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Asia Pacific: The English Bar

Asia Pacific: The English Bar > Market overview > Law firm and leading lawyer rankings


The English Bar’s specialised advocacy skills, exceptional expertise in niche areas and flexibility makes it a popular choice for law firms in Asia, with many counsel having strong relations with firms in the region.

Singapore, as a key hub for international arbitration thanks to its political and legal predictability, continues to be a key generator of work for the Bar, with some sets opening offices in the ‘Little Red Dot’ to capitalise on proximity to the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC). Hong Kong still has relevance, primarily for local and Chinese disputes, however the political situation in the territory is leading to concerns about the long-term impartiality of the political and judicial systems, even if ‘One Country, Two Systems’ is largely functioning as intended in the commercial arena.

In mainland China itself, the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (Cietac) is popular even if many non-Chinese parties continue to have reservations. South Korea is also growing as an arbitral venue, with Koreaphilia and strong relationships with major Korean firms in some sets leading to instruction in English-language Korean arbitrations to represent Korea’s largest construction companies. Other venues exist –Vietnam International Arbitration Centre clauses being popular locally – however, they still remain somewhat exotic.

Free zones which offer an ‘island’ of common law in a less familiar jurisdiction, and typically allow foreign practitioners to appear before the courts with relative ease, have not taken off in the Asia Pacific region in the same way they have in the Middle East, although one litigation forum of note is the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC). While a division of the Singapore High Court, it aims to generate work as an alternative to arbitration in contracts and also has a very flexible policy for allowing non-Singaporean lawyers to practice. However, it is still early days for the SICC, with much of its caseload having been directly transferred from the Singapore High Court itself.

Members of the Bar may also seek temporary admission in compatible jurisdictions. In Hong Kong this is often only available in the most high-profile and challenging cases – notably in the criminal (see the Fraud and corporate crime section). Nevertheless, this chapter primarily covers international arbitration, primarily in Asia but also, to a limited extent, elsewhere in the world but with Asian instructing solicitors and parties.

This section covers individuals who practice as members of English sets of chambers, irrespective of their nationality of qualification. Most are primarily based in London and travel frequently to the region, but a small minority are located full-time in Asia Pacific – a number of leading sets have annexes in Singapore.

3 Verulam Buildings has ‘excellent regional experience in almost all sectors’. The set handles a range of matters, typically on the commercial and banking side of arbitration, including matters involving alleged fraud. Meshing well with its growing presence in Singapore, the set has particularly strong links with India. ‘It is a pleasure to deal with the clerks, who are commercially clued-in, flexible and understand client requirements.’ Steve Penson and Stuart Pullum head the ‘superb, responsive and intelligent’ clerking operation as senior practice managers, with Richard Ansell also notable.

4 Pump Courtis not only good in its at traditionally strong areas of construction, shipbuilding and energy but also very capable at handling general commercial cases involving complex legal issues’. The set, which has a presence in Hong Kong under the Pump Court International banner, is praised for ‘knowing the Chinese market and the Chinese culture’. The clerks are ‘extremely helpful and friendly – they really go out of their way to accommodate the requests of overseas clients’. Key contacts include Carl Wall, Stewart Gibbs and the ‘highly efficient’ Carolyn McCombe.

Criminal set 5 Paper Buildings includes members who have been temporarily admitted to the local Bar for major fraud cases in Hong Kong, typically for the prosecution. Dale Jones is the senior clerk.

6KBW College Hill has a long track record of criminal work in the most high-profile Hong Kong criminal cases, historically for the prosecution but also now for the defence. Andrew Barnes is a key contacting on the clerking front.

7 King's Bench Walk is active in Asia, particularly in the set’s strengths of arbitration in the commercial and shipping areas. Bernie Hyatt and Greg Leyden are the joint senior clerks, with practice development and marketing director Brian Lee particularly noteworthy for his international contacts.

