Law firm makes a case for branching out

Mr Tan Chong Huat, senior partner and one of the founding members of RHTLaw Taylor Wessing, believes that the firm is built for the future as it provides a wide range of services that extends beyond its law practice.
Mr Tan Chong Huat, senior partner and one of the founding members of RHTLaw Taylor Wessing, believes that the firm is built for the future as it provides a wide range of services that extends beyond its law practice.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Local law firm RHTLaw Taylor Wessing has no intention of letting the Big Four accounting firms take a slice of Singapore's lucrative legal sector without a fight.

PwC announced last month that it is hiring senior lawyers from top law firms here, while another Big Four firm, Deloitte, told The Straits Times last month that it is considering launching its own law firm. This is part of a global trend of accounting firms making forays into the legal business.

Mr Tan Chong Huat, one of the founders of RHTLaw Taylor Wessing, says the firm is "built for the future" as it provides a suite of professional services, including forensics and data analytics.

The firm has lifted staff numbers from 45 in the early days to 110 now.

Mr Tan warned that Singapore law firms would be seriously challenged if the Big Four's "multi-disciplinary practices", comprising legal, accounting, restructuring and tax advisory services, arrive in Singapore in a "short and sudden" fashion. Mr Tan added that his firm had prepared itself for such high-level competition when it set up shop five years ago.

RHTLaw started first but, the founders established a group of companies under the name RHT Holdings a year later. These include RHT Capital, which helps Catalist-listed companies with compliance, and RHT Corporate Advisory, a provider of corporate secretarial and governance advisory services. The RHT group now offers a wide range of services, including media and communications, as well as event-organising solutions.

Mr Tan said RHT went beyond being a law firm because "in every business transaction, it's more than legal services that are needed". The strategy has paid off handsomely for the firm, which beat accounting companies to win an Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority project by leveraging on its analytics and compliance capabilities.

But Mr Tan admitted that the journey to becoming an unconventional law firm was not easy. "As lawyers, your first and foremost instinct is to continue with the law practice. We took a long time to branch out.One of our concerns was the confusion in identity and branding."

Luckily, the company, which celebrates its fifth anniversary today, is not resting on its laurels. It has strengthened its legal capabilities by hiring a team of former top police officers, enhancing its dispute resolution and litigation capabilities.

This month, its strategic advisory arm formed a global alliance to expand its mergers and acquisition practice, while its capital arm received in-principle approval to be upgraded to a full listing sponsor.

The company is counting on its strong Asian credentials to battle the big boys. It formed the Asean Plus group of 11 top Asian law firms in 2014. The firms share resources and aim to give clients integrated legal services. "When clients need us for cross-border transactions, our strong local knowledge means that we can quickly localise industry standards and execute the transaction because we are in a local jurisdiction," Mr Tan said.

Asian expansion will be a priority of the firm. It aims to be in all major Asian markets by next year, and will pursue mergers in Indochina and Indonesia, he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2016, with the headline 'Law firm makes a case for branching out'. Print Edition | Subscribe