In November 2015, global law behemoth Dentons and Rodyk & Davidson, Singapore’s oldest firm and also one of its largest, announced that they were joining forces, a move that took effect in April 2016.
The combined firm, Dentons Rodyk, recently celebrated its official launch, and Philip Jeyaretnam SC, Singapore CEO and global vice-chair of the firm, says the the experience so far has been “terrific,” with the new entity meeting a “pent-up demand.”
“Clients of Dentons in the U.S., Europe and UK have been asking the firm for some time, ‘What do you have in Singapore?’ and how they can be served there. Singapore is the place where most regional headquarters for Asia are located. Singapore is the number one international arbitration seat in Asia. And Singapore is the place from which a lot of intellectual property rights are managed for the region,” he explained.
While the integration process has generally been a smooth one, Jeyaretnam points out that there have also been challenges along the way, which he divides into two broad categories: technology and culture/ mindset/people. “One technology challenge that we have is to make sure that IT security standards are raised to U.S. levels because U.S. clients are particularly demanding. Fortunately, we have invested quite a lot in IT and cybersecurity, but nonetheless, we had to do some upgrading,” he said.
The other major concern was how to get people to “start thinking globally, to see themselves as part of a much bigger family,” he added. And while Jeyaretnam acknowledges that these attitudes take time to develop, “they happen through interaction and working together on matters, [and these, in turn,] quickly change mindsets.” To further facilitate this, Dentons Rodyk organises in-person meetings, talks and exchange of personnel such as secondments as well as sends its lawyers to attending partner events and conferences elsewhere in the world.
While an argument can be made that it should go without saying that these initiatives are par for the course at any law firm worth the label “global”, Jeyaretnam mentions that how Dentons Rodyk is going to extra mile to help its people understand “what it means to be the world's largest firm.”
“What's striking is how ready and willing the Dentons partners have been to work on this, to share their experience, to spend time with our guys... For those in leadership, they've been through the negotiations, they understand what it's all about. But in order for everybody in the firm to get it, as it were, it definitely takes repetition and experience and interaction,” he said.
As with any such initiative, change is an element that has to be addressed, but Jeyaretnam makes it clear that “the firm in Singapore retains a great deal of autonomy.” As he explained, “We haven't raised our rates; our rates remain competitive based on the local market. There's no change as a result of being part of the combination, unless there's something we want and it makes sense. Some of the changes that we signed up for have been around things like training opportunities that our lawyers are getting and the kinds of work that we are able to pursue as a result of the combination. So it's more changes in opportunities rather than changes in organisation.”
He continued: “We haven't had changes in organisation within the firm. We retain the same leadership, we have the same partnership and how we deliver our services here in Singapore remains the same but it's within the umbrella of the global firm.”
Jeyaretnam cites being part of a massive organisation with an extensive network has enabled the firm to serve clients in more places, giving it a critical advantage, particularly in M&A transactions and international arbitration. “Straight away, we found ourselves being considered for M&A deals precisely because of that reach. For example, there may be deals where there is a need for advice in relation to jurisdictions where the target has operations. Those operations might be in Africa, Latin America, or other parts of Asia. So being part of Dentons means that we can assemble a team that can look after such multi-jurisdictional work… Clients [now] are saying, ‘We would like you to quote for this job,' where previously they would have thought, ‘OK this is a Singapore firm, it would be very hard for them to put together a multi-jurisdictional team’,” he observed.
THE MORE THINGS CHANGE
No matter how much things change, however, some things do remain the same. And in the case of Dentons Rodyk, it very much wants to retain its status as a storied and trusted brand in Singapore, one that was established in 1861. As Jeyaretnam notes, “The Rodyk brand remains part of our message. Both for legal and business reasons, we are Dentons Rodyk. And so through our unique heritage – we're Singapore's oldest law firm – we think that keeping the brand signals our strengths and our depth in the business scene here and in the community here.”
He expounded: “We certainly want our clients to know us as Dentons Rodyk and to not forget our terrific heritage of 155 years of service.” The firm calls these long-standing ties as “enduring relationships” and Jeyaretnam says that clients are also excited about and supportive of the new combination. “They have seen that the world has changed. In their own businesses, they've seen how Singapore has been so much more connected and globalised over the last 20 years. So I think recognising that, clients see us adapting – not giving up what we were but transforming ourselves as part of the mission to remain relevant and useful.”
Accelerating growth is certainly in Denton Rodyk’s agenda, notes Jeyaretnam. “The combination is a big game changer for us. It gives us scale and resources to be more focused and robust about pursuing growth and expansion. So there are two parts to this: one is we are definitely looking at strengthening our capabilities in other countries in the region, and secondly, there are particular areas of practice where there is cross-border demand.”
He cites that the firm is specifically looking at boosting its trade, finance and energy practices – areas where growth is anticipated in the next six to 12 months. Senior partners of Denton Rodyk will be driving this effort, and in particular Jeyaretnam’s two deputy managing partners, Lek Siang Pheng and Gerard Singham, will be among the key people in the lead.
Beyond the desire to pursue growth, however, Jeyaretnam gives a more significant reason why the Dentons Rodyk combination matters. “We are doing it very much for the future, for the young lawyers in the firm. Because we do see that [both] the world and the world of business need an increasingly global reach. So much of the best legal work is cross-border in nature, and we want to be part of that. By doing this, we're securing the future for our young lawyers.”