Davis Polk & Wardwell received International Law Firm of the Year.
Davis Polk & Wardwell received International Law Firm of the Year. ()

Davis Polk & Wardwell and Korean firm Bae, Kim & Lee were named international and Asian firm of the year, respectively, at the fourth annual Asia Legal Awards, held on Feb. 22, 2017 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong. Hogan Lovells managing partner for Asia and the Middle East Patrick Sherrington was awarded international firm leader of the year while JunHe managing partner Xiao Wei won the same award for indigenous Asian firms. In addition, Linklaters, Korea’s Lee & Ko and Singapore’s WongPartnership were among the evening’s top winners for firm and individual awards.

Here is a full list of winners and why they stood out. We’re enormously grateful to all the firms that submitted to the awards.

 

The M&A Deal of the Year for North Asia went to Tokyo-based telecommunications investor SoftBank Group Corp.’s $31 billion purchase of ARM Holdings plc. This was not only the largest-ever foreign deal by a Japanese company, but also the biggest acquisition of European tech yet. It was the first time a bidder committed to post-offer undertakings in the U.K. since the new takeover rules were introduced in January 2015, and the global political climate surrounding high tech cross-border investments also called for significant discussion with the U.K. Takeover Panel and government as to how the specific undertakings would be framed. Slaughter and May, Davis Polk & Wardwell and Anderson Mōri & Tomotsune advised British chip designer ARM, while Softbank turned to longtime adviser Morrison & Foerster, and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Mori Hamada & Matsumoto. White & Case and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton acted for Mizuho Securities and The Raine Group, respectively, both financial advisers to the Japanese company. Herbert Smith Freehills advised the U.K. Panel on Takeovers and Mergers.

The $2 billion merger between MakeMyTrip Ltd. and ibibo Group won South Asia M&A Deal of the Year. This transaction created one of India’s largest travel groups, of which South Africa’s Naspers and China’s Tencent became the largest shareholder. MakeMyTrip’s outstanding $180 million five-year convertible bonds, issued in January 2016 to China’s Ctrip.com, were converted into common equity as part of the deal, resulting in Ctrip owning a 10 percent stake in the combined company. This was a landmark transaction in India’s booming consumer internet space and required regulatory approvals from the nation’s Competition Commission as well as the South African Reserve Bank. Representing MakeMyTrip were Latham & Watkins and S&R Associates, with Cravath Swaine & Moore and Trilegal acting for ibibo.

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s purchase of Singapore-based emerging online retailer Lazada Group—the largest overseas investment by the Chinese e-commerce powerhouse to date—was chosen as Southeast Asia M&A Deal of the Year. The deal was executed quickly given the involvement of 22 existing investors from around the globe, as well as the governing laws of six Southeast Asian countries, Germany, Hong Kong, Luxembourg and the U.S. Adding to the complexity was the formation of bridge loans to structure the negotiation, put and call arrangements for Lazada shareholders and complex management incentive packages and liquidity plans to keep key employees on board. Sullivan & Cromwell acted as counsel to Alibaba, and Dechert to Lazada. Noerr represented the sellers, including Rocket Internet, and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer advised Temasek.

The Private Equity and Venture Capital Deal of the Year went to MBK Partners and TPG Capital’s $1.2 billion acquisition of Wharf T&T, Hong Kong’s largest enterprise-focused telecommunications service provider. MBK and TPG beat out numerous bidders in a hotly contested auction for the all-cash acquisition of Wharf T&T, owned by Wheelock subsidiary The Wharf Holdings. The two buyers were represented by Clifford Chance, while Wharf turned to Deacons for execution and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer for antitrust advice. This deal was Hong Kong’s largest telecom M&A since HKT’s acquisition of CSL New World Mobility in 2014, and the purchase of a city-spanning commercial fiber optic network also required careful navigation in real estate and intellectual property laws.

One of this year’s most competitive and prestigious individual awards, the M&A Lawyer of the Year went to Korean firm Bae, Kim & Lee’s head of M&A Dongwoo Seo. A veteran dealmaker who has been leading Korea’s M&A charge since the 90s, Seo impressed the judges with his deep involvement in two seemingly disparate worlds of Korean corporate activity: the nationwide reshuffle among the traditional conglomerates, and the strategic investments by the new generation of tech firms. He acted for Lotte Chemical in its $2.6 billion purchase of chemical business assets from Samsung Group, successfully drawing the integration to a close last year. And after advising Affinity Equity Partners through its three-year investment cycle with music streaming service provider Loen Entertainment, Seo helped with the most recent $1.6 billion sale to chat app operator Kakao—a complex deal involving two listed internet companies under tight time constraints.  

Paul Hastings was this year’s M&A Firm of the Year for having landed notable mandates across East Asia’s key markets in China, Hong Kong, Korea and Japan, where the firm has developed comprehensive on-the-ground capability with five offices. Other than keeping busy with Chinese state-owned enterprise restructurings, outbound real estate asset deals and foreign theme park investments, the firm’s highlight of 2016 was advising Samsung Electronics on its $8 billion acquisition of Harman International Industries—the Korean company’s largest investment yet, and its first since the group’s heir-apparent ascended to the board last fall. Samsung specifically demanded something that was rather unusual with public U.S. company acquisitions: a complete and sweeping business, accounting and legal due diligence. Paul Hastings successfully convinced Harman to accept the proceedings, and completed the entire due diligence process in just four weeks all the while ensuring the car systems supplier would not solicit other bidders.

The Finance Deal of the Year for Acquisitions award was shared by four firms which advised on the financing of ChemChina’s $43 billion takeover of Swiss agribusiness company Syngenta. Simpson Thacher & Bartlett acted for ChemChina; Davis Polk & Wardwell advised Syngenta; Linklaters represented HSBC as arranger of debt financing on the deal and Clifford Chance advised China CITIC Bank, the financial adviser to ChemChina for the deal. ChemChina’s offer to buy Syngenta, a New York Stock Exchange-listed Swiss company, is a rare and large example of a joint Swiss-U.S. tender offer. The financing of the deal involved ChemChina’s lawyers negotiating definitive forms of finance documents with multiple credit facilities before launching the tender, and will be crucial to the pending closing of what can be the largest ever foreign acquisition by a Chinese company.  

Ten firms shared this year’s Project Finance Deal of the Year, underlining the size and significance of the transaction. The deal was the $4.4 billion multi-source financing of the Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold mine project in Mongolia which is jointly owned by the Government of Mongolia and Rio Tinto. Financing was provided by a range of export finance groups, including the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the International Finance Corp. and the U.S. Export Import Bank. The scale of the project alone is impressive, it has an expected total capital cost of $14.8 billion and the International Monetary Fund estimates that the mine will generate a third of Mongolia’s GDP by the time it reaches full production. Sullivan & Cromwell advised Rio Tinto, Shearman & Sterling acted for the Government of Mongolia and Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy was international counsel for the lenders. Local counsel for the borrower included MahoneyLiotta, Loyens & Loeff, Farara Kerins, VanEps Kunneman VanDoorne, Lackowicz & Hoffman, Kaufhold Ossola & Associates while the local counsel for the lenders was LehmanLaw Mongolia.

