Berwin Leighton Paisner has joined the recent rush into Myanmar, launching its fourth Asian office in Yangon with Baker & McKenzie’s office head Chris Hughes.
Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, becomes the firm’s 14th office globally and the first to be opened under the leadership of Lisa Mayhew, who replaced Neville Eisenberg as managing partner in May. The launch follows a tie-up with Myanmar firm Legal Network Consultants in March 2014, with the firm becoming a member of its Asia network.
Adding to its offices in Hong Kong, Singapore and Beijing, BLP joins a growing band of law firms entering Myanmar following the end of military rule in 2011 and economic reform to open up the market to international banks and law firms. It comes just days after the country’s first democratic elections in 25 years, with Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi’s party securing two-thirds of the vote and ending decades of military rule.
With reforms underway, the Asian Development Bank expects Myanmar to achieve 8.2% GDP growth in 2016 on the back of foreign investment and rapid expansion in its telecoms sector. As well as Baker & McKenzie, Allen & Overy, US firm Duane Morris and Singapore’s Allen & Gledhill have all opened outposts in Myanmar.
Hughes has been as the forefront of developing Myanmar’s legal revolution, having left Australia in 2013 to spearhead Baker & McKenzie’s push in the country. An Australian and English law-qualified transactional lawyer, Hughes was the lead draftsman on the Myanmar Company Law reform process, which will be shortly submitted to the country’s parliament. He leaves seven years after joining Baker & McKenzie from Magic Circle firm Clifford Chance, becoming a partner in 2010.
Bob Charlton, who was hired from DLA Piper in September to head its Asia practice, said: ‘With further political stability and clients demanding more insightful expertise across South East Asia, this is the perfect time for BLP to expand its presence in the region. The legal market is in growth mode in Myanmar and this provides great opportunities for BLP in a country which is now opening up to increased international investment into infrastructure, real estate, telecommunications and transport to name a few. It is the right time to have a physical presence in the country.’
Hughes added: ‘Having worked in Myanmar for a couple of years now, I understand the challenges and opportunities associated with businesses entering into frontier markets. Many companies from Europe and North America are now ensuring that investment into South East Asia, and particularly Myanmar, is a big part of any growth strategy and we will be perfectly positioned to advise them with our local knowledge alongside our already strong Asian footprint.’