Herbert Smith Freehills to open in Malaysia

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Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) is to open an office in Malaysia later this year, marking the firm’s ninth base in Asia.

The Kuala Lumpur office, which will launch in May, will initially be staffed by six lawyers, including two partners. The team, which is expected to be a mix of existing HSF lawyers and new hires, will focus on providing advice on transactions, disputes and Islamic finance.

The firm has been granted a qualified foreign law firm (QFLF) licence by the Malaysian Bar Council to open the office. Malaysia liberalised its legal services market in 2014, allowing international firms to set up in the country with a QFLF licence or via a joint law venture. Previously, foreign lawyers had to operate in the country under a fly-in fly-out basis.

Trowers & Hamlins became the first international firm to secure a QFLF in 2015, while last year DAC Beachcroft entered the market via a joint venture with Kuala Lumpur law firm Gan Partnership.

HSF Asia and Australia managing partner Justin D’Agostino said: “We’ve been working with Malaysian clients for 20 years and it’s a very important bit of the business. We’ve seen a real growth in Southeast Asia, so we jumped at the opportunity to have a physical presence there.

“Developing local talent is one of our key priorities and we intend to continue working with Malaysian law firms, with which we already have very strong relationships.”

HSF currently has Asia offices in Beijing, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Singapore, Jakarta, Seoul, Shanghai and Tokyo, as well as its presence across Australia. The firm last year launched an alternative legal services centre in Shanghai, extending its lower cost support offering to a seventh office worldwide.

Five foreign outfits are permitted to operate in Malaysia with QFLF licences, allowing them to hire Malaysian lawyers who can practise local law in selected areas, so long as the Malaysian professionals make up at least 30% of the office’s fee earners.

Meanwhile, joint law ventures between foreign and Malaysian firms – known as international partnerships (IP) – require the Malaysian outfit to have at least 60% of the equity and voting rights and number of lawyers, while the name of the IP must be a combination of the two firm brands.