Interview with: Benjamin Hirasawa, Founder and Managing Director
BH2I | View firm profile
Founder and Managing Partner Benjamin Hirasawa details how BH2I’s innovation results in superior value and service to corporate, real estate and hospitality clients in the Asia Pacific region.
What do you see as the main points that differentiate BH2I from your competitors?
BH2I’s lean business model, which features attorneys with large law firm pedigrees and proven market reputations and a hybrid bricks-and-mortar/virtual law firm structure, is genetically engineered to provide the APAC markets with greater value for legal services. BH2I brings the experience and reputation of big law firms to a lean business model to provide best-in-class legal services at far more competitive rates. We actively seek and implement alternative fee arrangements that are superior to competitor billing structures.
Uncompromising ethical decision making, integrity, diversity, respect for our clients, colleagues, communities and profession and always putting the client’s best interests first are not only distinguishing characteristics; they are the core values of our firm.
BH2I uses market leading, secure, cloud-based practice management and AI legal software technology to provide comprehensive, efficient and scalable performance managed solutions for work requirements that are time-sensitive or carry significant risk if not executed correctly. Each instruction is staffed by the appropriate number of fee earners with the correct level of experience for the matter at hand regardless of size or complexity; this client-centric and results-focused approach ensures senior level availability and input when required, and results in on-time and on-budget delivery of services to our clients.
We are deal-makers, not deal-breakers. BH2I’s cohesive core team has decades of experience working together and a proven track record of delivering successful and efficient results for clients in the Asia Pacific region and
beyond. We use this experience and approach to find new and better ways of solving challenges and moving past transaction impasses. Our attentive promptness ensures clients’ transactions move forward; our industry knowledge of deal structures and region-wide market expertise keeps them from leaving money on the table or exposing them to unnecessary risk. Anyone can assess risk or state a position; we find solutions for our clients and get deals done.
Which practices do you see growing in the next 12 months? What are the drivers behind that?
While the real estate, corporate and hospitality markets will continue to see high levels of activity, the tail end of an expanding economic cycle and COVID19 will affect the level of foreign direct investment and the prevalence and frequency of certain types of transactions.
The above, together with debt currently being relatively inexpensive and available, will combine for the markets to see an increase of M&A activity and acquisitions and dispositions of a wide variety of assets and businesses. We are already witnessing an uptick in distressed debt and asset transactions and corporate reorganizations. BH2I’s consultancy arm is quite active, as many investors and existing asset owners are seeking strategic advice on asset management and positioning of portfolios in connection with acquisitions, dispositions, repositionings or refinancings.
Clients have increasing been seeking advice from BH2I’s dispute resolution practice over the last several months; we focus on finding cost-efficient solutions and creative workouts rather than advising clients to run for the nearest arbitration tribunal or court, which more often than not benefits only the lawyers involved as opposed to the parties involved in the dispute. We are often able to resolve disputes through our intricate knowledge of specific industries, deal structures, business drivers and individual markets that can be leveraged to find solutions that benefit both parties.
Another area in which we are witnessing rapid growth is in-house counsel outsourcing. We use AI legal technology, automated contracting and flexible manpower solutions to find creative solutions for our clients to outsource workstreams and address their needs during uncertain times when nimbleness, preservation of cash flow and reduction of operating costs are primary considerations for many businesses. Our team often acts as de-facto general counsel and an extension of clients’ in-house development and legal teams during in-house restructuring, or on an ad-hoc basis to accommodate bursts in activity or periods of uneven workflow.
What’s the main change you’ve made in the firm that will benefit clients?
We have unmercifully trimmed the fat of cumbersome large law firm systems and inflexible management models that do not safeguard the clients’ best interests.
Our primary focus on the industries of the core businesses of our key clients, nimble hybrid structure and carefully selected flexible affiliate network eliminates unnecessary overhead and referrals to unqualified practitioners who lack the requisite specialized experienced or are otherwise not appropriate for the matter. BH2I will never put forth a litigator to run a transaction. BH2I hourly rates will never include amounts allocated for salaries of regional or global management that don’t understand the client’s business or the transaction at hand. Representation of long standing clients will never be sacrificed due to conflicts with a firm attorney in another continent that does not practice in the sector. Clients will never be overcharged, or an alternative fee arrangement request denied, due to internal pressure to hit billing targets that are artificially high due to bloated overhead for departments or infrastructure that do not benefit our clients and their businesses.
BH2I appropriately staffs matters, and guarantees Partner involvement and personal attention to transactions at cost-efficient rates. In particular, COVID19 has been the impetus many of our private equity clients to shift work to BH2I; the pandemic has assisted BH2I demonstrate that our business model and firm offers efficiency and production of world-class work product that ultimately results in significantly greater value, benefit and satisfaction for our clients when compared to our international competitors.
