Interview with: Suhan Khan, Managing Partner

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Mr. Suhan Khan, Managing Partner of Accord Chambers, in a detailed interview talks about how the firm stands out in Bangladesh, their recent key engagements, robust changes and his aspirations to transform his law firm into a business solution firm of the future.

What do you see as the main points that differentiate Accord Chambers from your competitors?

What differentiates Accord Chambers from the rest are the innovative and practical business centric approach of our vastly experienced members, the well-proven capability to do the unorthodox and our ability and first-hand experience of pulling off large-scale projects that are truly first of its kinds for Bangladesh.

 

Members of Accord Chambers are its best asset and its competitive edge lead by partners with 20+ years of individual experience in diverse practice areas. We are a “firm” in a true sense having a “team” driven by multiple partners guiding separate specialist departments unlike most traditional law firms of Bangladesh having an individual-centric practice. The firm’s key objective behind building up a team with such diversity is to ensure that we have available for our clients the right lawyer with the right expertise in the right place at the right time. After all, the consummation of a transaction or deal in today’s world almost always requires mobilizing a combination of varying sets of skills, expertise and experience. Accord Chambers is just about that.

 

Foreign corporations frequently need more than plain legal advice, whether they are entering the Bangladesh market for the first time, continuing businesses or engaging in piecemeal transactions or project execution. They need a “reliable partner” that offers full service “complete legal solutions”, and that is what is engraved in our firm motto. The core ethos of Accord Chambers is to not confine itself within the tenets of conventional law firms in Bangladesh but to take a step beyond: advance a complete one-stop package for its clients to address all concerns in the corporate and commercial context. In the premises, the firm advises not only on mainstream legal affairs, including litigation and dispute resolution but also on investments, transactions, business strategies and operations from the perspective of Bangladeshi laws and regulations.

 

It is because of these reasons Accord Chambers has undergone phenomenal growth and has reached where it stands today. Accord Chambers currently works in close collaboration with top-tier international law firms in the UK, Singapore, China, UAE, Hong Kong and India, which makes Accord Chambers a local law firm with global outlook meeting international standards. We also represent multiple European corporations, leading oil & gas corporations in the United Arab Emirates, Singapore and Bangladesh, major insurance underwriters in Malaysia, major commodities supplier in Australia, several global MNCs as well as the largest group of companies of Bangladesh. All these give us a solid standing in Bangladesh’s legal market over and above others.

What have been the significant engagements of Accord Chambers in the last one year that demonstrates the firm’s solid standing in the Bangladesh legal market?

 
Accord Chambers has played a leading role in the consummation of significant transactions and projects in the last year including few projects having national importance and that are first of its kind for the country. I can therefore confidently make a bold statement that very few law firms in Bangladesh have actually been involved in so many large-scale construction and infrastructure projects, numerous foreign investment facilitation and M&A transactions to the scale that matches that of our specialist Corporate, Transactional and M&A Department.
 
We have acted as the lead counsel in the establishment of Bangladesh’s first private sector bitumen plant involving project cost of US$200 million and is also the country’s largest. We are currently advising Bangladesh’s largest private oil and gas company in the construction of the US$ 1.25 billion mega-oil refinery project, which also involves the largest syndicated financing in Bangladesh’s banking history involving twenty-four public and private banks. Accord Chambers has been recently instructed to undertake complete legal documentation for a US$ 1 billion petrochemical complex unit and to carry out legal, due diligence for the construction of a multipurpose port project in Bangladesh. The firm has also advised on EPC contracts for the construction of a new cement plant in Bangladesh by a Danish engineering company and extension of an existing cement plant by a German company. We are also advising in a railway project of Bangladesh Railway. It gives me the confidence to claim ourselves to be the pioneer law firm in the oil, gas & energy practice as well as the infrastructure and construction practice of Bangladesh.
 
We also have a solid M&A practice. Accord Chambers has advised a US corporation in the acquisition of major Bangladeshi tech company and is currently facilitating a Swedish joint venture investment project in Bangladesh. It has also acted in the acquisition of a 54.5 MW HFO fired power plant and is presently advising for the construction of multiple IPP power projects. The firm is also advising a Netherlands based venture capital firm with its frequent investments in Bangladesh. It is further acting as the legal partners for several MNCs and INGOs advising with legal, tax and regulatory compliance in Bangladesh, including labour and employment law compliances.
 
The Admiralty & Dispute Resolution Department of Accord Chambers, which is a separate specialist wing, has acted as legal counsels in several major domestic litigations as well as local and international arbitrations. We have successfully represented a French corporation in an international construction arbitration before the ICC International Court of Arbitration in Singapore. This year alone, we have acted as legal counsels for local businesses in three separate international commercial arbitrations before GAFTA, London. Accord Chambers continues to represent clients based in Singapore, Switzerland, UAE and Malaysia in shipping matters, commercial disputes and contentious admiralty suits.
 

The credit of all these, however, goes to our distinguished clients who have entrusted us with such major projects and high-stake matters. I also acknowledge my hardworking teams who happily go the extra mile to ensure timely delivery and client satisfaction.

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

Bangladesh has undergone phenomenal economic growth in the last decade and has become one of Asia’s most remarkable success stories with unprecedented GDP growth of above 8%. With this growth, the practices I see growing in this legal market include the oil, gas & energy practice, FDI facilitation, infrastructure & construction practices and the project finance practice.

