March 15, 2017

Managing Partner Tan Chong Huat shares with Asian Legal Business how, “Disruptive technology is here to stay, and the only way to overcome disruption is to embrace change quickly.”

RHTLaw Taylor Wessing’s Managing Partner Tan Chong Huat shared his views in an Asian Legal Business article titled “City at the Crossroads”. The article was first published in the March 2017 edition of Asian Legal Business. City at the Crossroads Source: 2017 © Asian Legal Business Date: March 2017 Edition Author: Ranajit Dam The travails of law firms in Singapore have been mentioned in these pages previously, but they still bear repeating. Competition is intensifying: An increasing number of international outfits are setting up shop in the city-state, smaller local firms are mushrooming to take their own slice of the pie, and even accounting firms are getting in on the action. Fee pressures grow more excruciating – the billable-hour model is dying, and fixed fees and retainers are taking its place. Much of the low-end work is now under threat from a combination of bulked-up legal teams and rising legal tech startups. And these factors don’t even take into account potential threats from emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI). In short, the legal industry in Singapore, much like the legal industry in other parts of the world, is facing disruptions like never before. Of course, this means that it is critical for law firms in Singapore to react quickly and decisively if they don’t want to be overwhelmed by these fundamental, permanent changes. But the route to take for individual firms might depend on a variety of factors – their specific strategy, their place in the industry, and their strengths and weaknesses. For Tan Chong Huat, managing partner of RHTLaw Taylor Wessing, law firms need to go beyond just being a law firm and instead offer clients a comprehensive suite of solutions for all their business needs. “Lawyers must create value for their clients,” he says. “Firms that strengthen their international expertise and are able to provide one stop legal offerings across ASEAN and eventually globally are better placed to tap opportunities that globalisation brings.” Government Support Tan says that recent changes in the legal landscape show that the Singapore government is keen to see law firms evolve with the times. “This is a move in the right direction,” he notes. “The establishment of the Legal Services Regulatory Authority in November 2015 was designed to modernise the regulatory regime of Singapore’s legal industry. Changes to the regulatory regime now allow law firms to attract and hire foreign lawyers and nonlegal talent who can help to strengthen their firm’s legal practice beyond the traditional areas of legal practice. These will also allow law firms to expand their practice into the region.” In the disputes space, Tan notes the move towards third-party funding. “The Singapore government’s push to transform Singapore into an international centre for dispute resolution, as well as the move to allow third-party funding for arbitration, are changes that augur well for the dispute resolution sector,” he says.” Additionally, a new five-year blueprint was introduced at the start of the year to encourage law firms to adopt the latest tools and software to improve operations, says Tan. The Singapore Academy of Law also unveiled a roadmap for the incubation a legal tech scene. “Taken together, these moves are highly positive for the legal industry,” he says. We can expect to see law firms adopting technology that can help streamline work processes or even work with other non-legal professionals to create new business offerings to clients.” But it is the technology aspect that might just be the most critical part of the whole equation. “The gulf between the smaller and traditional law firms and the bigger legal players may threaten to widen significantly over time, especially if there is a lack of knowledge and resources to facilitate the harnessing of baseline legal technologies that can strengthen the practice of law,” observes Tan. “It is heartening to see the Singapore government provisioning for grants to encourage smaller law firms to adopt technology to grow their practice, especially with the growing potential for more legal services going virtual.” Recently, the Singapore government announced a scheme called Tech Start for Law, a S$2.8 million grant programme designed to help small and medium sized law firms boost productivity through technology. “This is a step in the right direction and reflects the government’s seriousness in assisting law firm,” adds Tan. Singapore’s Future According to Tan of RHTLaw, as law firms invest more in innovative technologies, the industry is likely to witness the proliferation of new technology harnessing big data analytics and AI to undertake previously time-consuming and manually laborious work such as basic legal research, document review and construction. “Some firms already use virtual secretaries and innovative solutions to ensure that they can share support services across several offices in the region,” he says. He points out that such technology has made it possible for law firms to adopt a multi-nodal network approach to a truly regional practice. “This will facilitate consolidation within the industry through mergers and alliances across the region. Singapore law firms will have to decide if they wish to grow by going regional or international, or by becoming ‘boutique,’  focusing exclusively on specific practice areas.” He also sees the government further liberalising the legal market in the coming years. “Greater liberalisation will increase pressure and competition in the legal sector, but it will also result in an overall increase in the quality and calibre of our local firms as we step up to compete with the established international law firms,” says Tan. In addition to managing partner of Nabarro’s input on keys to success in the contemporary market; Chong Huat emphasised on the importance of technology and geographical reach, which are two critical factors that law firms must leverage on to succeed in this evolving market. “It boils down to the law firm’s ability to support its clients well through geography and intelligent innovative legal solutions,” he says. “Given the increasingly cross-border nature of many commercial transactions, having a solid global and regional network to support the clients is important. A law firm lacking in international presence will find itself challenged when it pitches for international deals and tenders.” Excerpts were taken from the article “City at the Crossroads” published in the Asian Legal Business March 2017 Asia Edition. The full article can be read here.
March 6, 2017

