Following an extensive nomination process, Asia Business Law Journal unveils its top performers of the country’s legal profession. Lim Miran and Putro Harnowo report
trong private consumption, robust foreign direct investment and improved availability of financing have bolstered business optimism in Malaysia. The recovery momentum is expected to gain traction among legal professionals offering assistance in the dynamic and competitive environment for companies doing business in the country.
Buoyed by the reopening of international borders and structural reforms, Malaysia’s central bank expects year-on-year economic growth of 5% this year, mainly driven by private sector expenditure that is expected to normalise to pre-pandemic levels. In the domestic market, Ernst & Young’s Business Pulse survey in March found that 86% of Malaysian businesses are ready to live with covid-19, and 77% place technology adoption among key priorities.
In April, the central bank announced five successful applicants in obtaining digital bank licences, approved by the Minister of Finance to address financial inclusion gaps. This substantial development is in line with the Twelfth Malaysia Plan 2021-2025, which reflects the government’s commitment to achieving a “prosperous, inclusive, sustainable Malaysia”, focusing on three core themes: resetting the economy; strengthening security, well-being and inclusivity; and advancing sustainability.
However, rising inflation and interest rates around the world, along with signs of a slowdown in China – Malaysia’s largest trading partner – as well as major economies like the US and EU, will have a visible impact late this year, according to the Finance Minister’s statement in August.
Against this challenging backdrop, Asia Business Law Journal presents its A-List of the top 100 lawyers practising in Malaysia (see the list of all 100 lawyers and the key practice areas for which they are endorsed following this report).
The A-List is based on extensive research conducted and nominations received from in-house counsel based in Malaysia and elsewhere, as well as Malaysia-focused partners at international law firms. Nearly all of the A-List lawyers are strategically located in the country’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, which offers connectivity to emerging markets in the region, while enabling counsel to keep ears to the ground with regard to the latest developments in the country.
To comprehend clients’ opinions on what it takes to be a first-class lawyer in Malaysia, we sought answers from a large number of professionals, mainly experienced in-house counsel and corporate legal managers. From these recommendations, it is possible to extract a portrait of exceptional Malaysian lawyers that make up this elite group.
Comments submitted to Asia Business Law Journal by clients suggest they seek lawyers with extensive expertise in handling complex cases, but also coupled with adeptness in new technology, strategic thinking and an innate passion for service that translates into the best outcome for clients.
In a bid to promote the uptake of digital services, the government is increasingly pushing technology out all over the country, laying out opportunities for startups and financial players to expand into rural markets. Many prominent lawyers in the A-List have been acknowledged in this sector.
“When no one else was advocating for startups, Jeff was there supporting them with reasonable fees for legal work and providing pro-bono training and mentoring,” says Sivapalan Vivekarajah, co-founder of startup accelerator ScaleUp Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, about Jeff Leong, senior partner at Jeff Leong Poon & Wong, after working with him for more than two decades.
“He has been a strong supporter and advocate for the startup ecosystem in Malaysia, working with the ecosystem on policy matters, helping startups and funds with legal matters, and even training them on the legal aspects that concern them, including shareholder and subscription agreements, investment instruments, and helping with fundraising and M&A.”
Greg Poarch, chief financial officer at investment holding company JcbNext in Kuala Lumpur, also praises Leong for his counsel on capital market matters. “Jeff has provided very helpful advice from both a legal and commercial point of view in our corporate journey from pre-IPO through complicated cross-border M&A transactions,” says Poarch.
“He has been supported by a strong team that has been very responsive to our needs and comprehensive in advising us on legal matters, as we’ve relied on them in the absence of any in-house counsel.”
David Low, Asia-Pacific general manager at cryptocurrency company Luno in Kuala Lumpur, nominated Faisal Moideen, founding and managing partner at Moideen & Max, for his involvement in the country’s first cryptocurrency dispute, Robert Ong Thien Cheng v Luno (2020).
“Faisal is an excellent lawyer and litigator,” says Low. “His vast knowledge of the law and quick learning abilities allowed him to grasp the complexities of the cryptocurrency industry, and Luno’s complex business model. As a result, he managed to convince the judge in making a landmark decision despite little precedent to decide on cryptocurrency in Malaysia.”
Hisyamuddin Aris, legal manager at TNB Power Generation in Kuala Lumpur, also recommends Moideen for being “very meticulous and articulate, the strategist in handling matters, and truly professional”.
Geraldine Chan, head of legal at fintech company Boost Holdings in Kuala Lumpur, recommends Jerry Ong Kok Wah, a partner at Zul Rafique & Partners, for his “on-point and elegant solutions”.
“Jerry Ong is an exceptional lawyer and very strategic in his thinking,” says Chan. “He is my go-to counsel in our digital bank journey.”
Syed Hafez, general counsel at data analytics and artificial intelligence company Axiata Digital & Analytics in Kuala Lumpur, agrees. “Mixing solid technical knowledge and hands-on practical experience, Jerry takes on a pragmatic approach in his advice and service to us,” says Hafez. “Coupled with vast knowledge of the legal, regulatory and commercial landscape, he guides us on different scenarios and tailors them to our risk appetite.”
“Cecil Abraham, with more than 50 years of experience and expertise in the legal profession, is devastatingly effective in dealing with commercial disputes before the courts,” says Martin Chen, general manager of legal at Hektar Asset Management in Kuala Lumpur, about the senior partner at Cecil Abraham & Partners.
“He is very much the doyen of the legal profession in Malaysia and the standout litigator in Malaysia by far,” adds Chen.
DP Naban, a senior partner at Rosli Dahlan Saravana Partnership, is another well-recognised name in litigation matters, especially in tax disputes. He has more than 40 years of experience in legal practice.
