Baker McKenzie recently appointed Michael Wong as its new Asia-Pacific chair, in charge of setting regional strategy for 17 offices in the region. Here he shares how the firm has been manoeuvring to help its India-related clients, and his thoughts on regional recovery.
India Business Law Journal: Describe the firm’s strategy regarding India?
Michael Wong: We basically look at India from two lenses. We look at it from the lens of our international clients, the key clients. We go to them and ask, ‘what is the piece of strategy in your business that is In- dia-related, and how can we support that?’ We cannot be on the ground supporting them on a purely inbound matter, but we can support them by knowing them, know- ing their global strategy, and working with our corresponding law firms in India in a way that we can give them a more tailored result, a better result than if they just go to any law firm in India. That’s one way.
The other way that we see is work- ing with Indian outbound companies. Every year, we go through these lists and look at what these companies are, then try to focus on them, trying to bring our value proposition to them.
We [normally] go to India at least twice or three times a year, we do a general coun- sel night, bring our best people there, and talk about all of this. This year, unfortu- nately, because of covid, we could not go, but we were still able to do a bunch of web and video presentations in conjunction with our panel firms in India.
One additional thing that we are trying to do is, if other foreign law firms that go to India are trying to sell their capabilities in M&A, private equity, tax, etc., we are trying to do it a little bit more. We are try- ing to sell the clients a bit of the industry knowledge, and what we see in a particular industry in other parts of the world, which may be of interest to Indian companies. So, we say, ‘This is what happens that we see in Silicon Valley’ because India has a great connection with the tech space in America.
IBLJ: India only allows in foreign lawyers on a ‘fly in fly out’ basis. How are you collaborating with Indian firms?
Wong: We work closely with what we call our panel law firms. There are a bunch of very talented law firms on the ground in India. These are Indian firms. Throughout the years, we have different parts of our firm working with different people. The past year and the year before, we went and had face-to-face interviews with every single firm and try to figure out who does what, which one is good in what area, and to narrow that list down to maybe five or six to say these are the priority firms.
And for all Baker clients, we will only work with these firms first, unless we cannot find the experts, then we will go to a second tier. We try to be the traffic control in terms of monitoring the quality of services that we get out of India.
We also try to do joint client development. Some of the webinars that I have mentioned are an example of where we would introduce new ideas to Indian companies, and introduce ideas of Indian law to foreign companies outside of India, through these joint promotions.
IBLJ: What are your priorities for 2021, and what are the biggest challenges?
Wong: Our top priority in terms of the firm is client focus. Our top challenge for the Asia-Pacific region is to turn that client focus into client opportunities.
We see our clients going through ex- traordinary things, some barely surviving the pandemic, while others are actually thriving. So really, to keep pace with our clients and to really provide value, we need to put ourselves in their shoes.
Asia-Pacific is probably turning the corner and likely to come out of the pandemic first among all the regions in the world. And with that, we’re confident that we can grow with our clients and look at the opportunities for growth.
IBLJ: Which practices has the pandemic affected most, and what trends are you seeing in the region?
Wong: We keep track of our numbers weekly, and globally, and we see demand is soft. Happily, demand seems to be holding up stronger in the Asia-Pacific. So, when we went into the pandemic, obviously business activities died down. But the areas that we see being the busiest tend to be in the advisory areas – tax, employment, some re- structuring, etc.
The areas that were taking a backseat were transactional, M&A, private equity, [where people] tend to slow down and see what happens. We also track from an industry perspective and the winners obviously are in life sciences and healthcare, and also in technology. Financial institu- tions are not doing that badly.
I think that is what we have seen in the past few months. But as I mentioned, as we see Asia coming out of this tunnel quicker than other regions, we probably will see Asia take the lead in looking at investments offshore.