20 Essex Streetis clearly very strong in the maritime area although it offers impressive strength in other practice areas across a broad spectrum of commercial interests’. The set has ‘devoted a considerable investment in establishing an office in Singapore and ensuring that members of chambers visit’. Aarron Zitver is the senior clerk.

36 Stone came in to being after the former members of Stone Chambers joined The 36 Group from Birmingham powerhouse St Philips Chambers. Shipping and commercial disputes are key areas for the set, which has premises in Singapore as well as members with close links to Hong Kong.

One of the strongest sets in Singapore’, 39 Essex Chambers is ‘an overall commercial powerhouse with a very wide selection of specialities from insurance to energy and construction’. The set also includes a number of members who accept appointments as arbitrators. The clerks ‘provide an excellent service and are very responsive’. Notable individuals include practice manager Niki Merison, who ‘invests a lot of time in developing long-term relationships built on trust’. Rod Noble, the set’s director of Asian business, is permanently based in Singapore. It also has a permanent office in Kuala Lumpur. Formerly a senior practice manager at the set, Owen Lawrence is now the CEO of the International Arbitration Centre in London.

Atkin Chambers is ‘an unrivalled top-end construction set, with standout barristers and excellent arbitrators’. Based in London, it has strong connections across the region, ranging from South East Asia through Asean and into South Korea. In the clerks’ room, David Barnes is ‘the differentiator – the best director of clerking in the business’; senior clerk Justin Wilson is ‘also a standout’.

Brick Court Chambers includes members with connections to Hong Kong. Julian Hawes is the director of clerking, while Tony Burgess and Paul Dennison are the set’s senior clerks.

Essex Court Chambers has members instructed in heavyweight commercial disputes worldwide. Several of its barristers are based out of a Singapore office under the Essex Court Chambers Duxton banner and are primarily qualified in Singapore. Toby Landau QC is the name to note. Joe Ferrigno is the set’s senior clerk following David Grief’s assumption of the role of director of international business development.

A go-to set for banking and finance disputes’, Fountain Court Chambers features barristers instructed in all manner of commercial disputes worldwide. The set has long-standing links to Singapore dating back to the 1970s, where it has had a physical presence since 2014. Caroline McConnon is the key practice management contact there, however, in London, senior clerk Alex Taylor is the name of note.

Keating Chambers is a ‘top construction and engineering set with leading barristers in the field sought after in almost all common law jurisidctions’. Its members have had a number of cases in Australia and Hong Kong, but are involved in disputes worldwide. Senior clerk Declan Redmond ‘has a tremendous and immediate knowledge of the experience and specialisations of his barristers, which is very helpful’, with deputy senior clerk Rob Cowup ‘extremely helpful and a pleasure to work with’.

Known for similar cases in London, Matrix Chambers features several members who are instructed in defending challenging and politically-charged cases in Hong Kong. Paul Venables is the key name in the criminal side of the clerks’ room.

One Essex Court is known as a heavyweight commercial set in London, and also has an office in Singapore’s Maxwell Chambers. Senior clerk Darren Burrows and deputy senior clerk Jackie Ginty are key clerking contacts in London, with Kelly Lim the key contact in Singapore.

The barristers at Quadrant Chambers are ‘far from the "prima donna", hard to work with type – especially at QC level’. It is ‘a strong set in terms of maritime law and commodity trade disputes, particularly at the senior-junior end and at the junior QC level as well’, with shipbuilding also a particular area of strength. This also crosses over into energy-related engineering disputes with acquatic elements. In the clerks’ room, the ‘excellent’Simon Slattery is ‘always working to see how the set can meet the clients’ needs; he is very proactive’, while Gary Ventura is ‘good at organising the clerks and in particular keeping in touch with instructing solicitors’.

Three Stone is well known for a range of commercial and Chancery cases, including ones with offshore elements, but also has had some involvement in Asian matters. Justin Brown is the senior clerk.

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