Is technology changing the way you interact with your clients, and the services you can provide them?
Intelligent use of technology is an integral part of BH2I and a key part of our service delivery to clients. The hybrid virtual structure of BH2I allows us to greatly expand our geographical reach outside of our headquarters in Singapore and Thailand for our clients by having fee earners qualified, and physically residing, in different countries who are part of our firm and fully integrated into our systems without the expense of office overhead in these virtual jurisdictions.
We have fully embraced and invested in AI legal software which offers tremendous efficiency and cost savings in e-discovery and conducting due diligence for M&A and asset business acquisitions and dispositions, which our private equity clients have found especially useful. We also offer automated contracting and white label cloud-based dedicated client interface portals where our clients can access key know-how, document templates and other important information that is unique to their organization.
Can you give us a practical example of how you have helped a client to add value to their business?
BH2I fee earners were engaged to assist a global hotel operating company acquire a regional operator that involved the acquisition of several dozen hotels located in 4 continents. During previous similar transactions, this client used larger magic circle law firms to handle all aspects of the acquisition, but realized they needed counsel that had specialized knowledge of their hospitality business and the unique characteristics of the individual jurisdictions in which the hotels were located.
The AI document review software we employed during our due diligence review not only reduced the time and cost of the instruction for the client, but also enabled us to identify several deficiencies in the hotel management and branded residence documentation that significantly impacted valuation of these particular assets, and that would pose problems when integrating the acquired assets into our client’s processes and systems post-acquisition. As a result, the client was able to negotiate a significant purchase price reduction with the seller that greatly exceeded the cost of our engagement.
Following the closing of the acquisition, we reviewed the integration processes of this client, suggested alternatives to minimize the impact of the deficiencies identified above, assisted in rolling out corresponding changes to their existing cluster sales operation and modified their template development agreements to reduce the risk, cost and expense of similar problems happening in the future during subsequent acquisitions, which gave this client a competitive advantage against other companies vying for similar assets. These transactional structures insulated the client against risk but were still deal friendly enough to get transactions closed and win pitches against their competitors.
As often happens, a similar issue subsequently arose with this client involving an owner of a hotel that was being threatened with a third party lawsuit from a branded residence purchaser. We were able to point to the transactional protections in the document that relived both the owner of the hotel and our client of any liability. The hotel owner was delighted with the result, and subsequently signed a new deal with our operator client for a 4
hotel portfolio transaction in key gateway locations that will result in several million dollars of additional revenue for our client annually for the next 15 years.
Are clients looking for stability and strategic direction from their law firms – where do you see the firm in three years’ time?
Absolutely. There is no substitute for comprehensively understanding clients’ businesses, industries and the markets in which they operate, especially in the hospitality, real estate and corporate sectors.
Having a proven track record of successfully guiding clients through different business cycles, and expansion into new business lines and markets gives them the confidence that an attorney or firm is an advisor that can be trusted with their core business. Clients know that our decades of experience in representing many industry leaders throughout Asia in their particular sector enables us to provide advice and offer innovative solutions to solve business challenges that result in successful outcomes for “bet the business” strategic decisions, especially in unchartered waters or frontier markets. In many instances, the need for strategic direction and the clients’ confidence and trust that we can deliver with the proper guidance is the very reason they engage BH2I.
Most of our client relationships are long standing and have been in place for over a decade; they have been nurtured over the years by a meticulous level of personal attention and detail born out of a sincere desire for the clients to succeed personally and professionally. The ongoing and increasing strength of these interpersonal relationships is evidence that we value our clients and always put their best interests first, which is a core value of our firm.
Regarding BH2I’s position in 3 years’ time and potential expansion, our carefully vetted network of trusted colleagues throughout the Asia Pacific region has already been selected and integrated into our firm; we will continue to refine this network as necessary, as we mandate working with like-minded individuals who share our commitment to ethical decision making, diversity and respect for our clients, colleagues and profession. Sacrificing adherence to these principles for expansion is not an option; we are extremely selective in both our internal hires and external clients with integrity, intelligence and energy being of primary importance. We are fortunate to be in the position of having already gone through the laborious process of compiling an extensive network of practitioners with the proper mindset to serve our clients in the Asia Pacific region and beyond; completion of this process was the primary catalyst for the timing of BH2I’s launch and we will continue to be guided by these principles in the future to concentrate on our existing client base and industry sectors.
In 3 years, I see BH2I as having an additional exceptional track record of achieving successful outcomes for our clients in the corporate, real estate and hospitality sectors throughout all of the Asia Pacific region built by an unwavering focus on the firm’s distinguishing characteristics and values mentioned above. BH2I’s integrity, nimble hybrid structure, flexible rate structures and innovative mindset will be a marketplace model for client satisfaction and providing tremendous value for legal services.