Following an extensive nominations process, Asia Business Law Journal reveals the top offshore lawyers, Lim Miran and Putro Harnowo report
Offshore financial centres worldwide have made relentless efforts to attract foreign business, and outward-looking Asian companies have responded to this demand by setting up overseas entities. However, finding the right legal team is daunting.
Asia’s top asset management groups, hedge funds, private equity and venture capital businesses domicile their funds in offshore financial centres due to the operational efficiencies, reduced taxes, greater privacy, progressive legislation and more corporate flexibility. Offshore environments are also friendlier towards corporations seeking US and Asian stock market listings, and individuals establishing investment funds and asset protection.
With the rising adoption of cryptocurrencies and special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs), offshore jurisdictions are gearing up to offer businesses a well-fitted infrastructure plan to maximise capital. However, each offshore financial centre has unique regulatory frameworks that suit certain purposes better for rolling out bespoke due diligence.
Against this backdrop, Asia Business Law Journal presents its A-List of the top offshore lawyers (see the list of all 50 lawyers and the key practice areas they endorsed following this article). The list is based on extensive research conducted and nominations received from in-house counsel in Asia, and Asia-focused partners from domestic and international law firms.
Comments submitted to Asia Business Law Journal suggest that clients look for responsive lawyers who work very flexibly, adapt to the needs of different matters, and can integrate knowledge and advice from various offshore jurisdictions governed by different laws.
More than half (58%) of the A-List lawyers are based in Hong Kong, best known for its finance industry. The percentage of lawyers based in the Cayman Islands comes in second at 18%. The Cayman Islands is renowned for offshore company formation with a history as an offshore haven for more than 50 years. Singapore is Asia’s fast-growing commercial centre and a promised land for tech startups, with 10% of our A-List lawyers based there. Meanwhile, 8% and 6% of these lawyers are based in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) and Bermuda, respectively.
Movers and shakers
Making the way to the top is tough in the competitive offshore legal industry, but some have made a real name for themselves, leading their offices and practices.
James Thomson, head of financial sponsors, APAC, at French corporate and investment bank Natixis in Hong Kong, praises Mourant’s managing partner in Hong Kong, Paul Christopher, as a “stand-out figure in Asia for offshore legal work”.
“With more than 20 years of experience, Paul is well known and recognised for his high-quality offshore legal advice,” says Thomson. “He is particularly well known for his specialisation on all offshore law aspects of private equity work.”
Anthony Vasey, chief operating officer at global advisor firm Teneo in Hong Kong, also commends Christopher as “the most experienced offshore lawyers in the region, well known and recognised for providing offshore legal advice on complex matters. Paul continues to be a leader in the market, and he is my go-to lawyer for complex offshore advice,” says Vasey.
Similar accolades are given to David Bulley, managing partner and global co-head of SPACs at Appleby in Hong Kong, by satisfied client Derek Cheung, who is managing director at the private equity investment company Ascendent Capital Partners in the city.
“David has been very helpful in many of my projects, as his prior experience in transactional work complements his expertise in offshore and Cayman Islands law,” says Cheung. “He often knows what we are trying to achieve for the transactions and is more than ready to present ideas and solutions, as opposed to simply providing the offshore legal frameworks and boundaries for me to figure out what to do within.”
Catherine Liu, general counsel at Asia-focused data centre operator Princeton Digital Group in Singapore, agrees. “David is extremely responsive and fantastic at coming up with commercial solutions to issues,” says Liu. “I trust David’s judgement and enjoy working with him to structure around Cayman and BVI law issues.”
Selina Tsang, director of legal at French-based multinational luxury goods specialist Kering Asia-Pacific in Hong Kong, compliments Anthony Oakes, a Hong Kong-based partner and head of finance practice in Asia at Ogier.
“Anthony is a brilliant offshore lawyer who is knowledgeable and very commercial, being able to put himself in his clients’ shoes for a workable and efficient solution,” says Tsang. “He is personable and great to work with. Highly recommended.”