The award for Finance Deal of the Year in Restructuring and Insolvency went to the $1.5 billion liquidation of Asian seafood company Pacific Andes, a deal which handed roles to a raft of firms including Ashurst, Clifford Chance, DLA Piper, Jingtian & Gongcheng, Linklaters and Mayer Brown JSM. Jingtian and Mayer Brown JSM have been advising Malaysia’s Maybank, one of the primary bank creditors, on its negotiations with Pacific Andes and other creditors and as to its security and enforcement options, with a view to recovery of its loans. The deal has seen many twists and turns over the past 12 months, with the complex cross-border nature of the Pacific Andes group providing considerable challenges, particularly with regards to the ongoing forum shopping of the debtor group, which has been the subject of much debate in each of the primary jurisdictions of New York, Singapore and offshore.

King & Wood Mallesons Shanghai partner Jack Wang received the Finance Lawyer of the Year award. Wang leads King & Wood’s 20-partner, 60-lawyer banking and finance team and has a well-rounded practice across energy, infrastructure, technology and consumer products sectors. Last year, he advised Ping An Bank and Shanghai Pudong Development Bank on a $1.1 billion facility for the privatization of New York Stock Exchange-listed WuXi PharmaTech. He also represented a consortium of banks on a $100 million facility to fund Bright Food’s acquisition of Spanish food group Miquel Alimentació.

The Finance Firm of the Year award also went to a Chinese firm. Fangda Partners won the award for having a strong leverage financing practice in China. In addition to also advising on the WuXi Pharma privatization deal, the firm also acted on a $2.2 billion facility granted by Bank of China and Ping An Bank for the delisting of Mindray Medical International Ltd. Both transactions were U.S. take-private deals led by Chinese banks and had to be structured to survive potential A-share listing in China. In the privatization of Singapore-listed Biosensors International Group Ltd., Fangda lawyers were able to successfully guide Chinese lenders on local regulations in one of the largest take-private financing in the Singapore market.

The Debt Securities Deal of the Year award went to the first offshore green bond issued by a Chinese automobile maker. Davis Polk & Wardwell and Haiwen & Partners teamed up to advise Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co. Ltd. on a $400 million bond to fund the design, development and production of a new generation of zero-emission taxi in London. The deal is set to be a benchmark for other Chinese issuers seeking alternative to the usual source of bank loans for green investments; and is part of the Chinese government’s initiatives to expand green bond market and promote clean energy use. King & Wood Mallesons represented the underwriters.

Davis Polk & Wardwell and India’s Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas and S&R Associates shared the Equity Securities Deal of the Year award for their work on ICICI Prudential Life Insurance Co.’s $908 million initial public offering in India. This is the first ever IPO by an Indian insurance company. The deal came about after India adopted unprecedented investor disclosure rules for insurance company seeking to go public; the legal advisors were able to prepare a prospectus entirely from scratch and complete the process within four months. The prospectus and regulatory procedures of this deal likely set the standard for future global offerings by Indian insurance companies.

Korean firm Bae, Kim & Lee partner Hee-Gang Shin is Securities Lawyer of the Year. Shin stood out in this category for working on a strong list of cross-border debt and equity offerings in and out of Korea. He advised on the $2 billion global offering by Samsung BioLogics, the second largest IPO ever in the country. As underwriters’ counsel, he advised on China Eastern Airlines’ $155 million won-denominated bond, the first of its kind by a Chinese company; he also advised Doosan Bobcat, a Korean holding company of construction equipment manufacturers around the world, on an $872 million global offering in Korea. The first listing of a Korean company with 31 main subsidiaries are outside the country entailed large amount of due diligence work and complex regulatory issues, which not only required deep knowledge of Korean securities law, but also skillful and creative applications and good sense of international business operations.

Davis Polk & Wardwell was our choice for this year’s Securities Firm of the Year. The U.S. firm demonstrated strength in both equity and debt offerings, advising complex and precedence-setting deals including both winning deals of our Securities Deal of the Year awards. Led by Asia managing partner William Barron, Davis Polk’s debt capital markets team closed more than 50 debt offerings for companies from India, China, Japan and Korea, including more than 10 high-yield offerings across the region. On the equity front, the firm advised on five IPOs in Hong Kong, three in Tokyo, one in India and several U.S. listings and rights offers for Asian issuers. On top of its traditional strength in China-related deals, the hire of former Linklaters partner Jon Gray in Tokyo expands the firm’s ability to land large Japanese mandates.

Investment Funds Lawyer of the Year went to Linklaters’ Tokyo-based Asia head of investment fund management Eriko Sakata. Having made partner in 2015 after spending 11 years with the Magic Circle firm, she impressed the judges with her ability to co-lead the Linklaters team with London partner Jonathan de Lance-Holmes advising SoftBank Group Corp. on launching a technology fund that can raise as much as $100 billion over the next five years. She also advised the Japan Bank for International Cooperation on launching its first fund to focus on providing microfinancing to women in Southeast Asia. A Japanese lawyer with European experiences, she was able to stand out in the area of high-end cross-border fund products where both domestic Japanese firms and international law firms compete fiercely.

Simpson Thacher & Bartlett emerged the winner for Investment Funds Firm of the Year from a highly competitive pack. With a nine-lawyer dedicated funds team led by Hong Kong partner Adam Furber, the U.S. firm advised on the formation of over 20 funds in Asia last year. On top of advising the firm’s global clients such as Blackstone on a $5 billion Asia real estate fund last year, the New York-based firm has also regularly advised locally based fund managers across Asia. Last year, it acted for Hong Kong-based NewQuest, China-based Zebra Global, Tokyo-based J-Star, Advantage Partners and Integral Corp. on launching funds of various sizes.

JunHe Shanghai partner Ye Zhenyong was our choice for Dispute Resolution Lawyer of the Year. A seasoned litigator, Ye helps multinationals navigate the oftentimes unique proceedings of Chinese court litigation and arbitrations. Last year, having fought a hard battle for American medical devices company Prident, Ye successfully convinced a tribunal at the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission to dismiss charges brought up by a former landlord in Shanghai, securing a rare win for client in an early terminate of a long-term lease and thus cleared the liquidation process for Prident. He also successfully acted for cruise operator Costa Crociere S.p.A., convincing a CIETAC panel to adopt general principles of international contract law instead of applying domestic or foreign law. The case offered an alternative to parties from different jurisdictions to resolve cross-border disputes before the Chinese arbitration institution.

Led by firm chair and senior partner Alvin Yeo, SC, Singapore firm WongPartnership certainly has one of the strongest disputes team in the region. The winner for Disputes Firm of the Year won a landmark appellant case on behalf of Macau-based Sanum Investments Ltd. before the Singapore Court of Appeal. The lawyers successfully convinced a five-judge bench that the China-Laos bilateral investment treaty did apply to Macau, a Special Administrative Region in China, overturning a High Court decision. This decision has wide ramifications for investors Macau and Hong Kong, who may now rely on this favorable decision and enjoy protections accorded under the 130 other bilateral investment treaties to which the China is a party. Furthermore, the firm also won one of Singapore’s largest corporate landlord-tenant rent disputes for Takashimaya Singapore department store, saving the client $400 million in potential rent.