 

The correlation between economic growth and the Human Development Index with energy consumption is an established phenomenon. That is why I anticipate the oil, gas and energy practice growing in the coming days. While per capita energy consumption of Bangladesh was one of the lowest in the world, the recent economic growth generally and the power generation revolution in the private sector, in particular, have resulted in the demand to climb gradually. Energy security will, therefore, be a key if Bangladesh is to retain its high growth and achieve its Vision-2021, Vision-2041 and Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The petroleum sector is currently highly import-dependent. Our government aims at minimizing dependency and is encouraging private investments in this sector.

 

Moreover, a notable influx of FDIs is being witnessed primarily due to our recent political stability and a multitude of reforms to provide an extraordinary investment climate. Today, Bangladesh is an excellent destination to establish manufacturing units for export-oriented sectors; thanks to its competitive work-force, low wage, duty-free market access, substantial local consumer market, custom bond facilities, and Special Economic Zone and Export Processing Zones. Newly established industrial units enjoy lucrative tax holidays, benefits and exemptions. Foreign investors not only enjoy equal treatment like the local investors but are secured by laws against nationalization and expropriation. 100% foreign equity is allowed with no restriction on repatriation of investments at the exit. These are the key drivers behind alluring foreign investors to invest in Bangladesh. Law firms in Bangladesh will, therefore, continue to see a sharp rise in the demand for FDI facilitation and business set-up services.

 

Furthermore, anyone visiting Bangladesh will notice the countrywide ongoing infrastructure projects while many are in the pipeline. Construction of numerous heavy industries is also anticipated. These are the key drivers for infrastructure and construction practices to undergo rapid growth.  Moreover, I firmly believe that businesses and projects will increasingly become dependent on international project financings. COVID-19 pandemic may give rise to a liquidity crunch in an already fragile banking sector of the country. Cross-border project finance will, therefore, be on the rise and law firms will have to cater to such demands.

 

Lastly, I can expect a rather unwelcome growth in the dispute resolution practice, including arbitration and litigations, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. We have witnessed unprecedented lockdowns across the world, including Bangladesh. Current lockdowns are extraordinarily impacting businesses and supply chains. Manufacturing processes are in halt, the supply of goods and services are being delayed, construction and infrastructure projects are going to be delayed, and the list goes on. In other words, parties to legal agreements will inevitably be in default of contractual obligations, financing prerequisites and timelines for performance. Consequently, they will seek to renegotiate, suspend or even end their contractual arrangements. As a result, what we will most certainly witness is a plethora of legal disputes culminating in thousands of litigations and arbitrations.

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

We are witnessing the most challenging times for businesses and law firms. In these difficult times, change is the order of the day, and this is the new normal with which one either adopts or ceases to exist. Keeping this in mind, we have taken some very bold actions during COVID-19 lockdowns and expanded our team at a time when our competitors are either reducing its sizes or maintaining the status quo. As we anticipate change in the manner projects may be financed in the future, we have strengthened the firm’s Project Finance practice team. It is lead by a recent inclusion of the former Head of Legal of one of Bangladesh’s largest financial institutions, who brings to the firm his 13 years of rich experience in the banking and finance sector.  We have also expanded our regulatory compliance and dispute resolution teams with bright legal minds. All these are to ensure that our clients get fullest supports in the post-COVID-19 days and so that we can firmly stand by their side during its aftermath.

 

Furthermore, we are transforming our Client Services Management and Business Development departments through the inclusion of experienced professionals with outstanding track records. We are confident that these robust and unorthodox changes in the Bangladesh context will largely benefit our clients and ensure satisfactory client experience as well as the continued growth of Accord Chambers.

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

Our firm structure not only supports but encourages and requires collaboration, co-operation and collegiality within our members, and ensure proximity, good rapport and frequent interactions with our clients so that clients are on top of things. We have thus embraced innovations within our law firm and implemented technological solutions in 2018. The drive was predominantly aimed at facilitating digital transformation and cloud collaboration amongst our members to increase our efficiency and cater needs of our clients beyond borders while also ensuring data protection and GDPR compliance for the firm. We have already enjoyed fruits of these changes during the unprecedented lockdown amid COVID-19 pandemic as we did not have to change or adapt to cloud computing and collaboration suddenly or drastically. Unlike most law practices in Bangladesh who have been adhering to traditional practice structure, we remain firmly committed to transforming Accord Chambers to a law firm of the future.

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

Yes, clients need more than just lawyers and legal services. They often look for practical advice and strategic inputs for its respective boards to make business decisions in the context of the Bangladesh market. It demands that we understand and speak the business language rather than just legalese, and also that we come up with innovative solutions and structuring ideas for transactions. You have to become more of a business solutions firm and embrace changes with open arms.

 

In three years, we aspire to become not just the largest law firm in Bangladesh but also the leading law firm. We remain firmly committed to embrace innovative technologies and blend it with our expertise and experiences to serve larger clientele more effectively and efficiently. Accord Chambers is one of the very few law firms in Bangladesh that works in close association with international law firms. I want to expand such synergy and follow the footsteps of the CEOs and leaders of some of the world’s largest law firms who continue to inspire me by the fashion they have transformed their practices in the global context.