Trowers & Hamlins became the first international law firm to apply for a qualified foreign law firm (QFLF) license in Malaysia. Under the Legal Profession (Amendment) Act 2012, which came into effect in June last year, QFLF holders can operate independently in Malaysia without allying with a local firm. Nick White, partner, and Regional Manager, Malaysia, with Trowers & Hamlins, talks to Ranajit Dam about the firm’s strategy in the country, as well as the advantages of the QFLF approach.  



ALB: After opening a representative office in Kuala Lumpur in 2012, you applied for the QFLF license in the last quarter of last year. How would you describe your Malaysia strategy?

Since 2012, after having secured approval from the Malaysia Investment & Development Authority for their "Regional Office" category of a representative office, we have been tracking the progress of the regime providing for liberalisation of the legal profession in Malaysia.  Once the rules and regulations were promulgated, we made our QFLF application and have been in touch with the Malaysian Bar Council since that date.  The rules provide for a joint Bar Council / Attorney General's Office Selection Committee to evaluate licence applications.  It is our understanding that, following each of the Malaysia Bar Council and Attorney General's Office having reviewed our application, the Selection Committee will meet during March, which should give us further news.  

As to our strategy, whilst principally Malaysia-orientated, we also seek to procure business from ASEAN countries where our offering is relevant.  Cooperation between the ASEAN countries is increasing, in particular with the advent, at the end of the year, of the ASEAN Economic Community 2015.  

Thus, our strategy is three-pronged:

•To service ASEAN clients active in the UK, whether it is in relation to real estate acquisition, real estate development, corporate and commercial ventures or mergers and acquisitions, banking and finance work, dispute resolution, or otherwise

•The same in relation to ASEAN clients active in the Middle East, where we have a longstanding presence and footprint, including our recently announced tie-up with the Saudi Arabian law firm Prima Law.

•To assist with ASEAN in-country projects of an international standard, where our expertise is relevant.  Our input would not be local law input but would be the expertise which we have and which we have accumulated from our work (including in "developing markets" such as parts of the Middle East). By way of examples, included within our strategy would be independent power and water plants, waste to energy projects, and a wide range of PPP models.  


From an international firm’s perspective, there seem to be a number of approaches to Malaysia: desks abroad, affiliations with law firms, and now QFLFs. What are some of advantages that the QFLF can provide compared to the other approaches?

The advantage of QFLF is that it is “standalone.”  That means that we can continue to act as we do at present, being involved with what I call the “A to Z” of Malaysian law firms, enabling us - without the practicalities involved in a tie-up - to work alongside firms who our clients direct us to, and also with the firm of our choosing when we have a “clean sheet of paper” enabling us to do so.


What changes or enhancements do you think a firm like yours can bring to the local legal market?

One of our stated aims accords with the provisions of the liberalisation regime, namely to assist in “knowledge transfer” to Malaysian law firms and lawyers.  That could be of note in a wide range of areas of law, from Islamic finance through to cross-border deals.  We are also aiming for what we saw in the English market in the late 1980s following the entry of American lawyers, namely earlier penetration of lawyers and legal services into commercial activity - rather than being consulted late in the day or as a last resort.  We would also expect the advent of the introduction of foreign law firms into the Malaysian market to have an upward effect on legal fees.  Not only do Malaysian law firms feel that fee levels are excessively compressed; many of their clients do too!

Related Articles

India lateral partner hire roundup: January 2024

by Mari Iwata |

Lateral hiring dried up a little bit in December, but three Indian law firms still brought in partners. Dentons Link Legal landed its seventh of the year, while Lumiere Law Partners lost three more.

Malaysia: IP, disputes focused LAW gets commercial heft with key hire

by Aparna Sai |

Malaysian firm LAW Partnership, which specialises in IP and disputes, has strengthened its corporate offering after hiring Raphael Tay as the head of its corporate and commercial practice in Kuala Lumpur from Lee Hishammuddin Allen & Gledhill.

HK: OLN brings in new corp partner from Birds

by Aparna Sai |

Hong Kong firm Oldham, Li & Nie Lawyers (OLN) has hired Simon WH Wong as a partner in its corporate and commercial practice from Bird & Bird, where he was a counsel.