Japanese firm Nagashima Ohno & Tsunematsu partner Akihisa Shiozaki was honored with the Compliance and Investigations Lawyer of the Year award mainly for his work as lead counsel for Tokyo- based auto parts manufacturer Takata Corp. He has advised the company on legal claims arising from a series of airbag defects that have been tied to more than 10 deaths and 100 injuries worldwide. These claims resulted in Takata reaching an agreement to recall a total of nearly 70 million Takata airbags in the U.S. Cars that may contain the airbags include BMW, Mercedes Benz and Nissan among others. The commercial and societal impact and underlying legal complexities of this case are unprecedented. Akihisa throughout his career has advised on cases involving corporate crises with a lasting public policy impact.

Compliance and Investigations Firm of the Year went to Kim & Chang. The Korean law firm’s anti-corruption and corporate compliance practice group has broad expertise across a number of practice areas including white collar criminal defence, fair trade and labor and employment. The team has advised on some of the region’s largest and most complex cases. The team taken leading roles in internal investigations into violations of internal policies and regulations by employees of a range of top global investment banks. Some of the violations of internal policies included receiving gifts and entertainment and wrongful adjustment of financial transaction information. Clients of Kim & Chang benefit from the team being the only one that has in-house capabilities both in the area of forensic accounting provided by certified accountants and in digital forensics by IT specialists with career experience within cyber investigation agencies.

The judges were impressed with the diversity and, more importantly, the success rate of Lee & Ko partner Min-Ho Lee, winner of this year’s Competition Lawyer of the Year. In 2016 Lee obtained an unconditional clearance from the Korean Fair Trade Commission—one of Asia’s fiercest antitrust enforcers—for FedEx in its global merger with TNT, through comprehensive competition and economic analyses of the U.S., EU and local Korean logistics markets. He also secured a landmark victory at the Supreme Court of Korea as counsel to seven affiliates of IT services provider SK Group in their appeal against the KFTC’s charges of engaging in unfair intergroup transactions. The court agreed with Lee’s justification of SK’s higher outsourcing fees and overturned the KFTC decision, saving the company an estimated $2 billion worth of business model restructuring costs. His experience as the former head of the KFTC’s Litigation Office is also an added bonus for clients. 

Competition Firm of the Year winner Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s China competition group co-heads Nicholas French and Ninette Dodoo, Hong Kong practice leader Alastair Mordaunt, and Asia head of disputes William Robinson, who brings in his regulatory and antitrust investigations expertise, are the go-to people for the region’s most significant and complex competition law matters. The firm’s Asia team is well known for taking care of business on this side of the world in global mega deals (take for instance, last year’s AB InBev-SAB Miller and Boehringer Ingelheim’s acquisition of Sanofi’s animal health unit) and is at the forefront of advising on merger control and rising antitrust enforcement in China as well as Hong Kong’s new competition regime.  

Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe’s Beijing-based Asia managing partner Xiang Wang was awarded Intellectual Property Lawyer of the Year. An experienced U.S. IP litigator, Wang has carved out a unique practice advising Chinese state-owned enterprises and private companies on U.S. proceedings including court IP litigation, Section 337 disputes with the U.S. International Trade Commission, industrial espionage, trade secrets misappropriation and other investigations and compliance work. Last year, he successfully defended state-owned China National Building Materials Group in a $1.3 billion class action lawsuit against allegations of defective products. He also successfully helped two Chinese executives enter into a favorable plea agreement and mitigate sentences on industrial espionage charges brought up by the U.S. government.

Intellectual Property Firm of the Year winner, Korean firm Lee & Ko, has one of the top IP practices in not just Korea but the region as a whole. Led by firm managing partner Jae Hoon Kim, the team consists of leading trial lawyers who were former judges at the IP division of the Korean courts at various levels and who were former examiners Korean Intellectual property Office. The team became well known after representing Samsung Electronics in the epic worldwide legal battle against Apple on smartphone technology patents. But the firm certainly has a clientele beyond the Korean giant. Last year, Lee & Ko won a favorable Korean Supreme Court decision for client Novartis subsidiary Sandoz International in a three-year unfair competition suit brought up by GlaxoSmithKline. The firm also scored a victory on behalf of mobile game Candy Crush’s developer King.com before a Seoul court on a copyright infringement case.

Eversheds Sutherland Asia head of employment Jennifer Van Dale was awarded Employment Lawyer of the Year. Van Dale leads a rare practice group from Hong Kong that is both specialized enough to stand alone and integrated enough to be part of regular global projects. She was honored for her extensive involvement in advising one of Hong Kong’s largest international hotel chains on the overall strategy and execution of a highly sensitive employment matter. Her strategic approach to dealing with complex and sensitive situations meant the company avoided adverse publicity and successfully executed the redistribution of new employment contracts to its entire workforce. Without her commercial, pragmatic and tactful approach the integrity of the company would not have been upheld.

Employment Firm of the Year winning firm WongPartnership demonstrated their strength with their involvement in some of the region’s most challenging employment disputes across Asia as well as their careful handling of high-profile clients. The firm advised one of Asia’s most prominent private equity firms on a dispute relating to a former employee’s termination of employment and their alleged entitlement to carried interest; EFG International’s proposed acquisition of BSI Bank Singapore’s private banking business – a $1.3 billion deal which would form one of the largest private banks in Switzerland; and a multi-million claim by former C-suite executive against Noble Group for unpaid dividends, bonuses, stock options and shares.

Korean firm Lee & Ko partner Dong Eun Kim was awarded Energy Lawyer of the Year for outstanding cross-border energy work in Korea, Japan and China, especially in the renewable energy sector. Kim advised on a 43.2-megawatt bioenergy project in the Gyeonggi province in South Korea, including development of the project and a $148 million financing. He also advised on two solar power projects in Japan involving Korean investors: a $43 million worth photovoltaic power plant in Hamada City and a $40 million worth plant in Arita. In addition, he also represented Korean lenders on bioenergy projects in China as well as two large liquefied natural gas projects in Korea. His knowledge and experience in overseas alternative energy markets such as Japan and China well positioned him at a time when the domestic Korean energy market struggles due to the oil price dip.

Led by Hong Kong-based global practice head Stuart Salt, Linklaters’ 10-partner Asia energy, infrastructure and projects practice closed financings with combined value of $30 billion in 2016. Our choice for this year’s Energy Firm of the Year has not only landed global mandates from energy giants such as BP and Total, but also assisted Asian players from Hong Kong’s China Light and Power to China’s State Grid Corp. and China Southern Grid on strategic overseas investments. In addition to advising on a $2 billion power projects in Pakistan as part of the China-Pakistan Economic corridor program championed by the Chinese government, the Magic Circle firm’s energy team has been representing global and Chinese sponsors on several complex projects in Indonesia and Singapore. The firm also has a pan-Asia renewable energy practice covering markets from India to Japan and sectors from wind energy to waste-to-energy.

