If Australia is to make the most of the "Asian century” then firms should take note of how Minter Ellison is establishing a presence in Asia.
After 20 years operating a practice in Hong Kong and 12 in Shanghai, Minter is pushing quickly to expand its North Asian offerings. Two years ago it opened another office in Beijing and six months ago hung up its shingle in Ulan Bator, Mongolia.
"Our North Asian revenues have doubled in the past two years” says chief executive partner, John Weber. He cites Minter’s relative advantage in handling mining and energy deals. "There is a huge amount of international competition in China” Weber says, "so you have to be very clear on what it is you intend to do”.
Weber credits his firm’s success in Asia to a lot of hard working building up relationships over a long period of time. That requires a lot of face to face meetings where the nuances of cultural differences can be understood.
Under Weber, Minter has implemented a ‘one-firm’ strategy where the best legal advisor is placed onto a team, regardless of where associates call home. For an independent law firm competing with global majors, that affords them the opportunity to pitch to big clients without having to demonstrate fully stocked local offices.
While that does mean a lot of time on planes for partners and associates, technological advances are beginning to make huge inroads into the way firms like Minter Ellison provide their services.
Chief information officer, Peter Westerveld, is in charge of implementing the technical change at Minter.
"The whole mobility aspect is a change agent for how lawyers work. The quality of the telepresence is so immersive…” he says " that we can offer the best expertise to a client and that expertise can be in any of our offices whether it’s international or in Australia.”
That applies not only to client interactions but also to the way associates work together. Travel costs are reduced, as are the opportunity costs of time spent on the road. And work is also being done to automate processes and improve the way lawyers collaborate on documents.
Click here to see an interview with Peter Westerveld on how technology is changing the legal profession.
In response to the rapid growth in Asian clients looking to invest in Australian mineral assets, either through direct foreign investment or merger and acquisition, Minter Ellison is contemplating opening another office in Singapore. Chief executive partner, John Weber seems to have found that his ‘One-Firm’ policy is working nicely in handling the increased volume of deals without putting too much pressure on staffing costs.
It’s a fascinating test case for how Australian companies can leverage domestic expertise in growth markets abroad.
There is no doubt that human relationships are critical for winning new business, particularly in Asian markets where relationships are so important.
But if Minter Ellison and others are able to use technology to optimise the use of highly skilled Australian workers (who don't have to leave home as often) then it could be a model for many of this country’s knowledge industries.