OVERALL WINNER: Wang Junfeng
Principal founding partner and global chairman, King & Wood Mallesons
In 1993, amid social and political upheaval, Wang Junfeng founded King & Wood, the first Chinese law firm based on a western model. He faced considerable limitations at a time when there were fewer than 20,000 lawyers in China and when only four state-owned firms were permitted to work on matters of foreign investment.
Under Mr Wang’s leadership, King & Wood set up a partnership model that was similar to many western law firms, but unusual in China. Partners received equitable remuneration, which created a distinctive culture. Mr Wang was one of the first lawyers licensed to practise securities law in China and has advised numerous private and state-owned enterprises on restructuring and IPO transactions, as well as groundbreaking infrastructure projects. After his firm merged with Australian-based Mallesons in 2012, a deal recognised as a significant development in the legal industry, King & Wood Mallesons became the first global law firm with headquarters in Asia.
Mr Wang is president of the All China Lawyers Association and has helped promote legal reform across the country. He has held several other positions, including roles as vice-chairman of the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission, executive member of the council of the China Law Society and legal counsel of the standing committee of the Beijing Municipal People’s Congress.
While developing the firm’s technology platform, Mr Wang continues to cultivate a culture of dedication, teamwork, public-interest advocacy and practical solutions. His efforts over the past 20 years have helped to achieve KWM’s goal of creating a unique east-west organisation that, in his words, “connects Asia to the world and the world to Asia”.
Global head of practice, dispute resolution and joint regional managing partner, Asia and Australia, Herbert Smith Freehills
Justin D’Agostino has been the force behind many of his firm’s diversity and inclusion initiatives. He founded the first LGBT network at a London City law firm 10 years ago and continues to play a highly visible role promoting greater LGBT inclusion in the profession and the community. Over the past few years, he has led initiatives to build a pipeline of Asian talent to create a more multicultural law firm that reflects its clients and markets in Asia.
Six years ago Mr D’Agostino took a risk, leaving a thriving practice in London to move to Asia and build up the firm’s arbitration capability in China from scratch. Within three years he had created the market-leading practice; he has also grown the arbitration practice globally to become the third busiest in the world. At 44, he sits on the boards of arbitration centres in Hong Kong, Stockholm and Australia.
Mr D’Agostino has shown how a global practice can be developed and led from Asia. Working to join up the firm’s capability across offices, he has cemented its reputation as a global powerhouse for disputes.
Managing partner, Salvos Legal
Access to justice for some has never been easy, but Luke Geary has found a new way to meet the challenge.
From a start giving legal advice in a courtyard in Auburn, a suburb of Sydney, he founded Salvos Legal, a non-profit commercial law firm that exists purely to fund the work of its sister non-profit firm, Salvos Legal Humanitarian. In its five years, the latter has given pro bono advice and representation in more than 15,000 cases.
With a client roster including several Australian Stock Exchange companies and revenue growth of 20 per cent a year, Mr Geary has proved that a non-profit law firm can be made to work, and has created a career path for commercial lawyers to practise law with a social impact, using their professional skills for the public benefit.
Mr Geary sits on several social enterprise boards in Australia, is active in civic justice reform and recently drove the launch of the firm’s “indirect impact” strategy, which uses an incubation model to help establish similar entities, with the goal of providing legal aid in more than a million pro bono cases annually.
Group general counsel and company secretary, Australian Securities Exchange
By consistently staying ahead of the regulators, the competition and, often, the business, Amanda Harkness has become a highly trusted and influential member of the management committee of the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX). The interim responsibilities of the chief executive were delegated to Ms Harkness, along with a colleague, when the last chief executive left. She has broken down divisions within the legal team and made it more influential within the business.
When the ASX faced stringent and costly certification requirements from the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission to allow over-the-counter swaps, Ms Harkness set out single-handedly to change the mind of the regulators. She flew to Washington and worked with the CFTC to create a faster and lower-cost approval pathway. This solution has become the global standard for exchanges outside the US.
Ms Harkness has worked in the interests not only of the ASX, but also of financial markets and investors. She has developed new regulatory capital structures to help the ASX compete with global exchanges.
Partner, Allen & Overy
Jane Jiang has closely followed the internationalisation of the renminbi and ensured her firm built expertise across a range of relevant practice areas. It ensured Ms Jiang was the go-to expert on two panda bond issues in 2015 and Allen & Overy was the only international firm involved in regulatory discussions with the People’s Bank of China.
UK-trained, Ms Jiang’s combination of expertise and foresight has helped set her practice apart in a competitive market.
Working closely with the Asian Development Bank, Ms Jiang helped persuade Chinese regulators of the benefits of close-out netting. This derivatives concept reduces a counterparty’s credit exposure and has become an essential tool in modern financial markets. Its greater acceptance and use in China moves the country in the direction of market reform in line with international standards.