It was no surprise to any industry lawyer in Hong Kong to see the TMT Lawyer of the Year go to Gabriela Kennedy, head of Asia IP and TMT at Mayer Brown JSM. Her unrivalled expertise in regional cybersecurity and information protection issues, cross-border data transfers, fintech and IT software attracts a diverse range of clients and projects, from advising airlines and luxury brands on data center solutions and launching instant messaging platforms for financial institutions, to implementing pan-Asia cyber compliance systems for global fashion houses and conducting multijurisdictional data privacy audits for fast food chains. Kennedy also continues to advise Alibaba—a client of hers since 1999—on IT, e-commerce, domain name and ISP liability matters, Tmall set-top box launches in Hong Kong and cloud offerings for AliCloud.

All eyes are on China’s new economy, and winner of TMT Firm of the Year, Han Kun Law Offices, has positioned itself perfectly at the heart of the nation’s TMT sector, sweeping up key investment and regulatory work and playing to its core strengths in M&A, private equity, venture capital and funds to help grow domestic startups and internet giants alike. Its entrepreneurial and tech-savvy client base has even paved the path for an emerging high net worth individual practice. And 2016 was a stellar year for the firm; highlights include representing Uber China on its $35 billion merger with local ride-sharing rival Didi Chuxing, online direct retailer JD.com on its $1.5 billion e-commerce partnership with Walmart, and Tencent on its $3 billion acquisition of China Music Corp. Rainmaker Charles Li leads the team. 

If you’re wondering whether now’s a good time to be a private client lawyer in Asia—spoiler: the region now boasts the world’s largest amount of high net worth individual wealth—just ask Vikna Rajah, Rajah & Tann’s head private client and trust practice and this year’s Private Client Lawyer of the Year. Don’t let his young age fool you—Rajah not only has the trustees of Singapore’s biggest financial institutions in the bag, but is also the go-to lawyer for the city state’s most affluent families. As a tax expert and litigator with a strong track record of resolving multi-million dollar disputes with the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore, where he was a former senior legal specialist, he most recently created a trust structure that allows Singapore citizens to purchase property for their beneficiaries directly under a trust without paying Additional Buyer’s Stamp Duty.

In the perhaps most closely contested category, Conyers Dill & Pearman emerged the winner of Offshore Firm of the Year for the second time in a row. In 2016, Conyers continued its representation of Chinese companies listed or seeking to list in Hong Kong, the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq. The firm advised on over 65 percent of the Hong Kong IPOs. In addition to acting for Youku Tudou Inc. on its $3.5 billion acquisition by Alibaba, it also served as Cayman Islands counsel to Qihoo 360 Technology Co. Ltd. founder Zhou Hongyi on the company’s $9.3 billion privatization and delisting from NYSE.

Linklaters received Asian CSR Initiative of the Year award. The judges were impressed and heartened by the firm’s Asia pro bono work last year. In a market where global firms’ pro bono work has often been spotty and many resorted to monetary and material donation rather than giving free legal advice, lawyers at the Magic Circle firm provided pro bono legal services to three separate programs in Cambodia and Hong Kong. Lawyer from the firm’s Bangkok, Hong Kong and Singapore offices offered pro bono support to train and help Cambodian lawyers representing child victims of human trafficking and other human rights abuse in legal proceedings. Linklaters’ training will fundamentally improve the way child victims are supported through legal proceedings, according to Deborah Papworth, a lawyer for a local non-profit, and will in turn help reduce the instances of child re-victimisation. Furthermore, Linklaters Hong Kong lawyers also gave pro bono hours to local non-profits Crossroad, which helps distribute fair trade handicrafts, and Helpers for Domestic Helpers.

Hogan Lovells’ Hong Kong-based managing partner for Asia Pacific and the Middle East Patrick Sherrington was recognized as International Law Firm Leader of the Year. Since his arrival in Hong Kong in 2013, Sherrington has expanded the Anglo-American firm’s Asia Pacific presence by 20 lawyers, reaching a total of 198 lawyers in Asia and Australia, according to the most recent Asia 100 survey. During his tenure so far, Hogan Lovells launched two Australian offices in Sydney and Perth in 2015, and significantly expanded the team Down Under last year. Sherrington, who eventually wants a dozen partners in Australia, also has his eyes on China. The firm formed a formal association with Chinese firm Fidelity Law Firm in October 2016, adding the long-awaited Chinese law capability to its two mainland offices.

The Asia Legal Awards Asian Law Firm Leader of the Year award recognizes indigenous firm leaders who are visionary, courageous, prolific and passionate. They must be people who represent the core values of the firm and who can unite the firm as one. Xiao Wei is all of the above to JunHe. A co-founder of the firm, Xiao is now serving his sixth term as managing partner, having been elected back by partners in late 2014 after stepping down two years earlier. But we didn’t give Xiao this award for being the legendary co-founder of one of China’s top firms; he was honored for being innovative and for his courage to push for bold changes. Since 2015, Xiao has created a pilot program within the partnership to start reforming JunHe’s remuneration system. The new program changed the previous performance-emphasized compensation system into a modified lockstep which encouraged partner collaboration and centralizes firm resources. The pilot program circumvented the two thirds majority vote under JunHe’s partnership agreement and allowed partners to join on a voluntary basis. The creative solution helped mobilize firm resources and resulted a 17 percent revenue increase in 2015.  

Our decision to choose Davis Polk & Wardwell as the International Law Firm of the Year was an easy one. The U.S. firm advised on four of the nine winning deals of this year’s awards. In addition to its strength in capital markets transactions which was explained in our reasoning for selecting the firm as Securities Firm of the Year, the New York firm’s deal list in 2016 was also evidence for a high quality M&A practice. Last year, the firm advised on M&A transactions in and out of Asia with total value exceeding $120 billion; these included ChemChina’s $43 billion offer to buy Swiss agribusiness company Syngenta, SoftBank’s $31 billion acquisition of the U.K.’s ARM Holdings and Didi Chuxing’s acquisition of Uber’s China business. In addition to transactions, the firm’s disputes practice continues to grow. Launched in 2013 with partners Martin Rogers and James Wadham, the Wall Street firm now has 20 full-time litigators based in Hong Kong, including two partners and six counsel. On top of that, the firm has an additional seven-lawyer team in Hong Kong focusing on U.S. litigation work.

This year’s Asian Law Firm of the Year, Korea’s Bae, Kim & Lee stood head and shoulders above its local and regional peers in terms of caseload complexity, success and breadth. While the firm’s preeminent dispute resolution practice remains unquestioned, the judges were impressed with the winning streaks displayed across so many of the firm’s different groups. It scored victories in two Supreme Court cases—both against government agencies—involving fuel gas surcharges calculation and personal data protection that set the standards for their respective industries, for instance, as well as in multiple litigations related to pharmaceutical patent licensing, invalidation and unfair competition. The firm’s presence on some of Korea’s most exciting onshore M&A, IPO deals in 2016 has also pushed the firm to new deal making heights. With seven active overseas offices across Greater China, Southeast Asia (including a new one in Myanmar), and even in Dubai, Bae, Kim & Lee best fit the title of 2017’s Asian law firm.

We recognized the following six lawyers as this year’s In-house Counsel of Distinction.

