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SUITE D5, 3RD FLOOR, MUKTI BHABAN, 21/1 PURANA PALTAN, DHAKA1000, BANGLADESH
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Work +880 2 956 1540
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Fax +88 02 956 1476
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www.as-associates.net

A.S.A Bari , Managing Partner

A.S.A Bari, Managing Partner of A.S & Associates and an Advocate of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh describes the growth of corporate legal services in Bangladesh and explains how his firm, A.S & Associates, is emerging as a leader in the corporate sector within Bangladesh and beyond.

What do you see as the main points that differentiate A.S & Associates from your competitors?

What sets A.S & Associates apart from its peers and competitors is the mindset of the chamber towards the legal profession. Traditional practice in Bangladesh is still dominated by litigation lawyers, who strongly believe that litigation is the only legal tool. The concept of using any of the alternative dispute resolution mechanisms as an effective solution is still alien to the majority of the lawyers and law firms. A.S & Associates, although offers litigation related services, believes that litigation is and should be the last resort for the clients. Our clients often benefit immensely from this distinguishing feature of A.S & Associates and are appreciative of the time and cost-saving initiatives of the chamber.

The distinction in the method of work will be evident from the documentations of A.S & Associates, if compared against the leading litigation based law firms in Bangladesh. The documentations of the majority of the law firms in Bangladesh follow the traditional approach and often done with the view that, if and when any dispute will arise, the matter will be settled in the court. In contrast, A.S & Associates often work with the parties at the documentation stage, providing them with an in-depth understanding of the possible pitfalls and facilitate discussion between the parties to have a mutually agreed remedy for such situations, which are then captured in the agreement. From our experience, we have seen that the parties are likely to have better business relationship if they have had the chance of contemplating possibly troubling issues of future before entering into the relation and mutually agreed to a solution in writing. A.S & Associates facilitates these discussions between the parties at all times. In fact, these consultations, whether in form of meetings or telephone calls, are provided free of cost to our clients for adding further value.   

Furthermore, the traditional practitioners in Bangladesh are also unfamiliar with the notion of corporate practice and/or corporate law firm. However, being an emerging economy, Bangladesh is now gradually becoming a popular destination for the local and foreign investors, looking for a different breed of lawyers capable of providing them corporate legal advice in the context of the global market. A.S & Associates provides exactly that and is specialised in the various sectors of corporate matters.

Also, in contrast to the leading law firms of Bangladesh, which are mainly ‘one man show’ ventures, A.S & Associates has adopted a structure that resembles the structure of a company and has different dedicated departments, led by individual partners, supported by his/her team. Rather than having a group of generalists, at A.S & Associates, we have a group of specialists providing specialised services to our clients. Through this mechanism, not only do we provide a better service to our clients, we facilitate the career development of our associates, which in turn strengthens our professional capacity and standard.

As per our knowledge, A.S & Associates in the only law firm in Bangladesh which has a chamber governance framework document. The governance framework, inter alia, details the mission and vision statement, code of conduct, financial management strategy, work distribution policy, performance management and development scheme. Monitoring and evaluation process, promotion and career path guidelines, leave and bonus policy, salary and commission structure, client relation and business development plan and grievance redressal mechanism. 

We, at A.S & Associates, believe that the legal profession is a customer service oriented business and accordingly we focus on providing client satisfaction and value for money. These features clearly set us apart from our peers and competitors in the market.

Which practices do you see growing in the next 12 months? What are the drivers behind that?

In Bangladesh, the fastest growing practice area is project financing and investment as the economy is enlarging with a stable government in power. According to the IMF, the Bangladeshi economy is projected to grow from $180 billion to $322 billion by 2021.

High-growth domestic markets, government support, lower valuations of takeover targets and ready access to capital have provided unprecedented opportunities for investors all across the world to explore new markets in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is already one of the leading FDI targets in the Asia Pacific region. In the last six years, net FDI inflows
into Bangladesh have been growing enormously, hitting over $2.2 billion in 2015. China alone, as per the Chinese ambassador to Bangladesh, is planning to increase the Chinese FDI in Bangladesh by 50% in the coming years. Inevitably, this means that the corporate financing, investment deals and significant numbers of associated joint ventures, merger and acquisitions are going to be busiest sectors in Bangladesh in the next few years.

