Over the course of more than 20 years, Morgan Lewis partner Suet-Fern Lee has won two Lifetime Achievement Awards; founded and chaired a Singapore-based law firm; served on the boards of publicly listed companies in Singapore, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and elsewhere; and volunteered with numerous nonprofits.
On November 9, 2017, Euromoney Legal Media Group recognized Ms. Lee for her dedication to the legal profession in Asia with its 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award as part of its Asia Women in Business Law Awards. Here she shares some of the changes she has seen in the legal profession in Asia and what they may mean to clients.
As more international firms open in Asia, what should companies look for when interviewing counsel?
First, companies should look for law firms with considerable experience working in the region as a familiarity with local laws and customs is as important as an international platform. Second, a good law firm partner should take a proactive approach to identifying potential issues for clients before they happen—law firms shouldn’t be afraid to share potential legal strategy during a pitch meeting. Third, lawyers should strive to be true partners to their clients. I take it as a great privilege to be chosen to solve my clients’ problems and strive to uphold that responsibility by always being available and responsive to my clients.
Do you think the Asian market is oversubscribed with law firms?
No. The economies in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia are still growing at a rapid pace and deals are becoming increasingly sophisticated and global in nature. There is more need than ever for qualified legal counsel to structure complicated transactions and resolve international disputes. International law firms on the ground in Asia offer many benefits to companies engaged in cross-border business. That’s one reason why Stamford Law chose to join forces with Morgan Lewis to utilize the deep bench of experience across its global network.
How should firms approach Asia—as one large market or with specialized plans for different regions?
We operate in a legal environment where both the needs and the expectations of our clients vary dramatically. Having lawyers on the ground throughout key cities in Asia and Southeast Asia helps us understand the local attitudes to lawyering and the local laws and customs. Especially as many of these markets become more sophisticated in nature and the rule of law continues to evolve, our role as lawyers must be to guide our clients to meet their objectives in a legal and proper manner. We try to approach our work with our diverse clients in diverse markets with cultural sensitivity, respect, and humility. It’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all kind of place.
What are some of the most-watched legal concerns for clients in Asia right now?
We’re seeing clients very concerned with all aspects of their technology. That includes how to better secure data and privacy as cyber hackers become more sophisticated and daring, as well as complying with new regulations like the China Cybersecurity Law. It also extends to protecting patents and, when necessary, fighting for them through international arbitration.