Legal insights firm Acritas has unveiled its Asia-Pacific Law Firm Brand Index 2020, revealing the top 10 law firms in the region by brand value. While the pandemic has triggered retreats from some markets, or the shedding of headcount, larger domestic firms have shown their market dominance and staying power in the index.
Taking the top spot this year was Sino-Australian firm King & Wood Mallesons, and it was followed closely by Baker McKenzie, last year’s top firm. Both law firms have grown their brand equity across the region over the past year, Acritas research found.
The firms were referred to as “powerhouses,” intent on growing their presence and popularity among in-house counsel.
“These are uncertain times for business. As our clients navigate shifting global dynamics and pursue new opportunities to strengthen their business, they are turning to the firms they trust the most. They are seeking advisers who consistently deliver high-quality legal advice and exceptional service - and this is reflected in this year’s rankings,” said Sue Kench, global chief executive of KWM in a statement. “The opportunity for KWM is to continue to build on our reputation for quality in our local markets and become the go-to firm in the region for complex cross-border work, setting a new global standard for service and expertise.”
One place down was Anglo-Australian firm Herbert Smith Freehills, which held onto the third spot for the seventh consecutive year. The firm, which recently appointed an Asia-based CEO in Justin D’Agostino, has reaffirmed its commitment to the market both vocally and through strategic moves over the past few years.
This year’s rankings also show what happens when strong ambition and dedication come together, as firms in competitive markets continue to win the confidence of new clients. After breaking into the top 10 in 2019, Beijing headquartered firm Zhong Lun showed off its impressive credentials by climbing three places into the fourth position in 2020. The firm has enhanced its reputation for top-level litigation and high-value work in China.
Another impressive trade-up saw Dentons climb 13 positions to fifth place. The firm has significantly increased its brand favourability and consideration for top-level work in China in the last 18 months, according to Acritas.
South Korean law firm Kim & Chang held onto the sixth position for the third consecutive year. The largest law firm in South Korea by headcount, Kim & Chang has gained recognition for its work at the Asian Legal Business Korea Law Awards last year, taking home six trophies – the biggest haul of the night.
Following Kim & Chang was Beijing headquartered JunHe at seventh, while Allen & Overy also had a strong year, moving up seven places to eighth spot.
Mori Hamada & Matsumoto, meanwhile, maintained its top 10 presence and was joined in the list by another Japan firm – Nishimura and Asahi – which climbed up three places. Nishimura & Asahi has expanded rapidly in the U.S., Europe and other Asian countries in the past year or so.
Linklaters also showed an impressive rise, stepping up five places in the rankings this year.
RISING TO THE CHALLENGE
Among the key themes and trends that underpinned this year’s results were firms’ responses to the global COVID-19 pandemic. While quality, expertise and professionalism have always been key drivers of a strong brand proposition throughout Asia, disruption and uncertainty triggered by the pandemic created a shift in the types of qualities clients gravitated towards, Acritas said.
While legal departments have fought hard, “we have seen a definite flight towards brands that clients trust the most – professionalism, service, and reputation have all increased in importance across 2020,” the firm found
As a result, a visible trend which emerged was that firms that were able to leverage premium reputations for delivering results to clients in uncertain times, had a strong advantage.
Another trend that was valued was the ability to strategically support clients as they navigate international markets.
“Over 80 percent of senior buyers across the region need international support across an average of 22 countries. As the regulatory landscape has shifted – often in different ways and at different rates – firms who have been able to take a truly international view of client’s challenges have proved to be invaluable partners,” said Acritas.
The third significant trend impacting the 2020 results was the increasing value of China within the region.
“In the last 18 months we have seen GDP, the number of Forbes 2000 companies headquartered in the country and average levels external legal spend all grow at a very strong rate. From an international perspective - China’s influence and importance to the region from a legal perspective is huge,” said Acritas.
Since 2014, Acritas has carried out in-depth research into law firm brands, proving comprehensive information into developments around law firm brand value. In 2019, the research firm was acquired by Thomson Reuters.
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