“Views are the bases of ideas and innovation. Plurality of views engenders more options for business ideas and innovation”, shares Managing Partner Tan Chong Huat in the Business Times’ Views from the Top

RHTLaw Taylor Wessing’s Managing Partner Tan Chong Huat shared his views in this week’s topic in the Business Times’ weekly column, Views from the Top. This article was first published in The Business Times on 6 March 2017. In the driver's seat March 6, 2017 - 05:50 THIS WEEK'S TOPIC: How far do you as a corporate leader take in views from others in running your business? How do you draw from the latest and best out there? Tan Chong Huat Managing Partner RHTLaw Taylor Wessing LLP Views are the bases of ideas and innovation. Plurality of views engenders more options for business ideas and innovation. I am agnostic when taking in views that are constructive and instrumental in running my business profitably and sustainably. I seek out views from key stakeholders (customers, co-workers, businessmen and my partners) by asking questions. Then I listen intently. If I don't understand, I ask more questions. My learning orientation often elicits positive responses from them. As they see how some of their views are adopted, they entrust me with more views. This would likely result in more ideas.
February 21, 2017

Chairman of RHT Rajan Menon Foundation Tan Chong Huat shares with The Business Times that “One of the main tenets of RHT’s belief is that when we do well, we must do good”

RHT Rajan Menon Foundation was featured in The Business Times article titled “Doing well, doing good”. The article was first published in The Business Times on 16 February 2017. It was also published in The Business Times Wealth Magazine February 2017 Edition. Doing well, doing good Source: The Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Date: 16 Feb 2017 Author: Genevieve Cua Veteran lawyer Rajan Menon was about to retire from KhattarWong, after a career spanning three decades, when the idea to found a law firm took fire. He hosted some colleagues at his home and turned to his wife. “I asked, should I be doing this at this age? She was perceptive. She said, your colleagues have fire in their belly.” To his astonishment, nearly 100 people – 49 lawyers and 50 employees – resigned from KhattarWong to join the new firm even as the founding partners were scrambling to secure premises. RHTLaw Taylor Wessing, which started in 2011, broke even within its first month of operation. Today it boasts core legal services in the areas of banking, corporate and intellectual property advisory, among others. It even offers a slew of ancillary services, such as Big Data and compliance solutions, corporate secretarial, media and family office services. A good part of the drive to succeed may be traced to Mr Menon’s firm admonition to the firm’s partners at the outset. “I told my colleagues two things. One is to never forget what the staff did. They have mortgages, families, household budgets. To resign from a place where you were employed to move to an unknown quantity – most people don’t realise how important those big moves are. I told my partners – we should remember this, cherish it and develop the company from there. “The second thing is that one of our cornerstones must be that we need to reach out to the unfortunate, the ones who are deprived and need help.” Thus the idea of setting up a foundation to formalise the firm’s giving took root. Says RHT partner and cofounder Tan Chong Huat: “We felt we had to give back to society. One of the main tenets of our beliefs is that when we do well, we must do good. Instead of CSR (corporate social responsibility) on an ad hoc basis, we wanted to do it through a foundation in a more focused fashion.” Planning for the RHT Rajan Menon Foundation began in 2013 and it was incorporated in 2015. Mr Tan is the foundation’s chairman and associate professor Ho Peng Kee its patron. The foundation was recently registered as a Grant-making Philanthropic Organisation. This means it is able to issue tax deduction receipts to its donors. Mr Tan says: “The vision of the foundation is to establish and encourage a philanthropic culture of giving back to the community, among the corporate and legal fraternity. There isn’t an organisation out there established as a corporate foundation to do this. “We believe the legal community can be a catalyst to do more, with their expertise and intimate knowledge of the community. We want to excite this group to go forth and contribute.” Both Mr Menon and Mr Tan have had a long commitment to public service. Mr Menon says he is passionate about pro bono work. “Two to three years after I joined KhattarWong in 1981, the first person who called me was (then-president) Devan Nair. He said – you should help the unions. They were the first group I was involved in; they were very poor.” His service to organisations included the labour foundation and trade union, including work for SLF Properties and SLF Management Services; NTUC Fairprice and the Hindu Endowments Board for whom he helped with the construction of and fundraising for the Sri Sivan Temple at Dhoby Ghaut. In 1993 he was conferred the Public Service Medal, and the Friends of Labour Award by the National Trades Union Congress. Mr Tan is council member of a number of organisations including the Football Association of Singapore, the Singapore Red Cross and the Singapore Road Safety Council. He has established a National University of Singapore bursary for needy students, the Tan Han Boon Bursary, named after his father. Last year, the foundation hosted two major fund raisers, galvanising the firm’s wide network of clients and associates. It raised some S$450,000 through two charity golf events in May and October. Beneficiaries for the May event included the Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund, the World Wide Fund for Nature and the National Gallery Singapore. The October event’s beneficiaries included the Red Cross Home for the Disabled. Says Mr Tan: “What I can see is that corporations are coming forward and affirming that they like the causes we support. In these bad economic times, to raise S$450,000 over four to five months is pretty credible. “I think the level of awareness of philanthropy or giving is rising. It’s quite clear that donations and contributions have gone up over the past five to 10 years. Can corporates do more? Yes, the legal community can do more with their specialised knowledge. We created this foundation to promote awareness and establish programmes that can be actualised and help entrench this community.” To further the cause of pro bono work, the foundation has launched the RHTLaw Taylor Wessing Subhas Anandan Pro Bono Award to recognise and fund the best pro bono ideas. The foundation also partnered the Singapore Management University’s School of Law to launch the RHT Tan Chong Huat Corporate Crime Award, recognising the best students in corporate crime.
February 17, 2017

