HSF Asia disputes chief relocates from Japan to lead new Malaysia base

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Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) Asia disputes head Peter Godwin has relocated from Tokyo to Kuala Lumpur to lead the firm’s new Malaysia office.

The office, which is expected to launch in May, will initially be staffed by six lawyers, including three HSF partners – Godwin corporate partner Vik Tang, a Malaysian national who is relocating from from the firm’s Jakarta office, and Brisbane senior associate Glynn Cooper, who has been promoted to partner for the move.

The new base will also be staffed by three new recruits – an Islamic finance specialist from the Middle East and two Malaysian lawyers in corporate and disputes. The names are yet to be announced as the firm is awaiting regulatory approval for their hires.

HSF announced in January that it had received a Qualified Foreign Law Firm (QFLF) licence from the Malaysian Bar Council to open an office in the Southeast Asian country, following the liberalisation of its legal market. The licence requires at least 30% of the office’s lawyers to be Malaysian nationals, but the office is not permitted to offer advice on Malaysian law.

Godwin said the Kuala Lumpur office will focus on representing Malaysian companies on three types of outbound work – Islamic finance, corporate and disputes. The firm said it has worked with Malaysian clients for more than 20 years.

The liberalisation of Malaysia’s legal market is part of the effort to support the government’s Malaysian International Islamic Finance Centre initiatives. The QFLF licences are only granted to international law firms with expertise to contribute to the government’s goal to make Malaysia a global hub for Islamic finance.

HSF said the move into Kuala Lumpur was part of the firm’s ongoing expansion of its Islamic finance practice. In February, it appointed Riyadh office managing partner Nasser Al-Hamdan as the firm’s global head of Islamic finance. Al-Hamdan and Dubai-based Middle East managing partner Zubair Mir will work in Kuala Lumpur “on a regular basis”, said the firm.

Godwin, an international arbitration specialist focusing on Japan-related disputes, joined legacy Herbert Smith in Hong Kong in 1998. He moved to Tokyo two years later to help build the newly launched office there and has stayed since.

He made partner in 2002 and became office managing partner in Tokyo in 2010. In 2013, he was appointed Asia disputes head following his predecessor Gavin Lewis’s departure to Linklaters.

Godwin said the business model of the Kuala Lumpur office will resemble that of the Tokyo base, where he represented Japanese companies on international disputes. He will continue to represent Japanese clients while in Malaysia and will travel to Tokyo periodically.

Following Godwin’s departure, HSF’s Tokyo office will continue to be run by office managing partner David Gilmore, who also leads the Japan disputes practice.

The news comes after Trowers & Hamlins became the first international firm to be granted a QFLF licence in 2015. It now has four lawyers, including two partners, in Kuala Lumpur.