Sharyn Ch’ang – PwC
Leiming Chen – Ant Financial
Gladys Chun – Lazada
Junghoon Kenneth Oh – LG Display
Yong Kai Wong – CITIC Capital
Jerry Xia – Honeywell

Davis Polk & Wardwell and Korean firm Bae, Kim & Lee were named international and Asian firm of the year, respectively, at the fourth annual Asia Legal Awards, held on Feb. 22, 2017 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong. Hogan Lovells managing partner for Asia and the Middle East Patrick Sherrington was awarded international firm leader of the year while JunHe managing partner Xiao Wei won the same award for indigenous Asian firms. In addition, Linklaters , Korea’s Lee & Ko and Singapore’s WongPartnership were among the evening’s top winners for firm and individual awards.

Here is a full list of winners and why they stood out. We’re enormously grateful to all the firms that submitted to the awards.

 

The M&A Deal of the Year for North Asia went to Tokyo-based telecommunications investor SoftBank Group Corp.’s $31 billion purchase of ARM Holdings plc. This was not only the largest-ever foreign deal by a Japanese company, but also the biggest acquisition of European tech yet. It was the first time a bidder committed to post-offer undertakings in the U.K. since the new takeover rules were introduced in January 2015, and the global political climate surrounding high tech cross-border investments also called for significant discussion with the U.K. Takeover Panel and government as to how the specific undertakings would be framed. Slaughter and May, Davis Polk & Wardwell and Anderson Mōri & Tomotsune advised British chip designer ARM, while Softbank turned to longtime adviser Morrison & Foerster , and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Mori Hamada & Matsumoto . White & Case and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton acted for Mizuho Securities and The Raine Group, respectively, both financial advisers to the Japanese company. Herbert Smith Freehills advised the U.K. Panel on Takeovers and Mergers.

The $2 billion merger between MakeMyTrip Ltd. and ibibo Group won South Asia M&A Deal of the Year. This transaction created one of India’s largest travel groups, of which South Africa’s Naspers and China’s Tencent became the largest shareholder. MakeMyTrip’s outstanding $180 million five-year convertible bonds, issued in January 2016 to China’s Ctrip.com, were converted into common equity as part of the deal, resulting in Ctrip owning a 10 percent stake in the combined company. This was a landmark transaction in India’s booming consumer internet space and required regulatory approvals from the nation’s Competition Commission as well as the South African Reserve Bank. Representing MakeMyTrip were Latham & Watkins and S&R Associates, with Cravath Swaine & Moore and Trilegal acting for ibibo.

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. ’s purchase of Singapore-based emerging online retailer Lazada Group—the largest overseas investment by the Chinese e-commerce powerhouse to date—was chosen as Southeast Asia M&A Deal of the Year. The deal was executed quickly given the involvement of 22 existing investors from around the globe, as well as the governing laws of six Southeast Asian countries, Germany, Hong Kong, Luxembourg and the U.S. Adding to the complexity was the formation of bridge loans to structure the negotiation, put and call arrangements for Lazada shareholders and complex management incentive packages and liquidity plans to keep key employees on board. Sullivan & Cromwell acted as counsel to Alibaba, and Dechert to Lazada. Noerr represented the sellers, including Rocket Internet, and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer advised Temasek.

The Private Equity and Venture Capital Deal of the Year went to MBK Partners and TPG Capital’s $1.2 billion acquisition of Wharf T&T, Hong Kong’s largest enterprise-focused telecommunications service provider. MBK and TPG beat out numerous bidders in a hotly contested auction for the all-cash acquisition of Wharf T&T, owned by Wheelock subsidiary The Wharf Holdings. The two buyers were represented by Clifford Chance , while Wharf turned to Deacons for execution and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer for antitrust advice. This deal was Hong Kong’s largest telecom M&A since HKT’s acquisition of CSL New World Mobility in 2014, and the purchase of a city-spanning commercial fiber optic network also required careful navigation in real estate and intellectual property laws.

One of this year’s most competitive and prestigious individual awards, the M&A Lawyer of the Year went to Korean firm Bae, Kim & Lee’s head of M&A Dongwoo Seo. A veteran dealmaker who has been leading Korea’s M&A charge since the 90s, Seo impressed the judges with his deep involvement in two seemingly disparate worlds of Korean corporate activity: the nationwide reshuffle among the traditional conglomerates, and the strategic investments by the new generation of tech firms. He acted for Lotte Chemical in its $2.6 billion purchase of chemical business assets from Samsung Group, successfully drawing the integration to a close last year. And after advising Affinity Equity Partners through its three-year investment cycle with music streaming service provider Loen Entertainment, Seo helped with the most recent $1.6 billion sale to chat app operator Kakao—a complex deal involving two listed internet companies under tight time constraints.  

Paul Hastings was this year’s M&A Firm of the Year for having landed notable mandates across East Asia’s key markets in China, Hong Kong, Korea and Japan, where the firm has developed comprehensive on-the-ground capability with five offices. Other than keeping busy with Chinese state-owned enterprise restructurings, outbound real estate asset deals and foreign theme park investments, the firm’s highlight of 2016 was advising Samsung Electronics on its $8 billion acquisition of Harman International Industries —the Korean company’s largest investment yet, and its first since the group’s heir-apparent ascended to the board last fall. Samsung specifically demanded something that was rather unusual with public U.S. company acquisitions: a complete and sweeping business, accounting and legal due diligence. Paul Hastings successfully convinced Harman to accept the proceedings, and completed the entire due diligence process in just four weeks all the while ensuring the car systems supplier would not solicit other bidders.

The Finance Deal of the Year for Acquisitions award was shared by four firms which advised on the financing of ChemChina’s $43 billion takeover of Swiss agribusiness company Syngenta. Simpson Thacher & Bartlett acted for ChemChina; Davis Polk & Wardwell advised Syngenta; Linklaters represented HSBC as arranger of debt financing on the deal and Clifford Chance advised China CITIC Bank, the financial adviser to ChemChina for the deal. ChemChina’s offer to buy Syngenta, a New York Stock Exchange-listed Swiss company, is a rare and large example of a joint Swiss-U.S. tender offer. The financing of the deal involved ChemChina’s lawyers negotiating definitive forms of finance documents with multiple credit facilities before launching the tender, and will be crucial to the pending closing of what can be the largest ever foreign acquisition by a Chinese company.  

Ten firms shared this year’s Project Finance Deal of the Year, underlining the size and significance of the transaction. The deal was the $4.4 billion multi-source financing of the Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold mine project in Mongolia which is jointly owned by the Government of Mongolia and Rio Tinto . Financing was provided by a range of export finance groups, including the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the International Finance Corp. and the U.S. Export Import Bank. The scale of the project alone is impressive, it has an expected total capital cost of $14.8 billion and the International Monetary Fund estimates that the mine will generate a third of Mongolia’s GDP by the time it reaches full production. Sullivan & Cromwell advised Rio Tinto , Shearman & Sterling acted for the Government of Mongolia and Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy was international counsel for the lenders. Local counsel for the borrower included MahoneyLiotta, Loyens & Loeff , Farara Kerins, VanEps Kunneman VanDoorne, Lackowicz & Hoffman, Kaufhold Ossola & Associates while the local counsel for the lenders was LehmanLaw Mongolia.

