South East Asia Elite report: UK firms win big in ASEAN market


The Lawyer has today released the second edition of the South East Asia Elite report, which reveals firms with flexible business arrangements are the fastest growing in this promising but extremely competitive market.

The report investigates the largest 30 of the some 150 international firms with a presence in the region.

As many of the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) states remain closed markets to foreign firms, The Lawyer’s research and data includes closely associated and alliance offices of the international firms, such as those in the region’s largest economy Indonesia, and joint law ventures and formal law alliances in Singapore.

The report found nine of the top 10 largest by headcount ASEAN-based firms are British. Baker & McKenzie, which operates a Swiss Verein structure, once again claimed the top spot with 456 lawyers, including 141 who are partners across seven of the 10 ASEAN countries.

Taylor Wessing ranked second with a network of 337 lawyers and 86 partners in six ASEAN states. It is a relatively new player in the region after gaining a presence in 2012 by admitting Singaporean firm RHT Law to its international group.

Herbert Smith Freehills claimed the third position with 168 lawyers and 26 partners in three jurisdictions. Most recently, it launched a formal alliance with Singapore boutique Prolegis two years after it opted out of Singapore’s Qualifying Foreign Law Practice scheme (QFLP).

Withers and Bird & Bird have also moved up the rankings to seventh and eighth respectively by joining forces with local firms. Bird & Bird has two association firms in Indonesia and as well as long-standing affiliated firms in Singapore and Malaysia. Withers, which opened an office in Singapore in 2012, significantly boosted its local capability last year with a formal law alliance with established Singaporean firm KhattarWong.

Three magic circle firms that all have been in the market for decades made it into the top 10, with Allen & Overy leading the group. The firm’s latest expansion was in 2014 when it opened its sixth office in Myanmar.

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, which closed its Singapore office in 2007 and returned to the market in 2012, was ranked 26th with 30 lawyers and seven partners in Singapore and Vietnam.

While magic circle firms are frequently instructed for the region’s most complex and high-stake transactions, their headcount growth have been mostly flat in recent years.

“Overall, ASEAN is not a big part of the firm but it will be a growing part,” said Allen & Overy’s ASEAN chair Simon Makinson. “Our flat headcount is mainly because we don’t want to be bigger, but more efficient.”

To find out more about the how the region’s largest firms have responded to ASEAN’s challenging market conditions over the past 12 months, as well as their business models and strategies for the region, read the executive summary of The Lawyer’s South East Asia Elite 2016 report here.

To purchase the full report contact Richard Edwards on +44 (0) 207 970 4672 or email