Legal Market Overview
Members of The English Bar remain a popular choice for law firms based in Asia Pacific (APAC) owing to their outstanding advocacy skills, in-depth legal expertise, and commercial know-how; acting as both advocates and arbitrators, many bring a truly global perspective to matters having appeared in disputes and arbitrations seated in the US, Africa, and the Middle East in addition to their extensive experience before the higher UK courts. Moreover, the names who appear in our rankings spend a significant proportion of their time on APAC-related mandates and express a willingness to immerse themselves in the local markets. Some operate full-time from Hong Kong, Singapore, and Australia, several are licensed to practice law locally while others are native speakers of, or have endeavoured to learn, Mandarin and Cantonese.
Singapore remains the most vibrant jurisdiction for international arbitration in the region, owing to the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC), to the extent that several sets, including Fountain Court Chambers, 39 Essex Chambers, and Twenty Essex, have sought to deepen their integration into the ‘Little Red Dot’ with local offices; Essex Court Chambers continues to have as a sister entity Essex Court Chambers Duxton, a Singapore law advocacy practice, which is considered separately in our coverage of Singapore.
Hong Kong, where 4 Pump Court has a second office, remains the second most active jurisdiction with the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre (HKIAC) principally hosting local and Chinese disputes. Given the current political climate, long-term uncertainties remain over the impartiality of its judicial and political systems, though for the time being, no set reported a downturn in Hong Kong-related instructions over the course of the relevant research cycle. Other centres of activity include the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (Cietac), the Korean Commercial Arbitration Board (KCAB), and to a lesser extent, the Vietnam International Arbitration Centre. Beyond locally seated disputes, a further key component of the English Bar’s engagement with Asia is its representation of Asia-based clients party to matters seated outside of the jurisdiction such as those at the International Court of Arbitration (ICC), The London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA) and of course the London courts.
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, participating sets reported no downturn of note in terms of engagement with some even describing an uptick in APAC-related mandates, both in terms of related disputes and advisory work stemming from the economic precariousness. Closed borders and discouraged international travel resulted in many hearings proceedings remotely, a process which by all accounts delivered better than expected results. Understandably, the amount of screen time involved was reported as a concern, as was the process for exhibiting evidence. Going forwards, there is a prevailing consensus that even when the world emerges from its current blight, virtual hearings will prove to be a benefit; particularly for short, one or two-day hearings, where the travel time involved can often prove to be longer than the duration of advocacy work.
3 Verulam Buildings is well-regarded for its ‘excellent counsel’ and ‘provide an in-depth knowledge of nearly all branches of law’. The set ‘has a very strong banking and financial services background’ though it also handles the full array of commercial, energy and natural resources disputes. The clerking team, which is fronted by senior clerks Stuart Pullum and Steve Penson, is praised for its ‘client-friendly and always available service’. Key jurisdictions include India, Singapore, Australia, Malaysia and Hong Kong. Offices in: London.
A set with a ‘deep bench of top-quality barristers across different sectors’, 39 Essex Chambers is home to a number of leading silks in the construction, energy, infrastructure and commercial sectors. In addition to their advocacy work, its members are acclaimed as ‘top-class arbitrators’ in Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore, where the set has an office, among other jurisdictions. Michael Kaplan and Alastair Davidson are the senior clerks, noted for their ‘very user-friendly and proactive service’. Niki Merison and Mark Winrow are the senior practice managers for commercial, construction and insurance law. In Roderick Noble, the set also has a dedicated director of Asian business, a move noted as ‘progressive’ by clients. Offices in: London, Manchester, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur.
4 Pump Court’s ‘good and experienced barristers’ undertake a mix of advocacy and arbitrator work and are highly regarded for large oil and gas infrastructure projects, commercial disputes, commodities work and the full spectrum of shipping disputes. The set has an office in Hong Kong, known as Pump Court International, though its work is also centred around Singapore, Australia and Mainland China. Instructing solicitors recommend the clerking team for its ‘excellent service and practical solutions’, singling out senior clerks Carl Wall and Stewart Gibbs as particularly helpful. Offices in: Hong Kong, London.
7 King’s Bench Walk is well-established in the insurance, admiralty, and transport space and conducts a range of arbitration across Asia Pacific. The set’s senior clerks are Bernie Hyatt and Greg Leyden. Offices in: London.