The award for Finance Deal of the Year in Restructuring and Insolvency went to the $1.5 billion liquidation of Asian seafood company Pacific Andes, a deal which handed roles to a raft of firms including Ashurst , Clifford Chance , DLA Piper , Jingtian & Gongcheng , Linklaters and Mayer Brown JSM . Jingtian and Mayer Brown JSM have been advising Malaysia’s Maybank, one of the primary bank creditors, on its negotiations with Pacific Andes and other creditors and as to its security and enforcement options, with a view to recovery of its loans. The deal has seen many twists and turns over the past 12 months, with the complex cross-border nature of the Pacific Andes group providing considerable challenges, particularly with regards to the ongoing forum shopping of the debtor group, which has been the subject of much debate in each of the primary jurisdictions of New York , Singapore and offshore.

King & Wood Mallesons Shanghai partner Jack Wang received the Finance Lawyer of the Year award. Wang leads King & Wood’s 20-partner, 60-lawyer banking and finance team and has a well-rounded practice across energy, infrastructure, technology and consumer products sectors. Last year, he advised Ping An Bank and Shanghai Pudong Development Bank on a $1.1 billion facility for the privatization of New York Stock Exchange-listed WuXi PharmaTech. He also represented a consortium of banks on a $100 million facility to fund Bright Food’s acquisition of Spanish food group Miquel Alimentació.

The Finance Firm of the Year award also went to a Chinese firm. Fangda Partners won the award for having a strong leverage financing practice in China. In addition to also advising on the WuXi Pharma privatization deal, the firm also acted on a $2.2 billion facility granted by Bank of China and Ping An Bank for the delisting of Mindray Medical International Ltd. Both transactions were U.S. take-private deals led by Chinese banks and had to be structured to survive potential A-share listing in China. In the privatization of Singapore-listed Biosensors International Group Ltd., Fangda lawyers were able to successfully guide Chinese lenders on local regulations in one of the largest take-private financing in the Singapore market.

The Debt Securities Deal of the Year award went to the first offshore green bond issued by a Chinese automobile maker. Davis Polk & Wardwell and Haiwen & Partners teamed up to advise Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co. Ltd. on a $400 million bond to fund the design, development and production of a new generation of zero-emission taxi in London. The deal is set to be a benchmark for other Chinese issuers seeking alternative to the usual source of bank loans for green investments; and is part of the Chinese government’s initiatives to expand green bond market and promote clean energy use. King & Wood Mallesons represented the underwriters.

Davis Polk & Wardwell and India’s Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas and S&R Associates shared the Equity Securities Deal of the Year award for their work on ICICI Prudential Life Insurance Co.’s $908 million initial public offering in India. This is the first ever IPO by an Indian insurance company. The deal came about after India adopted unprecedented investor disclosure rules for insurance company seeking to go public; the legal advisors were able to prepare a prospectus entirely from scratch and complete the process within four months. The prospectus and regulatory procedures of this deal likely set the standard for future global offerings by Indian insurance companies.

Korean firm Bae, Kim & Lee partner Hee-Gang Shin is Securities Lawyer of the Year. Shin stood out in this category for working on a strong list of cross-border debt and equity offerings in and out of Korea. He advised on the $2 billion global offering by Samsung BioLogics, the second largest IPO ever in the country. As underwriters’ counsel, he advised on China Eastern Airlines’ $155 million won-denominated bond, the first of its kind by a Chinese company; he also advised Doosan Bobcat, a Korean holding company of construction equipment manufacturers around the world, on an $872 million global offering in Korea. The first listing of a Korean company with 31 main subsidiaries are outside the country entailed large amount of due diligence work and complex regulatory issues, which not only required deep knowledge of Korean securities law, but also skillful and creative applications and good sense of international business operations.

Davis Polk & Wardwell was our choice for this year’s Securities Firm of the Year. The U.S. firm demonstrated strength in both equity and debt offerings, advising complex and precedence-setting deals including both winning deals of our Securities Deal of the Year awards. Led by Asia managing partner William Barron, Davis Polk ’s debt capital markets team closed more than 50 debt offerings for companies from India, China, Japan and Korea, including more than 10 high-yield offerings across the region. On the equity front, the firm advised on five IPOs in Hong Kong, three in Tokyo, one in India and several U.S. listings and rights offers for Asian issuers. On top of its traditional strength in China-related deals, the hire of former Linklaters partner Jon Gray in Tokyo expands the firm’s ability to land large Japanese mandates.

Investment Funds Lawyer of the Year went to Linklaters ’ Tokyo-based Asia head of investment fund management Eriko Sakata. Having made partner in 2015 after spending 11 years with the Magic Circle firm, she impressed the judges with her ability to co-lead the Linklaters team with London partner Jonathan de Lance-Holmes advising SoftBank Group Corp. on launching a technology fund that can raise as much as $100 billion over the next five years. She also advised the Japan Bank for International Cooperation on launching its first fund to focus on providing microfinancing to women in Southeast Asia. A Japanese lawyer with European experiences, she was able to stand out in the area of high-end cross-border fund products where both domestic Japanese firms and international law firms compete fiercely.

Simpson Thacher & Bartlett  emerged the winner for Investment Funds Firm of the Year from a highly competitive pack. With a nine-lawyer dedicated funds team led by Hong Kong partner Adam Furber, the U.S. firm advised on the formation of over 20 funds in Asia last year. On top of advising the firm’s global clients such as Blackstone on a $5 billion Asia real estate fund last year, the New York-based firm has also regularly advised locally based fund managers across Asia. Last year, it acted for Hong Kong-based NewQuest, China-based Zebra Global, Tokyo-based J-Star, Advantage Partners and Integral Corp. on launching funds of various sizes.

JunHe Shanghai partner Ye Zhenyong was our choice for Dispute Resolution Lawyer of the Year. A seasoned litigator, Ye helps multinationals navigate the oftentimes unique proceedings of Chinese court litigation and arbitrations. Last year, having fought a hard battle for American medical devices company Prident, Ye successfully convinced a tribunal at the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission to dismiss charges brought up by a former landlord in Shanghai, securing a rare win for client in an early terminate of a long-term lease and thus cleared the liquidation process for Prident. He also successfully acted for cruise operator Costa Crociere S.p.A., convincing a CIETAC panel to adopt general principles of international contract law instead of applying domestic or foreign law. The case offered an alternative to parties from different jurisdictions to resolve cross-border disputes before the Chinese arbitration institution.

Led by firm chair and senior partner Alvin Yeo, SC, Singapore firm WongPartnership certainly has one of the strongest disputes team in the region. The winner for Disputes Firm of the Year won a landmark appellant case on behalf of Macau-based Sanum Investments Ltd. before the Singapore Court of Appeal. The lawyers successfully convinced a five-judge bench that the China-Laos bilateral investment treaty did apply to Macau, a Special Administrative Region in China, overturning a High Court decision. This decision has wide ramifications for investors Macau and Hong Kong, who may now rely on this favorable decision and enjoy protections accorded under the 130 other bilateral investment treaties to which the China is a party. Furthermore, the firm also won one of Singapore’s largest corporate landlord-tenant rent disputes for Takashimaya Singapore department store, saving the client $400 million in potential rent.