Most industry watchers are betting on the odds that the government will let market forces play out before intervening in the property market. Deputy Head of Real Estate Sandra Han discusses with The Straits Times

RHTLaw Taylor Wessing Deputy Head of Real Estate Sandra Han was quoted in The Business Times article titled “Lifting of property cooling measures seen unlikely”. The article was first published in The Business Times on 17 February 2017. Lifting of property cooling measures seen unlikely Industry watchers expect the government to let market forces play out before intervening Source: The Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Date: 17 Feb 2017 Author: Lynette Khoo THOSE hoping for any lifting of property cooling measures may be in for a non-event if the projection of market experts rings true. This is because most industry watchers expect the government to let market forces play out before intervening. Also, tax consultants are not expecting major revisions to other property taxes, though some hope that the government will see it fit to re-introduce tax remission for vacant properties given the tough rental market and review property tax on vacant private land. This echoes some of the recommendations made by the Real Estate Developers' Association of Singapore. "Given the rising vacancy rates and the less-than-promising market outlook, perhaps the government can consider reinstating vacancy refunds for a period of time, say for five years," said Lim Gek Khim, an Ernst & Young tax partner. "This would provide some relief to owners of unoccupied property during challenging times." Since Jan 1, 2014, property owners can no longer claim the so-called "vacancy refunds" on property taxes for unoccupied properties (both residential and non-residential). The change coincided with the introduction of a new and more progressive property tax schedule on residential properties that year. Citing headwinds in the rental market with the increase in newly completed properties, Dentons Rodyk & Davidson senior partner Lee Liat Yeang noted that re-introducing the tax remission for vacant properties will help to mitigate the hardships of cash-strapped property owners. "The government should also consider more tax incentives to developers who develop and build housing using prefabricated prefinished volumetric construction (PPVC) methods and/or who invest money to incorporate more energy saving facilities in the development." Most industry watchers are betting on the odds that the government will stand pat on maintaining property cooling measures in their current form, amid early signs of a recovery in the private residential market characterised by an improvement in transactions and moderating price declines in 2016. Through selective discounts, deferred payment schemes or bulk sale to third-party or parent company, developers have also been able to move sales in projects affected by the qualifying certificate (QC) conditions and the additional buyer's stamp duty (ABSD). "For these reasons, it is expected that the government will let market forces play out before further intervening in the property market," said Sandra Han, deputy head of real estate practice at RHTLaw Taylor Wessing. The QC conditions, which affect foreign and listed developers, require them to finish building their projects within five years of acquiring the site and sell all the units within two years of completion; otherwise, they incur extension charges for unsold units. Since late 2011, developers also have to sell out a project within five years to qualify for ABSD remission. Credit Suisse estimates QC charges and ABSD remission clawback for developers this year to be S$800 million in total. Still, removing ABSD entirely at this point is undesirable from the government's standpoint, Ms Han said. "It will only lead to greater volatility in the property market, sensing the pent-up demand from long-term property investors. It would not be surprising if the upcoming Budget leaves nothing on the table for property investors to look forward to," she added. But Mr Lee felt that if the government chooses to keep the ABSD, it should consider reducing the rates for Singaporeans. "The loan-to-value ratio should be relaxed for the second and subsequent housing loans since excessive borrowing will not be possible with the total debt servicing ratio in place." KPMG Singapore head of real estate Tay Hong Beng reckoned that if there is to be anything at all on cooling measures in the Budget, it will likely be a gradual lifting of measures that is done in phases. He said: "A phased approach will help manage potential pricing spikes due to a sudden increase in demand and facilitate a smooth transition for the property market."