Members of Atkin Chambers are hailed by the market as ‘first-rate barristers of exceptional ability, at both QC and junior level’. The set is ‘undisputedly one of the best for construction, engineering and infrastructure’ with clients noting the ‘international reach and reputation’ of its barristers as ‘second to none’. David Barnes, the chief executive and director of clerking, is consistently advocated as a ‘pleasure to work with’, overseeing a ‘first-rate team’ of ‘professional and courteous’ individuals. Also singled out for personal recommendation is senior clerk Justin Wilson, cited for his ‘terrific and very helpful’ service. The set is well-connected across Asia, with activity Australia, China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore, India and Malaysia among others. Offices in: London.
Brick Court Chambers’ offering in Asia Pacific is centred around the market leading presence of Charles Hollander QC in the commercial disputes front. He is called to the Hong Kong Bar and is a full-time member of Temple Chambers. Paul Dennison and Tony Burgess are the joint senior clerks. Offices in: London.
Key strengths at Essex Court Chambers include dry shipping and commercial disputes, in addition to public international law matters and global arbitration. Work is spread across various jurisdictions, including India and Hong Kong, though Singapore remains a particularly vibrant market for the set owing to its dedicated Singapore law practice, known as Essex Court Chambers Duxton. Joe Ferrigno is the senior clerk. Offices in: London, Singapore.
Fountain Court Chambers is extremely well-connected and revered in Singapore, owing to a dedicated office and four decades of activity in the local market in addition to a strong track record activity of in arbitration there and in the Singapore International Commercial Court. The set also maintains an impressive presence in other key Asia Pacific jurisdictions, including Australia and India, with members serving as both advocates and arbitrators in top-of-the-range commercial, construction, energy and infrastructure mandates. Alex Taylor is the senior clerk, closely supported by his deputies Katie Szewczyk and Sian Huckett. Singapore-based Caroline McConnon serves as the dedicated practice manager for Asia. Offices in: London, Singapore.
Keating Chambers, a ‘market leading set for construction, energy and infrastructure, is noted by instructing solicitors as being home to ‘a large number of leading silks and a number of talented juniors’. Members serve as both counsel and arbitrators and operate across the entirety of the Asia Pacific region, making regular appearances at ICC, LCIA, SIAC, HKIAC and KLRCA arbitrations. The clerking team is hailed as ‘second to none’ with director of clerking, Declan Redmond, frequently highlighted as ‘excellent’. Offices in: London.
Monckton Chambers‘ Thomas Sebastian is called to the Indian Bar and plays an active role in the local commercial disputes market. David Hockney is the senior clerk, supported by deputy John Keegan. Offices in: London.
One Essex Court has an office in Singapore, overseen by clerk Kelly Lim. Project-related disputes in the natural resource, offshore, energy and infrastructure sectors are key areas of activity in Asia. Darren Burrows serves as senior clerk, supported by deputy Jackie Ginty. Offices in: London, Singapore.
An ‘immediate go-to chambers for energy, natural resources disputes, Quadrant Chambers provides the Asia Pacific market with ‘a fantastic set of barristers who understand client needs and work well as a team’. The set is also active in the commercial disputes arena and enjoys a formidable reputation for shipping matters, with one client noting that ‘there is no better chambers when it comes to extremely high-value maritime and commodities matters’. Joint senior clerks Gary Ventura and Simon Slattery ‘are very quick to respond and are incredibly helpful in sourcing availability’. Their team is praised for its ‘modern’ approach and ‘genuine efforts to look after solicitors’. Offices in: London.
The 36 Group fields a dedicated practice for shipping and international trade labelled 36 Stone. Leveraging its office in Singapore and reputed presence in Hong Kong, among other jurisdictions, members serve as both advocates and arbitrators. Director of clerking Paul Martenstyn joined in June 2020 from Vannin Capital, and Mike Wright is another leading clerk for Asia Pacific-related matters. Offices in: London, Singapore, Cyprus.
Twenty Essex is a go-to set for dry shipping and commodities-related disputes, hosting several of the market’s leading barristers. Its members act on both Asia Pacific hosted arbitrations and UK-based disputes. The workload is spread across a broad geographical footprint, including Singapore, where the set has an office in Maxwell Chambers. Rachel Foxton is the business development director for Asia Pacific with Christopher Theobald, Anthony Carroll and Arron Zitver serving as practice directors. Offices in: London, Singapore.
Wilberforce Chambers recently bolstered its presence in Asia Pacific owing to the arrival of Stuart Isaacs QC from King & Spalding LLP. He acts as both an arbitrator and advocate and is particularly active in Singapore. Mark Rushton is the head practice manager. Offices in: London.