Law firms must develop Asian capabilities

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The white paper, Australia in the Asian Century, opens with the line: “Asia’s rise is changing the world.”

It has already changed the world for Australian law firms, producing an internationalisation of the market that has created a strategic choice for firms between international mergers and independence; between bricks and mortar overseas and the strategic relationships model celebrating world-class capability.

Of the top 10 law firms in Australia, half have chosen some form of merger or formal alliance with firms based in the northern hemisphere. However we choose to structure our firms in this new market, the message of the white paper is clear.

A mindset shift is required for Australians to see the route to Asia as direct to Asia and not through other regions and their capitals. And new capabilities and relationships are required to work effectively with and in Asia.

The white paper sets 25 national objectives within five areas of focus to guide Australia’s success in the Asian Century. These are just as relevant for law firms as any business or government.

A major theme is building on our strengths. The skills that have made us successful in the past are a strong foundation for the future.

Our legal sector is enormously attractive to Asia for the quality it offers, its established legal frameworks and traditions and outstanding legal education system and our people. Competition within the region will grow only more fierce, and the Asian Century demands that we continue to grow and improve, particularly in terms of legal quality, human capital investment, innovation, adaptability and flexibility.

We need to build Asian capabilities, so we can truly understand Asian societies, their business models and their people.

This includes their legal institutions, political leaders, commercial practices, cultures and governance standards as well as their approach to business.

This happens in our commitment to world-class legal excellence, on-the-job training, the experiences we create for our people and citizens of Asia, our learning and development, as well as in our staff selection.

Diversity of people and capabilities enriches any firm and creates a culture that is accepting, adaptable and open to change, as well as highly skilled.

And it isn’t just about us. It’s also about Asian citizens. Asia will become an increasingly significant source of new ideas, technologies and leading-edge legal practice for Australia.

We need our citizens – more than a quarter of whom, on average, were born overseas – and their networks and experience working overseas to help to build social, business and cultural networks that help us work with Asia to make the most of their new ideas and talent as well as ours.

But that, perhaps, is the most important activity – connecting with Asian markets and building relationships. Relationships are the foundation of Asian business and the key to everything else – building knowledge, trust, partnerships and growth. We must seek out new connections, not just by exchanging business cards, but by working together and exchanging value.

And this is the paradox of the Asian Century. While we are witnessing the fastest and most powerful period of change in history, the key to success is to do something consistently and deliberatively, to invest in human capital. To take time to make connections, develop partnerships, get to know people and cultures.

In short, to understand our neighbours and make ourselves a true neighbour within our rich and diverse region.


This opinion piece published in The Australian Financial Review on Friday 2 November by Asian Century White Paper panel member and Corrs CEO John W. H. Denton.




The content of this publication is for reference purposes only. It is current at the date of publication. This content does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be obtained before taking any action based on this publication.


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John W.H. Denton AO

Partner and Chief Executive Officer.
+61 3 9672 3158

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