2020 in the rearview mirror


Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the acclaimed author who famously introduced the idea of “black swan events” to the world, prescribes “antifragility” as an antidote to the rare, unexpected events that shock the world. “Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness,” he writes. “The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.” With the pandemic having wreaked havoc on businesses and economies the world over, it is perhaps a good time for some introspection on making your business shockproof.

As 2020 grinds to a close, there are sure signs of hope as pharma companies announce vaccines and governments make arrangements to administer them at scales the world has never seen before. The new year we are ushering in may well be more of the same, but we are at least certain of some light at the end of the tunnel.

Considering all that has come to pass this year, our cover story, Asia Business Law Survey Report 2020, tests the mood of the market to find out how law firms in Asia have handled the pressure? Many have adopted novel approaches to deal with the pandemic, and we explore which changes will remain and what will be cast aside when the crisis subsides.

From the hundreds of law firm responses to the survey we assess business sentiment, In the rearview mirror changes in revenue and billing rates, new work arrangements, as well as trends in practice area activity and workload in the past year. Our survey delves into the impact of the crisis on your colleagues, consultants and firms in the region to get a clearer picture of how the legal market has persevered.

For Straight talk, we interview Gerard Sanders, who will be leaving his role as general counsel at the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, having guided the multilateral institution through its five-year startup phase. Pathfinder explores how Sanders has led the bank’s legal team since its inception in 2015, creating a legal framework that has enabled the bank to invest with multiple jurisdictions on projects with the potential to change the lives of millions. He will continue his association with the bank in a new role as a senior adviser to the AIIB president, and general counsel emeritus.

Sanders talks to Asia Business Law Journal about his masterplan and how the global crisis has changed the bank’s focal point from financing infrastructure to include crisis response projects. With its ongoing covid strategy, he says the bank has demonstrated how nimble and flexible it can be, as enabled by its charter, and that there is a need not only to provide infrastructure over the longer term, but also to help countries meet their immediate needs in a crisis. The Singapore Convention on Mediated Settlement Agreements came into force in September.

The Singapore Mediation Centre, as a pioneering institution in the sector, has been at the forefront of promoting mediation, and in Finding middle ground, we sat down with the centre’s executive director, Ban Jiun Ean, to discuss the art of mediation, the impact of the Singapore Convention, emerging trends in the sector, and the possibilities for online dispute resolution.

This issue also brings to you the Philippines Law Firms of the Year. Typically, the annual awards winners tend to be firms that go beyond offering just legal counsel, but also understand the partcular needs of their clients. This year is no different, except they have had to do so while adapting to the challenges of a pandemic and the dramatically different needs of clients.

Congratulations are in order for the Law Firm of the Year, ACCRALAW, as well as for the Best Overall Law Firms, Picazo Buyco Tan Fider and Santos, Romulo Mabanta Buenaventura Sayoc & de los Angeles, and SyCip Salazar Hernandez & Gatmaitan. And a special word of encouragement for our Best New Law Firm, Sarmiento Loriega, which has made its mark in just six months.

This packed issue also features our first Vietnam A-List, a guide to the top 100 lawyers in the country. And don’t miss our Asia Business Law Directory of Singapore law firms.

Best wishes,

Mithun Varkey
Editor, Asia Business Law Journal
Managing Editor, Vantage Asia