In many law firms, a financial regulatory advisory practice plays a support role to transactional teams. Ms Jiang has worked to make hers a freestanding and profitable practice in its own right.
General manager, legal and compliance and operational risk management department, Bank of China (Hong Kong)
Under Carmen Kan’s leadership, the legal team helped Bank of China (Hong Kong) launch some of the first renminbi-denominated panda bonds issued by commercial banks in September 2015, opening up a new avenue for companies around the world to raise funds in China. She has worked to ensure the bank maintains its position as the sole renminbi clearing bank in Hong Kong.
As the bank’s general counsel, Ms Kan rapidly demonstrated her ability to play a broader leadership role. Joining in 2010 during the Lehman Brothers minibonds claims in Hong Kong, she negotiated with the regulator and creditors to reach a deal and compensation package while facing intense media and public scrutiny.
In October 2015, Ms Kan took on broader responsibility for legal, compliance and operational risk functions, bringing teams together and creating a single, consistent approach to risk. She is seen as an essential problem-solver within the business, able to find solutions, explain complex situations and connect people.
Wai King Ng
Managing partner, WongPartnership
After five years with an international law firm, Wai King Ng concluded he could serve clients better in a Singaporean firm able to provide the full range of legal services. Since returning to his home country, he has had a role in many of Singapore’s largest and most complex deals, and built the M&A profile of WongPartnership. He became a managing partner in 2013.
In 2013 Mr Ng worked on the largest M&A transaction in Singapore’s history, heading the team advising TCC Assets and Thai Beverage on their acquisition of the food and drinks group Fraser and Neave. The 2015 Innovative Lawyers report featured his work for US buyout group KKR in the largest private equity buyout of a Singaporean company, the bulk container manufacturer Goodpack. Last year Mr Ng advised JTC Corporation in its complicated merger with Temasek, the Singaporean sovereign investment company.
Clients describe Mr Ng as a market leader, able to handle the most difficult deals and negotiations. He is a valued sounding board and strategic adviser when it comes to creating new deal structures.
General counsel, Asian Development Bank
The Asian Development Bank wanted to merge its ordinary capital resources with the Asian Development Fund, but after four years trying to do so, the previous general counsel and numerous advisers decided it was impossible under the bank’s charter. When Mr Stephens joined, he saw a solution. By suspending the fund’s operation, the bank was able to complete a merger and gain access to $30bn tied up in the fund. The merger tripled the bank’s capital and ability to invest in the development of the poorest countries in the region. The World Bank and other development banks will be able to use this solution to unlock billions of dollars tied up in similar funds.
Between 2013 and 2015, Mr Stephens and his legal team created an eight-step diversity programme to attract, retain and promote more women.
A partner at Coudert Brothers in 2005, he was instrumental in merging the firm’s office in China with Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe when the decision to terminate Coudert’s operations threatened the jobs of more than 200 people.
Partner, Mori Hamada & Matsumoto
The Japanese are often reluctant to fight their disputes in courts. Meanwhile, the legal profession itself is not attuned to demands from international clients for lawyers to be commercial, proactive and strategic.
Katsumasa Suzuki, a capital markets partner, has broken with the classic Japanese approach to lawyering. With more spontaneous nominations than any of the other lawyers in this list, he appears in the Asia-Pacific report for his work on the triple international initial public offering of Japan Post Holdings and its two subsidiaries, Japan Post Bank and Japan Post Insurance.
Japanese capital markets have developed without deep involvement of lawyers and in many cases Japanese companies complete their IPOs without lawyers.
However, Mr Suzuki has been involved in nearly all of Japan’s global IPOs and unlike many lawyers in Japan, he actively advises his clients on how they can best structure their transactions to achieve their goals. This approach has seen him instructed on some of the major IPOs of the past two years such as at Japan Display, Sumco and Rakuten.
Partner, Slaughter and May
At a recent dinner in New York for the chairmen of law firms, hosted by the Financial Times, one American lawyer described his experience of using the Asian offices of Slaughter and May as “transcendent”. The success of the firm’s Asia practice is in no small part down to the efforts of its partner David Watkins.
Mr Watkins’s work has been ranked in the FT’s Asia-Pacific Innovative Lawyers report since it was first published in 2014. He is well versed in overcoming what at first can appear to be impossible hurdles for his clients.
For example, in 2014 he advised on the first non-financial takeover of a financial institution in Hong Kong, acting for Liu Chong Hing Investment and its subsidiary Chong Hing Bank on a partial offer made by the Chinese state-owned Yue Xiu Enterprises. The optimum structure for the deal was not originally possible under the Hong Kong takeover code, but Mr Watkins’s arguments helped convince the regulator that the rules needed to be set aside for the purposes of the deal. Clients comment that he has few peers in Hong Kong.