Law firms across Asia have adopted novel strategies to deal with the pandemic, but how have they handled the pressure? Which changes will remain and what will be cast aside when the crisis subsides? Our survey delves into the impact of the crisis on your colleagues, consultants and law firms around the region. By Putro Harnowo
Compared to the rest of the world, many Asian jurisdictions have been praised for containing the number of coronavirus infections, while others are still struggling with rising cases. Around the region, the pandemic has taken its toll on businesses and economies, and the legal market has been no exception.
To measure its effects, Asia Business Law Journal conducted a survey of law firms throughout the region. Hundreds of law firms were invited to complete a survey on our website in November, which set out to assess business sentiment, changes of revenue and billing rates, working arrangements, as well as the trends in practice areas and workloads during the global pandemic.
The disruption has changed the demand for legal services, with certain areas of law becoming more important than ever. Meanwhile, limited mobility has transformed lawyers’ traditional workplaces into virtual spaces.
Some have lost, while others have won. “We see an increase in bankruptcy and dispute resolution,” says Ma Jiangtao, a senior partner at Dentons in Beijing. “However, because the pandemic was under control in China very quickly, there was no obvious impact [from it].”
The pandemic “has had substantial effects on client activities, including severe travel restrictions, reduced R&D work, limited access to correspondence, delayed processing of invoices, etc.,” says Li Hui, Beijing Sanyou Intellectual Property Agency’s chairperson and patent attorney.
“We take various measures to mitigate those effects and try to maintain client relationships as much as possible,” says Li. “For example, we held a video conference with each of our major clients last year instead of an annual face-to-face meeting.”
Lalit Bhasin, the managing partner of Bhasin & Co in New Delhi, agrees. “Reduced volume of work resulted in significantly lower revenue,” he says. “We maintain the firm’s client relationships by providing constant advice and guidance on lower fee rates.”
Martin Green, the managing partner of Stephenson Harwood in Singapore, says the pandemic has changed the firm in many ways. “In transactional work, the aviation industry is badly affected,” he says. “In operational, we have been forcing a rapid move to working from home, conducting webinars and virtual meetings, as well as publications.”
Paul Christopher, the managing partner of Mourant Ozannes in Hong Kong, says the firm has implemented “flexible working arrangements for staff, and use of technology to enable non-face-to-face meetings, and a pause in recruitment to understand the market trajectory”.
Nicholas Park, a senior managing attorney at Dentons Lee in Seoul, says the pandemic has created a solid opportunity for recruitment from other firms. “We also actively organise online webinars, conference calls and the provision of online resources to clients,” he says. “We have invested heavily in IT equipment and services this year.”