During a year when technology became front and centre of people’s lives, TMT lawyers became more in demand than ever before. ALB’s first-ever Asia Top 15 TMT Lawyers salutes the standout practitioners in this space across the region.
ATHISTHA (NOP) CHITRANUKROH
HWAN KYOUNG KO
LIM CHONG KIN
MIN CHUL PARK
FAHRUL S. YUSUF
With COVID-19 keeping large chunks of the world’s population at home for much of the last 12 months, the pandemic is being acknowledged as the “great accelerator” of digital transformation. Governments, businesses, and individuals have increased their reliance on technology exponentially, in some cases in hitherto unthinkable ways. As a result, the technology sector has been absolutely abuzz with activity, and one clear beneficiary of this trend has been TMT lawyers, who have found themselves not only extremely active, but also involved in the kind of deals and initiatives that could shape the way we all live, work and play in the coming years.
Take for example, Lim Chong Kin, head of the TMT practice, and managing director of the corporate and finance practice, at Singapore’s Drew and Napier. While he undertook “numerous notable work… in a memorable year,” he singles out two highlights in particular.
“Firstly, we have been assisting the Singapore ICT regulator on their ongoing work regarding the drafting of a converged competition code for the telecommunications and media sectors,” says Lim. “This is a major step towards a converged framework for the regulation of consumer and competition issues across the two sectors which have previously been regulated separately by separate agencies. I have been very fortunate to be able to participate – in a minor yet meaningful way – and witness first-hand the transformation of Singapore into a regional ICT hub ever since the decision was made to liberalise the telecommunications and media industries in 2000.”
Secondly, Drew was appointed by an ASEAN regulator for a turnkey project to advise and assist in drafting and implementing a framework for data protection in the country. “I am glad that in spite of the restrictions on travel, our client has recognised our ability to deliver cutting-edge work that requires key insights into both policy and law,” says Lim.
Another lawyer who had a busy year was Rajesh Sreenivasan, head of the TMT practice at Rajah & Tann Singapore. “My team and I were engaged by Facebook to advise on Novi, the digital wallet on Facebook. Novi will help people send and hold Diem digital currencies,” he says of his notable matters. “The matter is highly complex as we are assisting with the analysing of the relevant financial regulatory laws across Southeast Asia and advising on legal compliance in the multiple jurisdictions. The exercise has showcased our ability to work on cross-border matters and still provide seamless regional legal services.”
Then, he recounts how his firm and he acted for Coupang, South Korea’s biggest e-commerce retailer, in the multi-million-dollar acquisition of the technology assets of Southeast Asian video-streaming service Hooq Digital. “This deal is particularly significant for the client as it ushers Coupang into a competitive over-the-top video-streaming arena and pits it against the likes of Amazon.com and Netflix,” says Sreenivasan. “The matter was particularly significant due to the complexity of the HOOQ video-streaming platform and technology and the multiple jurisdictions that Hooq Digital previously conducted business in and which the technology assets are to be deployed.”
Sreenivasan and his team also acted for Bayer in relation to its development and launch of highly innovative digital agriculture and sustainability initiatives across the Southeast Asian region. “The envisaged initiatives include the supply of smart drones which have advanced data collection about the environment such as the weather and wind directions, and targeted crop spraying capabilities, and the development of a digital platform which connects farmers with providers of drone crop spraying services in a cost-effective manner via a ‘drone-sharing’ model,” he says. “My regional partners and I also advised Bayer on the local regulatory requirements relating to its digital agriculture initiatives as well as the commercial aspects of its collaborations with its drone technology partners.
EVOLVING CLIENT RELATIONSHIPS
Both lawyers also discuss how their relationships with clients evolved over the course of the pandemic. “Interestingly, I am having a lot more face time with my clients now than ever before – but virtually of course through the various communication platforms,” says Lim of Drew & Napier. “It got to such an extent that some clients are regarding us as part of their in-house Singapore team, especially during the earlier period of the pandemic when many of our clients’ employees couldn’t return to Singapore from overseas.”
Lim feels that during these times, clients understand and appreciate that their lawyers are always thinking of them. “For example, we have been very proactive in updating our clients on the Singapore government’s COVID-19 measures regarding the re-opening of workplaces and physical premises so that they are able to respond quickly to changing conditions on the ground,” he notes. “The ongoing pandemic has not affected the quality of our legal work and services, and this is something which our clients appreciate as well.”
And while opportunities to hold physical meetings with clients have been curtailed, this has not stopped Lim and his team from strengthening existing relationships or building new ones through online avenues. “For example, our Drew Data Protection & Cybersecurity Academy has been holding regular lunchtime webinars on a wide range of topics and this is something which I expect will continue in the near future,” he says. “So, despite the pandemic, thanks to technology and its widespread adoption by our clients, we are actually much closer to the client now than ever before and I do expect this to stay. It is the new normal!”
“For many of our regional projects, a significant amount of time has been spent on video conferences and remote meeting platforms and electronic signatures to get the work done and deals closed. Such working styles has led to efficiency gains and I expect this will continue in the post-pandemic world.”
--Rajesh Sreenivasan, Rajah & Tann
Sreenivasan and Rajah & Tann feel the intensity of work in the TMT legal space has not diminished in the current pandemic. “One of the differences is that we are working remotely with clients,” he notes. “For many of our regional projects, a significant amount of time has been spent on video conferences and remote meeting platforms and electronic signatures to get the work done and deals closed. Such working styles has led to efficiency gains and I expect this will continue in the post-pandemic world.”
He adds that the firm has also created new ways of servicing and building deeper relationships with their clients. “An example is the successful launch of our virtual secondment programmes of our lawyers to our clients,” says Sreenivasan. “While it previously has been difficult for us to make our lawyers available to our clients on a full-time basis, the onslaught of the pandemic has allowed us to have our lawyers working exclusively for them on a flexible daily basis virtually. This has allowed our lawyers to be able to service our clients effectively whilst still being engaged with our TMT practice. We do expect such virtual secondments with clients to continue in the near future, based on the very positive feedback that we have received from both our lawyers and clients alike.”
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