Helen Jian, senior investment manager at Transpac Capital in Hong Kong, has a similar opinion of Oakes. “Anthony has great expertise and experience in offshore structuring, fund establishment and tax planning,” says Jian. “He has done very professional work regarding private equity investments, including the selection of fund vehicles and advising on investment terms.”
In Singapore, Carey Olsen’s managing partner and head of corporate, Anthony McKenzie, is recommended by Zack Quek, general counsel at Singapore logistics company Ninja Van. “Owing to his extensive experience, he is frequently able to give quick, concise and clear advice to complex issues, and his advice is always spot-on,” says Quek.
“Anthony can explain complex offshore legal issues and their nuances in a simple manner … As a seasoned offshore corporate lawyer in Southeast Asia, he understands clients’ commercial considerations and readily offer suggestions on tax and other business issues.”
McKenzie’s colleague, James Noble, a Singapore-based partner and head of litigation, insolvency and restructuring for Asia at the law firm, is nominated by a senior legal counsel in a leading semiconductor company in Singapore.
“James is an extremely dedicated lawyer who knows his craft,” she says. “To top that off, he is an absolute pleasure to interact with.”
Fighting against the odds, women lawyers are breaking down barriers in a sector heavily dominated by men, but still just eight have made it to the A-list of top offshore lawyers.
Being a loyal client for more than 10 years, Jim Sy, chief operating officer at Hong Kong-based asset management company RAYS Capital Partners, recommends Ann Ng, partner and head of Asia funds and investment management teams at Maples Group in Hong Kong.
“We have a continuing engagement not only for the good reputation of Maples, but more specifically because of Ann and her team’s professionalism, high efficiency, attention and care to our matters and, most importantly, their understanding of our commercial needs when giving us comprehensive legal advice,” says Sy.
“Ann and her team have given us valuable legal advice, and also lay out the potential commercial considerations that we need to pay attention to, and connect us to the right person.”
Stewart Bent, head of compliance at investment manager Ortus Capital Management in Hong Kong, also applauds Ng as “the top funds lawyer at the top offshore law firm. She has served us for years and has never let us down.”
Deepa Thomas, director of financial sponsor coverage, APAC, at ING in Hong Kong, puts his trust in Danielle Roman, a partner at Mourant in Hong Kong, for her ability to bring together lawyers, bankers and sponsors within the community with her strong ties to industry bodies. Currently, she is on the global board of the Fund Finance Association, and is a board member of Women in Fund Finance.
“She has made a huge contribution to developing the fund finance industry in APAC, where she is a leading expert,” says Thomas. “She drives innovation within the industry and deserves to be recognised for her expertise, enthusiasm and passion.”
Christopher Woo, vice president at Silicon Valley Bank in Hong Kong, says of Roman: “I have worked with Danielle for many years – she is incredibly responsive, technically excellent and when it comes to needing bespoke advice or tailored, innovative solutions, I know I can always call Danielle and trust her advice and guidance.
“She ensures her team is consistently delivering the highest quality of service, which is client-focused, personable and anticipates our needs.”
Roman’s colleague, Claire Fulton, who is also a board member of the Hong Kong branch of the International Women’s Insolvency and Restructuring Confederation, is another well-known figure in the legal market.
Allan Wardrop, senior vice president at global asset management firm Oaktree Capital in Hong Kong, sees Fulton as a strong role model in the industry and has directed young lawyers for mentorship with Fulton.
“Claire has experience in both front-end finance deals, where structuring experience and strong execution skills are a must, as well as back-end restructuring and insolvency or downside experience,” says Wardrop. “This is a rare skill set in the Asia market, and it sets her apart from her peers, especially when looking at complex cross-border special situation transactions.”
Other prominent women who made it onto the A-List include: Walkers’ global managing partner Ingrid Pierce, partner Caroline Williams in the Cayman Islands, and partner Denise Wong in Hong Kong; Appleby’s partner and Asia group head Judy Lee in Hong Kong; and Ogier’s partner and head of ESG Kate Hodson in Hong Kong.
With many options for clients going offshore, lawyers equip themselves with extraterritorial knowledge and have a deep understanding of complex international matters to make themselves stand out.