“Datuk Naban is a seasoned and experienced lawyer who regularly demonstrates a keen eye for identifying the key issues in files that he takes on,” says Gan Ah Tee, managing partner at global accounting and consulting network Binder Dijker Otte in Kuala Lumpur. “He allies this with the ability to recognise commercial positions, advise clients appropriately and, importantly, advocate for them in court. His understanding of laws, client service and responsiveness continues to be excellent.”
Naban’s colleague, partner Rosli Dahlan, is applauded as “a gem in the legal industry” by Faizal Faiz Hasani, legal counsel at Petronas in Kuala Lumpur. “He is a competent strategist and provides a holistic solution, not just from the legal aspects but as a whole,” says Hasani.
Jerry Chan, managing director at Penang-based property developer Asas Dunia, concurs. “Rosli Dahlan has been exemplary in skill, knowledge and communication in representing our company,” says Chan. “His team and his firm have been extremely professional, articulate and perceptive in determining the priorities and ultimately securing a very satisfactory settlement in our matter.”
Dahlan, who also heads the firm’s dispute resolution group, has been assisting clients in civil and commercial disputes for more than 30 years.
Walkers (Hong Kong) partner Stuart D’Addona recommends Cheah Teh & Su’s managing partner, Teh Meng Teck, who has headed the firm for the past 14 years and has more than three decades of experience under his belt. “Teh has always been a pleasure to work with, combining technical excellence with strong strategic thinking,” says D’Addona. “He is obviously also very well liked by clients.”
Kozo Yabe, a partner at Midosuji in Tokyo, praises Azmi Mohd Ali, the senior partner at Azmi & Associates, for his ability to build up his own practice since 2000. “He established a law firm with amazing speed to provide especially excellent corporate and finance work and services to various international clients,” says Yabe.
Kenny Poon, senior partner and co-founder at Jeff Leong Poon & Wong, has acted in various IPOs and listings on stock exchanges in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and London for more than 30 years. Poon is nominated by Riznida Eliza Hamzah, senior general manager at logistic provider Swift Haulage in Petaling Jaya for their “previous great experience working together”.
With ever-changing business conditions, companies may find themselves desperately seeking the guidance of a reliable legal professional. Many clients find their trust in lawyers with real zeal for their work.
Byun Jaewui, senior manager at Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) in Kuala Lumpur, commends Ho Wei Lih, a partner at Rahmat Lim & Partners, as “the most responsible and passionate lawyer in the discussion to represent the client”.
“With her valuable experience and profound knowledge, she always leads the way and enlightens all people in the room to reach the goal successfully,” says Byun. “She is the most competent and reliable lawyer, with a warm heart.”
Tan Keng Sim, chief information officer at IT company Exis Tech in Petaling Jaya, agrees. “Ho was the lead counsel handling the M&A of our company,” says Tan. “She was instrumental in ensuring the success of the exercise, and more importantly ensuring that our company’s interests were adequately protected.”
Maximilian Tai, a partner and co-founder at Moideen & Max, is nominated by Foo Ie Nee, country manager at Qatar Airways in Kuala Lumpur, for his passion for the job and full commitment to his client. “He has good knowledge of the law and provides good judgement to us,” says Foo. “Integrity is the perfect word, and therefore gives us the comfort to trust him even more.”
Another lawyer recognised for his strength in M&A is Adnan Sundra & Low’s partner, Adrian Chee, as recommended by Sharon Lau, a partner at Latham & Watkins in Singapore. “We have worked with Adrian on many transactions in Malaysia and always found his advice and counsel to be very commercial,” says Lau. “He is also very responsive, which is crucial when dealing with cross-border international transactions with our firm.”
In tax matters, S Saravana Kumar, a partner at Rosli Dahlan Saravana Partnership, received high compliments from James How, corporate tax manager at KPMG Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur. “Through my various tax dispute engagements with taxpayers in which Saravana was involved, I have found him to be one of the best legal counsel a taxpayer could have engaged,” says How.
Compiling the A-List
The A-List is based on extensive research conducted by Asia Business Law Journal. To identify the top 100 lawyers in Malaysia, we turned to thousands of in-house counsel in Malaysia and around the world – as well as partners at international law firms – and asked them to tell us which lawyers should make the cut. Nominations were made by professionals at a wide range of Malaysian and global companies, financial institutions and law firms including Asas Dunia Berhad, Axiata Digital & Analytics, Baker McKenzie, Binder Dijker Otte, Beijing CGP Investment, Boost Holdings, Chofn Intellectual Property, Creador, DKLS Industries, Eversheds Sutherland, Exis Tech, Golden Screen Cinemas, Hektar Asset Management, Hope Education Group, Hwang Capital (Malaysia), JcbNext Berhad, KEPCO, KPMG Malaysia, Latham & Watkins, Loob Ventures, Luno, Makarim & Taira S, Mayer Brown, Midosuji, Morgan Lewis, Mori Hamada & Matsumoto, Nishimura & Asahi, Petronas, Qatar Airways, Samling Management Services, ScaleUp Malaysia, Scientex, SCL Nishimura & Asahi, Sime Darby Plantation, Swift Haulage, TNB Power Generation, Walkers (Hong Kong), and many more. The nomination process was backed up by thorough editorial research.
The final list reflects the nominations received, combined with the Asia Business Law Journal editorial team’s more than 30 years of collective experience in documenting and analysing Malaysia’s legal market. All Malaysian private-practice 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 100 A-List lawyers are published here. 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 research, the biographies and contact details that appear alongside many of the listings have been written by the participating lawyers and the content has not been independently verified by Asia Business Law Journal.