A View from the Asia Pacific

Readers of The Lawyer could not have missed that what were once large London law firms doing international work are now global law firms.

In the last decade or so, their offices have proliferated in Asia and elsewhere. Usually these ventures have been successful and so the new offices have expanded rapidly.`Followers of this phenomenon read of the large and complex matters in which these firms are involved. They also read about the flurry of growth in the number and size of their offices. Lying behind these high-profile developments is a second layer of largely unsung and unnoticed activities – the managerial, administrative and financial systems and processes required to support these more complex organisations.`Global law firms have had to put in place systems and processes to support their rapidly expanding work. But more than just systems and processes are needed. They also need training to ensure staff are working to the highest firm-wide standards, avoiding risk, and using the firm's know-how to its full potential.`Asian offices have rapidly expanded their work output and much is expected of the junior lawyers. In countries such as Japan or Taiwan, the junior lawyers are drafting and dealing with documents in English, which can be their second or even third language. In some offices, such as in Thailand or China, the recruits may have been educated in a system other than the common law. This is where the benefits of common documentation and access to the firm's know-how can help overcome these added complications which arise in Asian offices. But all this needs training.`The problem is that training needs time, and time is very precious in a global law firm. As a result, training can be neglected or put off to a more opportune moment, but this is a risky thing to do.`Practising law in Asia is more complex than it is in London. Languages, cultures and local and international requirements all need to integrate and work together. And the office may not have the full support networks which are found in the London offices. Supervising partners may be thinly spread and may need to spend more time not only out of the office but out of the country. Partners in Asian offices often have region-wide responsibilities. For all these reasons training becomes even more important.`This is a situation confronting not just the London law firms with presences in Asia, it also applies to the emerging smart and aggressive local firms which have expanded rapidly on the back of economic growth in Asia. They are looking to training as a way of giving them an edge.`Both acknowledge that one of their most precious resources is their legal staff. Their newly-recruited lawyers need to be brought up to speed rapidly and to continue to develop (professionally) as lawyers. On-the-job experience is an excellent way to learn but it is not enough and cannot be solely relied upon – it needs to be complemented by training.`The large global firms have the benefit of their training sections back in London, but the local firms, which are also now quite large, do not. Both will benefit from support in this area which is specifically focused on the particular situation confronting the practice of law in Asia.`Most would acknowledge that hard work, brilliance and technical ability can carry an organisation a long way, but ultimately not in a sustained and consistent way into the longer term. Systems, procedures and training provide the inevitable infrastructure which support the operations of any complex organisation, including a global law firm. Training lies at the core of such an infrastructure. Firms that neglect, postpone or under-commit to training may well under-exploit much of their know-how, suffer from uneven work and waste time in having such work redone. The trick is to find the right balance between core business and putting this training in place.`Christopher Roper is alliance director for the College of Law, England & Wales and the College of Law, Sydney, Australia