As the global economy trudges up the long, steep road to recovery, Asia remains similarly sluggish, with companies looking to play it safe in uncertain times by controlling costs and making best use of existing resources. And this, in turn, has pushed in-house teams to look for smarter and more innovative ways to work. Ranajit Dam speaks to senior legal personnel to get a flavour of 2016

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Christopher Stephens

TITLE: General Counsel

COMPANY: Asian Development Bank


Christopher Stephens, GC at ADB, says that in 2016, his team faces a “renewed focus by stakeholders inside and outside the organisation” on productivity. “A top priority this year is to achieve greater and better results, quantitatively and qualitatively,” he notes. Meanwhile, “the recurring clarion call is to accomplish more with the same resources, so the challenge will be to prepare, motivate and support people to work better and to achieve more.”

Speaking of the banking sector, he notes that it is “facing the prospect of long sustained low-interest, low inflationary environments and falling commodities prices that will challenge the ability to achieve growth. Our core mission is growth among developing countries in Asia-Pacific, and we will explore new and different approaches and products to cope with the new realities of the markets.”

Meanwhile, external counsel need to continue to invest in understanding his company’s business and its organization in order to provide a bespoke service, says Stephens. “To encourage that investment, we need to reward that the better service with more and better engagements. This has not changed in the last year or in the last 20, but my sense is that client companies like ours have an evolving recognition of the benefits of the mutuality and reciprocity of the lawyer-client relationship,” he adds.

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Hoh Hon Piao

TITLE: Head of Legal

COMPANY: Astro Malaysia Holdings

LOCATION: Kuala Lumpur

As Hoh Hon Piao puts it, his company’s business is fast changing, driven largely by technology but the content rights negotiated in the past were “crafted in the old world” where boundaries, platforms, devices and windows were clear and stable. “Today, in 2016 and moving forward, boundaries are becoming more and more irrelevant with OTT [over-the-top] content platforms and content fluidity on the Internet,” he says. As a result, Astro is constantly thinking of ways to innovate to improve client experience. “However, innovative technologies sometimes present challenges such as copyright issues that we will need to address. These issues are new and untested in Malaysia. We would not only need to look at this from a legal perspective but also from a risk management perspective,” says Hoh.

He adds that in a sense, the growth of the Internet is also causing regulatory lines to blur where regional and global content players can enter new markets via OTT without clear rules on regulatory and licensing requirements “An example is censorship – to what extent are OTT platforms required to comply with local censorship regulations? The legal team would need to work closely with the business teams to address such opportunities and challenges. Most importantly is the speed at which in-house lawyers will need to respond to support initiatives of the business.”

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Jun Hee Kim

TITLE: General Counsel

COMPANY: Hyundai Heavy Industries


According to Jun Hee Kim, his main priority for 2016 is to maximize the the resources he has at hand. “Every lawyer has a different strength and weakness and it is my job to figure out and bring out the best of each lawyer, says Kim. “Another major priority specific to this year is to ensure that the legal department makes a significant contribution to the company during the current difficult market conditions. This is not only a matter of prevailing in legal cases, but also making a meaningful contribution in improving the way our company does business and how the company uses lawyers generally.”

As the role of in-house lawyers expands significantly, the most complex problem Kim faces is the “exponential increase of work faced by legal,” which is outpacing the increase in the lawyer headcount. “It is also remains challenging finding new lawyers to hire given the specialized industry expertise that is needed by our lawyers,” he says. “We try to address this by placing a high emphasis on training for our more junior lawyers so they can become self-sufficient as quickly as possible. Inevitably, the role of our outside counsel will increase this year while we simultaneously continue to search for good candidates to replenish our team resources.”

The prolonged depreciation of oil prices has had a difficult impact on companies working in the energy and heavy industries sector, making it a tough period for a number of HHI’s divisions. “In difficult economic times, dispute matters tend to increase and as such the work load and responsibilities of the legal department will continue to increase,” he says. “Nevertheless, our lawyers are well versed in handling international disputes so we are prepared for this. I am also optimistic that market conditions will stabilise and improve by later this year. So there is light at the end tunnel.”

Geographically, the company is seeing more legal issues emerge in China, the Middle East as well as South and Central America. “Also, we are seeing an increase of regulatory matters such as environmental and trade sanction issues,” says Kim. “All of this is attributable to ongoing changes in various regulatory regimes. The end result is that we are working with more diverse outside counsel, and in doing so, our team members continue to gain diverse legal expertise.”

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Raymond Goh

TITLE: Director, Global Investments, Legal & Compliance

COMPANY: Anbang International Group Holdings


Speaking of priorities for 2016, Raymond Goh mentions two: firstly, ensuring that Anbang’s internal resources are focused on supporting senior management’s commercial objectives for the year ahead and projected business plans over the next three to five years, and secondly, enhancing and refining the company’s risk management and execution capabilities for its growing global presence. “Another increasingly important priority is to give junior members of the team more opportunities to take on heavier responsibilities and shine,” he says.

He notes that this year, economic uncertainties in certain regions and increasing numbers of institutional investors venturing overseas in the search for yield will likely lead to more intense competition for strategic or trophy assets that are currently undervalued. “From a legal-risk analysis and execution perspective, the quality and speed of our capabilities in this regard are increasingly critical to the success of our acquisitions, especially where dual track M&A/IPO processes are involved.”

Meanwhile, on the regulatory front, there will likely be heightened regulatory scrutiny on foreign acquirers in relation to assets or industries that are considered to be strategic or sensitive. “On the other hand, and as a result of our rapidly expanding international footprint, we have to keep abreast of and anticipate regulatory changes that are likely to impact our businesses around the world,” Goh says.

Discussing Anbang’s relationships with law firms, he highlights two key themes: commercially sensible advice tailored to the jurisdiction in question, and advice delivered in a timely manner. “We encourage law firms to go beyond providing clients with black letter law,” says Goh. “We are not asking law firms to make commercial decisions but rather – given that these firms would have worked on numerous transactions of a similar nature in that jurisdiction – to share with us candidly what has worked well and what we should be mindful of.”

He adds that Anbang’s corporate culture places a heavy emphasis on speed and efficiency, and as such, its advisers have to be equally responsive. Advisers that understand our corporate culture and meet our expectations can certainly expect a stronger relationship with us,” says Goh.


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