 2016.
Plowman joined Ogier in January 2006 from Slaughter and May, London, where he practised as a corporate M&A lawyer. He set up Ogier’s Hong Kong office in February 2007. He acts for a wide variety of Asian fund managers in the private equity, long only and hedge fund space, including some of the more sophisticated and respected fund managers in Asia.
“2017 was another year of growth for Ogier in Hong Kong, with our expanding office now being a total of 33 qualified lawyers. Revenues have hit an all-time high, with 2017 the third-straight year of double-digit growth,” says Plowman.
“That growth has been across the investment funds, dispute resolution, corporate and banking and finance practices, with our investment funds team now being one of the largest in the context of the offshore law firms based in Hong Kong.”
Maples and Calder,
After moving from Herbert Smith to Maples in 2005, John Trehey has been leading Maples’ fast-growing litigation, restructuring and insolvency practice in Asia. He was the first offshore lawyer of his kind to be based Asia.
Trehey is particularly known as an expert in complex multi-jurisdictional shareholder disputes, on top of other areas such as special situations, insolvencies and restructurings of all descriptions. He is also well-known for using court-sanctioned schemes of arrangements to implement takeovers of listed entities.
“I expect to see an increase in contentious matters, in particular, shareholder disputes emanating from the PRC. It is no longer the case that in the PRC litigation is considered destabilising or inharmonious,” says Trehey. “In recent years a new generation of business leaders have become well acquainted with the use of the courts to achieve business objectives,” he adds.
“Aided by regional onshore lawyers who are now completely comfortable with the use of the courts in the BVI and the Cayman Islands, this change in mindset has played a significant role in the large number of new contentious matters being fought in the Caribbean.”
Trehey sees more deals and contentious matters emanating from China’s second-tier cities, gaining ground on the traditional strongholds of Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou.
“Regional clients will become increasingly demanding of their offshore law firms in terms of requiring matters to be handled in a time and cost-efficient manner. Key to this is a working infrastructure between the Asian and Caribbean offices of these firms,” says Trehey. “It takes many years of commitment to proper implementation and constant refinement.”
Maples is approaching a quarter century in Asia and is uncompromising on the importance of having an effective infrastructure in place between Asia and the Caribbean.
In addition, cybersecurity, data protection and blockchain technology are also likely to generate more work for offshore lawyers.
“These are still relatively new fields but there is enormous potential there,” he says.
The ALB Offshore Client Choice List 2018 was compiled taking into account responses from more than 150 clients of offshore lawyers located in Asia, as well as our own market knowledge. The survey was open in the months of March and April 2018, and asked clients to recommend lawyers on the basis of their experience working with them, as well as what sets these lawyers apart from their peers in an increasingly competitive market.
Five who narrowly missed out
Nick Harrold, Maples and Calder
“Nick is extremely efficient, provides succinct authoritative advice and maintains highest standards of customer service. He goes out of his way to help on all aspects of business,” says a client. Adds another: “He is very professional and has extensive experience in Cayman law.”
Judy Lee, Appleby
“We worked together with Ms. Judy Lee in many transactions where both our clients and we were very impressed with her professional services and excellent communication skills,” says one respondent. Adds another: “She is very professional and talented. She knows Chinese clients well and she always provides great advice.”
Anthony Oakes, Ogier
“Excellent, accommodating and able to provide seamless, beyond the- expected service as routine. Very user-friendly and available to provide straightforward advice around the clock,” says a client. Adds another: “It is always a pleasure to work with Tony, and I would want him on all of my deals which have an offshore element.”
Matt Roberts, Maples and Calder
A client says that Roberts is “knowledgeable, professional and a pleasure to work with. He understands the fundamental needs of our company and thinks outside of the box to provide added value.” For another client, Roberts is “very proactive, business-minded and quick to respond to issues. Extremely helpful and supportive.”
Sam Robertson, Forbes Hare
A client says that they “have had very a positive experience collaborating with Sam. It is great having Sam on the same team as you know he will not let you down.” Another praise him as “extremely efficient and effective. Proactive and provides solutions with quick turnaround time.”