Asia: an exciting place to be a lawyer

Global law firm Clifford Chance's Head of Asia, Peter Charlton, tells The Gateway why
Commercial awareness

The world's changing. The world's moving east." So says Clifford Chance's Head of Asia, Peter Charlton, who thinks Asia is the most exciting place to be a lawyer in the world right now. He's clearly enjoying taking charge of a key part of the firm's global network. Speaking from his base at the firm's Hong Kong office, he describes how Asia's economies are driving global growth. Why? Sixty per cent of the world's population is currently living in Asia and the continent produces a fifth of global GDP. Asia's rising economic influence is largely down to China; thanks to its increasing population and industrial output, the nation overtook Japan in summer 2010 to become the world's second largest economy, and looks set to knock the US off the top spot within the next 15 years. But markets right across Asia are booming: analysts have also highlighted Bangladesh, Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan, South Korea, Turkey, Vietnam, and particularly India, as nations with potential for significant economic growth.

Why are business lawyers looking to Asia?

What does growth in Asia mean for global law firms like Clifford Chance? Peter tells us that �Clifford Chance is about helping business to do business - and there's a lot of business to be done in Asia." Some of the world's leading corporate powers, such as Chinese IT firm Lenovo and Indian conglomerate Tata Group, are Asian, and this continent is where many of the leading corporations of the future are blossoming - in five to ten years' time, 25 per cent of the top 500 companies in the world will be based here, which means there's no shortage of work for firms like Clifford Chance. As Peter explains, Clifford Chance's lawyers in Asia are enabling companies and financial institutions to �acquire things, sell things, invest in things or finance investments in things" by offering advice on corporate law, mergers and acquisitions, raising funds, tax, intellectual property, employment matters, competition regulation or dispute resolution - and more. �If you want to be a lawyer in the business world" says Peter, �Asia's the place to be."

The current pace of commercial activity in Asia reflects the way in which it has emerged from the global financial crisis in much better shape than other markets. While the US and European economies floundered, the Asian economy has stayed robust - standards of living continue to rise and many Asian nations, particularly China, have been able to accumulate large dollar reserves. Peter tells us: �All practice areas are pretty busy here, even M&A, which took a big downturn during the global financial crisis and has slowed down worldwide, but has continued in Asia." He goes on to explain why many think Asia's economies have proved to be healthier than those elsewhere: while the pre-2007 boom in Europe and America was driven around �very liquid financial markets", Asia's prosperity has been built on �hard assets paid for with hard money, not with borrowed money - they haven't got addicted to leverage as the West did."

Why is Clifford Chance well placed to take advantage of the Asian boom?

Peter's first response is simple: �We're very good at what we do!" - which is confirmed by high rankings across the board from Chambers and Partners and other guides to the legal profession in Asia. He explains that Clifford Chance offers its clients the advantages of a broad network of offices across the continent - the firm has bases in all the well established centres of Asian commerce such as Hong Kong and Singapore, plus presences in locations of growing significance like Bangkok and Shanghai, and a practice focused on Indian work. The firm's clients can also benefit from the breadth of the firm's expertise: �We can help clients right across the range of issues they face as they're trying to do transactions", says Peter. Finally: �We're nice people! We have a laugh and clients enjoy working with us."

What could growth in Asia mean for me?

Clifford Chance exposes its graduate recruits as much as possible to the international dimensions of the work that the firm undertakes - and around 80 per cent of trainees get the chance to spend six months in an overseas office. Peter invites Gateway readers to come to Clifford Chance and to turn eastwards: �We have a number of trainee seats in Asia and I would encourage you all to look closely at this option." Join Clifford Chance and you could be jetting off to Dubai, Hong Kong, Qatar, Tokyo, Saudi Arabia or Singapore. There's attractions for graduates in going to Asia beyond the continent's economic potential - Peter explains that working in the region can offer trainees a valuable complement to working for the firm in London. Being in one of Clifford Chance's Asian offices can mean exposure to challenging work, direct contact with clients and the chance to learn from colleagues of various nationalities and from other legal backgrounds to your own. As Peter says: �Being here gives you a quite different view on the world - it's an exciting place to build a career as a lawyer."

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