Tai leads APAC after HSF global shakeup


Herbert Smith Freehills’ (HSF) former managing partner, China, May Tai, will now lead the Asia-Pacific region as managing partner, Asia, following a global leadership shake-up at the firm.

New CEO Justin D’Agostino announced a streamlined leadership strategy with the addition of four new managing partners forming the executive team.

May Tai

Tai has led the firm’s China practice since 2017. She specializes in a range of commercial disputes and regulatory issues, and has advised governments, government-owned entities and commercial clients in Asia, Europe and the US.

She told Asia Business Law Journal that the firm’s strategy for Asia going forward would was one of consolidation of its leading position and strengthening its regional network.

“We’ve spent the last five years expanding our platform and people across Asia,” said Tai. “That includes opening in Kuala Lumpur, strengthening our association with Hiswara Bunjamin & Tandjung in Jakarta, and adding China law capability through our joint operation with Kewei in Shanghai, along with numerous new partner promotions and hires.

“Our strategy now is to consolidate and strengthen throughout that platform, across the region, and consolidate our leading position in the Asia legal market.”

Tai said HSF business had remained busy through the crisis, with much of the work coming from established clients on business-as-usual matters. “Now we are beginning to see an increase in work directly from the pandemic – from disputes over payments and deliveries to financing and corporate work, to rebuild balance sheets and prepare for new opportunities,” she said.

“Clear guidance from the very top of the firm was coupled with the freedom to react locally during the crisis. It allowed a diverse region like Asia to keep working and to protect its people in the most appropriate way for each local situation. It helped us to be much more flexible, collaborative and responsive to our people and to our clients as the crisis affected different countries at different times.”

An Oxford graduate, Tai joined HSF as a trainee in 2001 and became a partner in 2010. She has been based in Greater China since 2009, working in Shanghai, Beijing, and more recently Hong Kong. She has also practised in the firm’s London, Singapore and Tokyo offices.

Globally the firm’s the new executive team comprises D’Agostino, and managing partners Ian Cox, Andrew Pike, Alison Brown and Niccole Bramforth, who will lead the firm’s daily management devolved to practices and regions. Tai will report to Andrew Pike, executive partner, East.

“Our aim is to build an ambitious yet straightforward firm, sharply focused on our strategy, clients, markets and people – and on strong financial performance and resilience,” said D’Agostino. “By devolving day-to-day decisions closer to the business, we’ll allow our people to work in the way that makes most sense for their clients and region.” The new appointments took effect on 1 May 2020.