Six leaders in legal expertise for post-pandemic era
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
The legal sector is driven by people. Each of these six legal practitioners from different countries and different practice areas demonstrates the power of individuals to make a difference.
All are highlighted for adding value for clients and keeping ahead of industry trends.
Some are helping clients to keep pace with transformations across their industries, finding ways to monetise intellectual property and using their firm’s technological and project management expertise to deepen relationships with clients by helping them to develop their own technological solutions.
Some have carved out areas of expertise in new practice areas, with effects ranging from the environment to financial services.
In the middle of a tumultuous year, all six individuals stand out for being open-minded about change and for their ambitious vision of how their practices and their regions can evolve.
Profiles compiled by RSG Consulting researchers and FT editors
Norton Rose Fulbright
Global head of technology and innovation Nick Abrahams has also developed a line in entrepreneurship by founding legal software company LawPath.
In 2018 he set up a legal innovation coaching programme, starting with in-house teams at banking group ANZ and pharmaceuticals business Pfizer. Workshops and follow-ups resulted in minimum viable products at both companies, which have funded further development.
His team’s advice on cyber breaches has been increasingly in demand from clients, as hackers seek to exploit the pandemic. The team has also kept busy ensuring clients and colleagues have the tech they need for new ways of working.
Anand and Anand
Safir Anand is a champion of forward-thinking approaches to brand protection and enhancement in Indian companies. For example, he advised BrandMusiq, which develops sonic identities for companies, on creating a “musical logos” product.
At the firm, he has explored concepts such as sensory intellectual property to protect perfumes with distinctive smells. As a member of an International Trademark Association special task force, Mr Anand contributes to benchmark standards for brand valuation globally.
During the pandemic his team has sought new ways to advise clients, including a chat show where clients join him to discuss IP and crisis management.
Nishimura & Asahi
Yuki Oi combines M&A expertise with a deep knowledge of the auto industry. As an adviser to auto manufacturer Honda Motors, he has facilitated strategic alliances for the Japanese company to keep pace with upheavals in the mobility industry globally.
Specifically, he has helped to arrange tie-ups with US automaker General Motors for the development of autonomous vehicles and with Japanese electronics maker Hitachi to supply manufacturing parts.
More generally, as his practice’s workload renews after the initial hit of the pandemic, he expects multinationals to focus on acquiring businesses related to core activities, while shedding others. Global supply chains will also come under scrutiny.
Somika Phagapasvivat advised banks in Thailand last year on the use of blockchain technology for services such as tourist VAT refunds and electronic letters of guarantee.
Her pro bono collaboration with Krung Thai Bank has also helped courts across Thailand to adopt blockchain technology for processes such as court filings and booking hearings.
Following the pandemic, Ms Phagapasvivat is helping clients use tech to adapt practices such as contract negotiation and signing. The outbreak has renewed the impetus for tech innovation, she says, and for persuading regulators such projects are “advantageous on a global level to business and society”.
Since joining the law firm in 2008, Helen Xia has developed a reputation for interpreting Chinese intellectual property law in controversial disputes.
A recent case involved successfully arguing that a Chinese chocolatier’s rose-shaped chocolates did not infringe another Chinese chocolate-maker’s rights because they were made for and shipped to an American company to sell in the US. This set a precedent for original equipment manufacturers whose products are made for a third party abroad.
Ms Xia says the Covid-19 crisis may renew companies’ interest in their intellectual property strategy, including its monetisation. Trade tensions have also focused attention from US and UK regulators on IP, she notes.
George Zhu founded the Beijing-based firm’s environmental team five years ago, after a flurry of regulations by the Chinese government led to multinationals seeking advice on the new rules.
His work includes a collaboration with law firm Latham & Watkins, the US’s Environmental Law Institute, and China’s Policy Research Center for Environment and Economy. The China International Business Dialogue on Environmental Governance links up businesspeople and policymakers to tackle environmental challenges.
Environmental law will expand as a field in the region, he says, despite the temporary relaxation of enforcement during the pandemic.