Despite concerns over a cooling eastern economy, UK advisers continue to invest in Asia with DLA Piper and Stephenson Harwood this week making major plays in the region.
DLA Piper has entered into a strategic alliance with Indonesian law firm Almaida Baely & Firmansyah (IAB&F), ramping up its already huge global footprint. Like most international advisers, DLA had previously largely serviced Indonesian work from its Singapore arm.
DLA co-chief executive Nigel Knowles explained the rationale for entering the increasingly feted market: ‘At DLA Piper we make it our business to do business where our clients do business. Indonesia is one of the fastest growing emerging economies in the world, with a young population, burgeoning middle class consumers and growing international trade – it makes sense for us to formalise our close ties with our partners there.’
International advisers have been attracted to soaring rates of direct foreign investment in Indonesia – estimated by the International Monetary Fund to have expanded 400% over the last four years – annual growth rates of over 6% and the potential of a country with a population of a quarter of a billion.
In March 2011, Norton Rose tied up with Jakarta’s Susandarini & Partners, while Stephenson Harwood entered into an association with Christian Teo Purwono & Partners in November the same year. Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) has a longstanding alliance with Hiswara Bunjamin & Tandjung that began over ten years ago.
Magic Circle firms Linklaters and Allen & Overy also have alliances in the country while White & Case is the most recent international firm to enter the market via an association with MD & Partners, which was agreed earlier this year.
IAB&F joins DLA as part of a growing group of ‘relationship firms’, including DLA Phillips Fox in New Zealand, Croatia’s Glinska & Miskovic, Egypt’s Matouk Bassiouny, Sweden’s DLA Nordic and six firms across Africa.
Elsewhere, Stephenson Harwood has ramped up in another much touted market after agreeing a formal association with Singapore’s Virtus Law. This bypasses the need for a qualifying foreign law practice (QFLP) licence to offer Singaporean law. Despite 23 international firms – including Stephenson Harwood – last year applying for the incoming QFLP, only four were granted in the first round.
Stephenson Harwood also this week opened a representative office in Beijing, after receiving approval from the Ministry of Justice late last year. James Zhang, a legal director at the firm, is heading up the branch, which will focus on corporate and maritime law.
The relative difficulty of securing local licences has been seen as a driver for alliances between foreign and local firms. However, Singapore is widely expected to eventually move towards further liberalisation.
Elsewhere, Legal Week today (2 May) reports that Linklaters and Baker & McKenzie are the latest firms to secure approval to launch local offices in South Korea. A large group of foreign law firms last year applied for local licences in response to Bar liberalisation. Eighteen firms have so far received approvals from the Ministry of Justice, including Clifford Chance, DLA Piper, K&L Gates and Herbert Smith Freehills.