Alexander Shaik, general counsel at ADM Capital in Hong Kong, has chosen Campbells partner Robert Searle in Hong Kong as a longstanding adviser of almost two decades for the above reason.
“Robert is the unparalleled leader in offshore fund formation and restructuring in Asia, with a strong grasp of the complexities of private capital funds and investor demands in the US and Europe,” says Shaik. “I always admired his succinct drafting and deep knowledge of the intersection between law and commercial objectives. I can always rely on his effective and efficient manner in handling any request.”
Joshua Miller, CEO at real estate agent platform OKAY.com in Hong Kong, recollects his first impression of working with Peter Vas, Loeb Smith’s partner in Hong Kong, on a complex BVI matter, and was amazed by his assistance and extensive knowledge beyond offshore issues.
“Peter was incredibly responsive and detailed in his analysis and resulting advice, solving our immediate problem,” says Miller. “Since that time, we have worked repeatedly with him. He brings his incredibly extensive experience to every conversation and has protected our company from pitfalls that other lawyers may have otherwise missed.”
Having worked together for almost 10 years, Hong Kong-based Des Voeux Chambers barrister Michael Lok sees the unwavering quality of Norman Hau, a partner at Conyers in Hong Kong. Lok says that Hau has excellent approaches in handling clients and acting as a crucial bridge between different stakeholders.
“Norman is extremely on top of the cases, being both meticulous and having a close eye on the broader picture,” says Lok. “Norman understands and conveys what the clients need and co-ordinates the team in delivering pragmatic solutions while staying abreast of legal developments across multiple jurisdictions.”
Cui Peng, acting CFO at Fang Holdings in Beijing, concurs. “I worked with Norman on a complicated litigation,” says Cui. “Norman’s outstanding comprehension ability and his language skills and business acumen have made our work smoother, which impressed me.”
Compiling the A-List
The A-List is based on extensive research conducted by Asia Business Law Journal. To identify the top offshore lawyers, we talked to thousands of in-house counsel in Asia and partners at international and onshore law firms in the region, and asked them to tell us which lawyers should make the cut and why.
Nominations were made by professionals at a wide range of global companies, financial institutions and law firms, including: ADM Capital, Allen & Overy, Alphahill Capital, Ascendent Capital Partners, Baker McKenzie, Celadon Partners, City-Yuwa Partners, Clifford Chance, David Cameron Law Office, Deacons, Dechert, Dentons, Des Voeux Chambers, Endushantum, Ernst & Young, Eversheds Sutherland, Fang Holdings, Folkvang, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, FTI Consulting, Goldenway Group, Goldman Sachs, Goodwin Procter, Hogan Lovells, Herbert Smith Freehills, Ince & Co, ING, JC Legal, Jingtian & Gongcheng, JPMorgan Chase Bank, Kering Asia Pacific, Kirkland & Ellis, Kulicke & Soffa, Latham & Watkins, Lee and Li, Llinks Law Offices, Mayer Brown, Morgan Lewis & Bockius, Mori Hamada & Matsumoto, Morrison & Foerster, Natixis, Ninja Van, Oaktree, OKAY.com, Ortus Capital Management, Primasia Corporate Services, Princeton Digital Group, RAYS Capital Partners, Ropes & Gray, Shearman & Sterling, Silicon Valley Bank, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, Stephenson Harwood, Tantoo, Teneo, Transpac Capital, Trikon Asset Management, UBS, Watson Farley & Williams, Winston & Strawn, Zhong Lun Law Firm and many more. Thorough editorial research followed the nomination process.
The final list reflects the nominations received combined with the Asia Business Law Journal editorial team’s extensive experience in documenting and analysing the legal markets in Asia. All offshore lawyers were automatically eligible for inclusion in the nominations process, and, as always, there were no fees or any other requirements for entry.
The names and photographs of all 50 A-List lawyers are published on the pages that follow. In addition, each A-List lawyer was given the opportunity to include their biography and contact details, for which a publishing fee was charged.
It is important to note that while the compilation of the A-List was based solely on independent editorial research, the biographies and contact details that appear alongside many of the listings have been written by the participating lawyers, and Asia Business Law Journal has not independently verified the content.