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Big Four's EY Law Has Big Plans in Asia

EY Sign

EY offices / Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM

The legal arm of Big Four accounting giant EY has spent the past 12 months building up legal offerings across Asia.

It is not finished.

The accounting giant, which has emphasized the region's two primary markets of Hong Kong and Singapore, is now looking to broaden its reach in Southeast Asia. It also plans to add a strong technology practice.

It already has momentum. Over the past year, it added at least 10 lawyers to its associate law firm in Hong Kong, while in Singapore it launched a new local law practice.

“We have put together a team of exceptional lawyers,” said Dmitry Tetiouchev, EY Law's Singapore-based Asia-Pacific leader.

Dmitry Tetiouchev

The rest of the Big Four also made significant pushes in Hong Kong, but EY sets itself apart by poaching established teams from Am Law 100 firms. In 2018, the firm, then known as Lin and Associates, recruited a four-lawyer team from Troutman Sanders, including mergers and acquisitions partner Rossana Chu and energy consultant Lynia Lau.

It later rebranded as LC Lawyers with Chu as managing partner. It added a disputes practice by hiring a five-member team from Dechert led by partner Kareena Teh. And the latest coup came this year when the firm hired Paul Hastings capital markets duo Bonnie Yung and Jason Wang.

Now, LC Lawyers is on the lookout to add a broad technology practice that will do everything from data privacy to tech-related M&As, Tetiouchev said.

“Technology is very high on the agenda,” he noted, adding that in an era of companies having to do more with less, the only way to do that is with technology.

Tetiouchev also cites Hong Kong’s proximity to Shenzhen, China's emerging technology hub just across the border, as a reason to add technology capabilities to LC Lawyers' practices. “It’ll be a holistic offering,” Tetiouchev said of his vision for the Hong Kong law firm.

EY is not alone in its pursuit of technology specialists: traditional law firms have been making similar hires, and some of their recruits have come from the Big Four. Earlier this month, PricewaterhouseCoopers' Hong Kong affiliate law firm, Tiang & Partners, lost senior associate Rhys McWhirter to Eversheds Sutherland, where he now leads the technology, media and telecommunications practice in Hong Kong. Last year, Cliff Yung, a former associate of Tiang & Partners, joined Clifford Chance as an adviser on legal tech delivery.

But Tetiouchev is not fazed by the recent defections of Big Four technology lawyers to Big Law. If anything, he sees it as more evidence of the importance of technology. “It shows international law firms are serious about technology as well,” he said.

In Singapore, EY Law last year launched a new local law firm by recruiting a four-lawyer team from Dentons Rodyk & Davidson, led by senior corporate partner Evelyn Ang. The firm, Atlas Asia Law Corp., has at least doubled its head count since then.

Beyond Hong Kong and Singapore, EY Law is eyeing even more Asia growth led by Tetiouchev, who has played a role in big expansions before. Prior to relocating to Singapore in 2017 to take up his Asia-Pacific role, Tetiouchev was based in Moscow, where he expanded legal offerings across Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States region for 12 years. Before he came on board, EY's entire legal practice in the region joined DLA Piper. But Tetiouchev moved in and rebuilt EY's legal practice in the region from scratch, developing it into a 100-lawyer practice with nine offices.

In addition to Singapore, Tetiouchev wants to expand EY Law's Southeast Asian footprint, and Vietnam is high on his list. Vietnam's economy grew by 7.1 percent in 2018, one of the fastest among major Asian economies, according to International Monetary Fund data. And foreign direct investment into Vietnam last year reached $19.1 billion, up 9.1 percent from the previous year and the sixth straight record year for foreign investment.

EY Law has had a member firm in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s largest city, since 2014. Ernst & Young Law Vietnam, which advises on corporate, commercial, employment, real estate and finance, currently has only one director—Trang Thuc-Minh Ha. But the firm will expand to ride the wave of inbound investment, especially in infrastructure, Tetiouchev said.

EY is looking to launch new firms in Indonesia and Malaysia for similar growth opportunities. The two countries are among the five largest economies of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

In keeping with the rapid momentum of EY's Asia growth, Tetiouchev said the launch of those offices will take place "as soon as practically possible."