Japanese firm Nagashima Ohno & Tsunematsu partner Akihisa Shiozaki was honored with the Compliance and Investigations Lawyer of the Year award mainly for his work as lead counsel for Tokyo- based auto parts manufacturer Takata Corp. He has advised the company on legal claims arising from a series of airbag defects that have been tied to more than 10 deaths and 100 injuries worldwide. These claims resulted in Takata reaching an agreement to recall a total of nearly 70 million Takata airbags in the U.S. Cars that may contain the airbags include BMW, Mercedes Benz and Nissan among others. The commercial and societal impact and underlying legal complexities of this case are unprecedented. Akihisa throughout his career has advised on cases involving corporate crises with a lasting public policy impact.

Compliance and Investigations Firm of the Year went to Kim & Chang . The Korean law firm’s anti-corruption and corporate compliance practice group has broad expertise across a number of practice areas including white collar criminal defence, fair trade and labor and employment. The team has advised on some of the region’s largest and most complex cases. The team taken leading roles in internal investigations into violations of internal policies and regulations by employees of a range of top global investment banks. Some of the violations of internal policies included receiving gifts and entertainment and wrongful adjustment of financial transaction information. Clients of Kim & Chang benefit from the team being the only one that has in-house capabilities both in the area of forensic accounting provided by certified accountants and in digital forensics by IT specialists with career experience within cyber investigation agencies.

The judges were impressed with the diversity and, more importantly, the success rate of Lee & Ko partner Min-Ho Lee, winner of this year’s Competition Lawyer of the Year. In 2016 Lee obtained an unconditional clearance from the Korean Fair Trade Commission—one of Asia’s fiercest antitrust enforcers—for FedEx in its global merger with TNT, through comprehensive competition and economic analyses of the U.S., EU and local Korean logistics markets. He also secured a landmark victory at the Supreme Court of Korea as counsel to seven affiliates of IT services provider SK Group in their appeal against the KFTC’s charges of engaging in unfair intergroup transactions. The court agreed with Lee’s justification of SK’s higher outsourcing fees and overturned the KFTC decision, saving the company an estimated $2 billion worth of business model restructuring costs. His experience as the former head of the KFTC’s Litigation Office is also an added bonus for clients. 

Competition Firm of the Year winner Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer ’s China competition group co-heads Nicholas French and Ninette Dodoo, Hong Kong practice leader Alastair Mordaunt, and Asia head of disputes William Robinson, who brings in his regulatory and antitrust investigations expertise, are the go-to people for the region’s most significant and complex competition law matters. The firm’s Asia team is well known for taking care of business on this side of the world in global mega deals (take for instance, last year’s AB InBev-SAB Miller and Boehringer Ingelheim ’s acquisition of Sanofi’s animal health unit) and is at the forefront of advising on merger control and rising antitrust enforcement in China as well as Hong Kong’s new competition regime.  

Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe ’s Beijing-based Asia managing partner Xiang Wang was awarded Intellectual Property Lawyer of the Year. An experienced U.S. IP litigator, Wang has carved out a unique practice advising Chinese state-owned enterprises and private companies on U.S. proceedings including court IP litigation, Section 337 disputes with the U.S. International Trade Commission, industrial espionage, trade secrets misappropriation and other investigations and compliance work. Last year, he successfully defended state-owned China National Building Materials Group in a $1.3 billion class action lawsuit against allegations of defective products. He also successfully helped two Chinese executives enter into a favorable plea agreement and mitigate sentences on industrial espionage charges brought up by the U.S. government.

Intellectual Property Firm of the Year winner, Korean firm Lee & Ko, has one of the top IP practices in not just Korea but the region as a whole. Led by firm managing partner Jae Hoon Kim, the team consists of leading trial lawyers who were former judges at the IP division of the Korean courts at various levels and who were former examiners Korean Intellectual property Office. The team became well known after representing Samsung Electronics in the epic worldwide legal battle against Apple on smartphone technology patents. But the firm certainly has a clientele beyond the Korean giant. Last year, Lee & Ko won a favorable Korean Supreme Court decision for client Novartis subsidiary Sandoz International in a three-year unfair competition suit brought up by GlaxoSmithKline . The firm also scored a victory on behalf of mobile game Candy Crush’s developer King.com before a Seoul court on a copyright infringement case.

Eversheds Sutherland Asia head of employment Jennifer Van Dale was awarded Employment Lawyer of the Year. Van Dale leads a rare practice group from Hong Kong that is both specialized enough to stand alone and integrated enough to be part of regular global projects. She was honored for her extensive involvement in advising one of Hong Kong’s largest international hotel chains on the overall strategy and execution of a highly sensitive employment matter. Her strategic approach to dealing with complex and sensitive situations meant the company avoided adverse publicity and successfully executed the redistribution of new employment contracts to its entire workforce. Without her commercial, pragmatic and tactful approach the integrity of the company would not have been upheld.

Employment Firm of the Year winning firm WongPartnership demonstrated their strength with their involvement in some of the region’s most challenging employment disputes across Asia as well as their careful handling of high-profile clients. The firm advised one of Asia’s most prominent private equity firms on a dispute relating to a former employee’s termination of employment and their alleged entitlement to carried interest; EFG International’s proposed acquisition of BSI Bank Singapore’s private banking business – a $1.3 billion deal which would form one of the largest private banks in Switzerland; and a multi-million claim by former C-suite executive against Noble Group for unpaid dividends, bonuses, stock options and shares.

Korean firm Lee & Ko partner Dong Eun Kim was awarded Energy Lawyer of the Year for outstanding cross-border energy work in Korea, Japan and China, especially in the renewable energy sector. Kim advised on a 43.2-megawatt bioenergy project in the Gyeonggi province in South Korea, including development of the project and a $148 million financing. He also advised on two solar power projects in Japan involving Korean investors: a $43 million worth photovoltaic power plant in Hamada City and a $40 million worth plant in Arita. In addition, he also represented Korean lenders on bioenergy projects in China as well as two large liquefied natural gas projects in Korea. His knowledge and experience in overseas alternative energy markets such as Japan and China well positioned him at a time when the domestic Korean energy market struggles due to the oil price dip.

Led by Hong Kong-based global practice head Stuart Salt, Linklaters ’ 10-partner Asia energy, infrastructure and projects practice closed financings with combined value of $30 billion in 2016. Our choice for this year’s Energy Firm of the Year has not only landed global mandates from energy giants such as BP and Total, but also assisted Asian players from Hong Kong’s China Light and Power to China’s State Grid Corp. and China Southern Grid on strategic overseas investments. In addition to advising on a $2 billion power projects in Pakistan as part of the China-Pakistan Economic corridor program championed by the Chinese government, the Magic Circle firm’s energy team has been representing global and Chinese sponsors on several complex projects in Indonesia and Singapore. The firm also has a pan-Asia renewable energy practice covering markets from India to Japan and sectors from wind energy to waste-to-energy.