In particular, considerable portion of the investment would be in the energy and power sector. The government has given highest priority to power sector development in Bangladesh and is committed to making electricity available to all citizens by 2021. In this connection, the government has initiated implementing reform measures in the power sector, including significant development programs. As on April 2016, total installed generation capacity was 12,339 MW including 6,440 MW in the public sector and 5899 Megawatt in the private sector. The government has prepared the Power System Master Plan to realise its vision for the Bangladesh power sector. According to the plan, installed capacity will rise to 30,000 MW by the year 2021. Therefore, it is our contention that the energy and power sector would grow rapidly as well in the next few years.
In addition to that, within the firm, the Admiralty practice area and the practice area of corporate governance and compliance are likely to grow rapidly. The admiralty practice area within the firm would grow because Ms. Farhana Khan, Barrister-at-law and Advocate of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh has recently joined the firm as a partner. She is an expert of admiralty matters and with plans of opening of a branch of A.S & Associates at Chittagong, the commercial capital of Bangladesh, which is also a port city, the volume of work in this area would increase significantly.
The same is true for the corporate governance and compliance sector. With foreign investments, joint ventures and increasing M&A's taking place, the way local companies do business will change, requiring robust mechanism for better internal control. We have noticed a steady growth in demand for legal experts in this sector and accordingly it is predicted that this particular practice area would grow in the coming years.

What's the main change you've made in the firm that will benefit clients?

As stated above, A.S & Associates, while fully capable of running litigations, always prefers different ADR mechanisms. This different approach of the firm, compared to the traditional practice in the country, has benefited the clients immensely. Also, to facilitate the clients, we have introduced the free client conferencing mechanism, allowing them to take advice from the firm before making any decision. This is extremely beneficial for the clients as the they will be making prudent business decisions that are legally safe.

Is technology changing the way you interact with your clients, and the services you can provide them?

Most definitely, the changes introduced by the advance technology are changing the way we interact with our clients and the value we can add. The lawyers of the firm are easily and readily accessible through the internet. We are participating in board meetings and/or important business meeting of different companies remotely, providing the safety net of prudent legal advice. Furthermore, with the business going global, modern technology is allowing us to gathering information that we are providing to the clients for giving the global perspective.

Can you give us a practical example of how you have helped a client to add value to their business?

Through different interactions with one of the leading donor-driven international organisations in Bangladesh, which is engaged in the public health sector, we realised that the organisation requires a complete turnaround in the way it operates its legal department. We noticed that the organisation, with an annual budget of $75 million and signing more than 500 contracts per year, is working with one in-house expat lawyer, who was only working with managing contracts. With significant tightening of donor requirements for funding, especially in terms of legal compliance, processes and procedures and fiscal practice, we nominated one our partners, Mr. Ferdausur Rahman, Barrister-at-Law, to work with them, not only for providing legal support but for setting up their first ever functional regulatory and legal affairs department. Through the nominated partner and his team, we introduced a complete system for internal control of the organisation as required by the donors. Of course the project required significant input and modification in the finance and oversight and internal audit department of the organisation, but we played a central role in the transition. The expat counsel, who in any case required support from local external lawyers regularly, was replaced with a fully functional legal team. However, to add optimum value, this was done without increasing cost for the organisation as local experts were available for lower cost. By the time the project ended in April 2016, we were able to add value to the client by setting and managing their regulatory and legal department for a year; by helping them with recruiting a new head of the department; drafting, revising, benchmarking multiple policy and process documents; providing them with a functional regulatory framework and checklist for monitoring compliance; by introducing new system of legal review process etc. Furthermore, due to our expertise, we were able to provide them support with legal audits, embedded with their regular internal audit system. As the concept of legal audits is relatively rare in Bangladesh, the client has benefited immensely. 

Are clients looking for stability and strategic direction from their law firms? - where do you see the firm in three years time?

Yes, with the change in the trend, lawyers are gradually becoming counselors of the corporate entities, rather than being the troubleshooters in case of legal proceedings. As described above in the example, clients are expecting the law firms and lawyers to provide them counseling with day to day business decisions and transactions. From our experience, we can confirm that the issues corporate entities are now raising are more strategic in nature and related to internal control and compliance.

In thee next three years, we would like to make A.S & Associates as one of the top three corporate firms of Bangladesh and to become a global brand, with particular focus on the global south. Also, in next three years we would like to open at least another branch outside of Dhaka and grow our A.S & Associate network within Bangladesh and beyond.

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