It was no surprise to any industry lawyer in Hong Kong to see the TMT Lawyer of the Year go to Gabriela Kennedy, head of Asia IP and TMT at Mayer Brown JSM . Her unrivalled expertise in regional cybersecurity and information protection issues, cross-border data transfers, fintech and IT software attracts a diverse range of clients and projects, from advising airlines and luxury brands on data center solutions and launching instant messaging platforms for financial institutions, to implementing pan-Asia cyber compliance systems for global fashion houses and conducting multijurisdictional data privacy audits for fast food chains. Kennedy also continues to advise Alibaba—a client of hers since 1999—on IT, e-commerce, domain name and ISP liability matters, Tmall set-top box launches in Hong Kong and cloud offerings for AliCloud.

All eyes are on China’s new economy, and winner of TMT Firm of the Year, Han Kun Law Offices, has positioned itself perfectly at the heart of the nation’s TMT sector, sweeping up key investment and regulatory work and playing to its core strengths in M&A, private equity, venture capital and funds to help grow domestic startups and internet giants alike. Its entrepreneurial and tech-savvy client base has even paved the path for an emerging high net worth individual practice. And 2016 was a stellar year for the firm; highlights include representing Uber China on its $35 billion merger with local ride-sharing rival Didi Chuxing, online direct retailer JD.com on its $1.5 billion e-commerce partnership with Walmart, and Tencent on its $3 billion acquisition of China Music Corp. Rainmaker Charles Li leads the team. 

If you’re wondering whether now’s a good time to be a private client lawyer in Asia—spoiler: the region now boasts the world’s largest amount of high net worth individual wealth—just ask Vikna Rajah, Rajah & Tann ’s head private client and trust practice and this year’s Private Client Lawyer of the Year. Don’t let his young age fool you—Rajah not only has the trustees of Singapore’s biggest financial institutions in the bag, but is also the go-to lawyer for the city state’s most affluent families. As a tax expert and litigator with a strong track record of resolving multi-million dollar disputes with the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore, where he was a former senior legal specialist, he most recently created a trust structure that allows Singapore citizens to purchase property for their beneficiaries directly under a trust without paying Additional Buyer’s Stamp Duty.

In the perhaps most closely contested category, Conyers Dill & Pearman emerged the winner of Offshore Firm of the Year for the second time in a row. In 2016, Conyers continued its representation of Chinese companies listed or seeking to list in Hong Kong, the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq. The firm advised on over 65 percent of the Hong Kong IPOs. In addition to acting for Youku Tudou Inc. on its $3.5 billion acquisition by Alibaba, it also served as Cayman Islands counsel to Qihoo 360 Technology Co. Ltd. founder Zhou Hongyi on the company’s $9.3 billion privatization and delisting from NYSE.

Linklaters received Asian CSR Initiative of the Year award. The judges were impressed and heartened by the firm’s Asia pro bono work last year. In a market where global firms’ pro bono work has often been spotty and many resorted to monetary and material donation rather than giving free legal advice, lawyers at the Magic Circle firm provided pro bono legal services to three separate programs in Cambodia and Hong Kong. Lawyer from the firm’s Bangkok, Hong Kong and Singapore offices offered pro bono support to train and help Cambodian lawyers representing child victims of human trafficking and other human rights abuse in legal proceedings. Linklaters ’ training will fundamentally improve the way child victims are supported through legal proceedings, according to Deborah Papworth, a lawyer for a local non-profit, and will in turn help reduce the instances of child re-victimisation. Furthermore, Linklaters Hong Kong lawyers also gave pro bono hours to local non-profits Crossroad, which helps distribute fair trade handicrafts, and Helpers for Domestic Helpers.

Hogan Lovells ’ Hong Kong-based managing partner for Asia Pacific and the Middle East Patrick Sherrington was recognized as International Law Firm Leader of the Year. Since his arrival in Hong Kong in 2013, Sherrington has expanded the Anglo-American firm’s Asia Pacific presence by 20 lawyers, reaching a total of 198 lawyers in Asia and Australia, according to the most recent Asia 100 survey. During his tenure so far, Hogan Lovells launched two Australian offices in Sydney and Perth in 2015, and significantly expanded the team Down Under last year. Sherrington, who eventually wants a dozen partners in Australia, also has his eyes on China. The firm formed a formal association with Chinese firm Fidelity Law Firm in October 2016, adding the long-awaited Chinese law capability to its two mainland offices.

The Asia Legal Awards Asian Law Firm Leader of the Year award recognizes indigenous firm leaders who are visionary, courageous, prolific and passionate. They must be people who represent the core values of the firm and who can unite the firm as one. Xiao Wei is all of the above to JunHe. A co-founder of the firm, Xiao is now serving his sixth term as managing partner, having been elected back by partners in late 2014 after stepping down two years earlier. But we didn’t give Xiao this award for being the legendary co-founder of one of China’s top firms; he was honored for being innovative and for his courage to push for bold changes. Since 2015, Xiao has created a pilot program within the partnership to start reforming JunHe’s remuneration system. The new program changed the previous performance-emphasized compensation system into a modified lockstep which encouraged partner collaboration and centralizes firm resources. The pilot program circumvented the two thirds majority vote under JunHe’s partnership agreement and allowed partners to join on a voluntary basis. The creative solution helped mobilize firm resources and resulted a 17 percent revenue increase in 2015.  

Our decision to choose Davis Polk & Wardwell as the International Law Firm of the Year was an easy one. The U.S. firm advised on four of the nine winning deals of this year’s awards. In addition to its strength in capital markets transactions which was explained in our reasoning for selecting the firm as Securities Firm of the Year, the New York firm’s deal list in 2016 was also evidence for a high quality M&A practice. Last year, the firm advised on M&A transactions in and out of Asia with total value exceeding $120 billion; these included ChemChina’s $43 billion offer to buy Swiss agribusiness company Syngenta, SoftBank’s $31 billion acquisition of the U.K.’s ARM Holdings and Didi Chuxing’s acquisition of Uber’s China business. In addition to transactions, the firm’s disputes practice continues to grow. Launched in 2013 with partners Martin Rogers and James Wadham, the Wall Street firm now has 20 full-time litigators based in Hong Kong, including two partners and six counsel. On top of that, the firm has an additional seven-lawyer team in Hong Kong focusing on U.S. litigation work.

This year’s Asian Law Firm of the Year, Korea’s Bae, Kim & Lee stood head and shoulders above its local and regional peers in terms of caseload complexity, success and breadth. While the firm’s preeminent dispute resolution practice remains unquestioned, the judges were impressed with the winning streaks displayed across so many of the firm’s different groups. It scored victories in two Supreme Court cases—both against government agencies—involving fuel gas surcharges calculation and personal data protection that set the standards for their respective industries, for instance, as well as in multiple litigations related to pharmaceutical patent licensing, invalidation and unfair competition. The firm’s presence on some of Korea’s most exciting onshore M&A, IPO deals in 2016 has also pushed the firm to new deal making heights. With seven active overseas offices across Greater China, Southeast Asia (including a new one in Myanmar), and even in Dubai, Bae, Kim & Lee best fit the title of 2017’s Asian law firm.

We recognized the following six lawyers as this year’s In-house Counsel of Distinction.

Sharyn Ch’ang – PwC
Leiming Chen – Ant Financial
Gladys Chun – Lazada
Junghoon Kenneth Oh – LG Display
Yong Kai Wong – CITIC Capital
Jerry Xia – Honeywell