“Though in a way, I am a business leader, I’m not sure if I deserve the title ‘distinguished’,” begins Mr Lee Eng Beng as he modestly opens his address during the Overseas Singaporean Unit’s latest instalment of the Distinguished Business Leaders series held at Royal Garden Hotel, London on 2nd March 2012.
Mr Lee Eng Beng, Managing Partner of Rajah & Tann
“I’ve only been a Managing Partner with Rajah and Tann for one and a half years and much of our plans have yet to be fully implemented,” states Mr Lee. Behind that humble statement however, Mr Lee’s experience in what is the largest full-service legal firm in Singapore and South-East Asia is nothing short of prolific.
Six years as a Lecturer and Senior Adjunct Fellow at NUS coupled with seven years as Head of one of the firm’s Practice Groups followed by a year as Senior Counsel and then Deputy Managing Partner is certainly a distinguishable feat for one of the youngest Managing Partners around. In fact, The Straits Times even named Mr Lee as one of the ‘Faces of 2012’.
“Law firms [today] have to constantly be on their feet to figure out the sort of strategy they should adopt to survive and flourish in this landscape,” explains Mr Lee to a crowd of 150 Singaporeans, including law students and professionals hailing from London to as far north as Birmingham.
In his address, Mr Lee highlights the dangers firms like Rajah and Tann face in a landscape that has become increasingly liberalised in recent times. “Continuing as usual means staying at the same place and staying at the same place actually means moving backwards,” warns Mr Lee.
Guests of the tenth DBL in London
He went on to point out that remaining independent is one of the key options a firm like Rajah and Tann should undertake amidst an industry driven towards mergers and acquisitions. But pursuing a path of independence isn’t without its challenges. “We have to actively reinvent ourselves, evolve and present a stronger proposition to clients and young lawyers in order to compete,” says Mr Lee. “It is a difficult option and implementations are very uncertain”.
These obstacles and uncertainties have pushed Mr Lee and his firm to re-evaluate their playing field. “Expanding into South-East Asia would allow us to tap into the developing economies and leverage on our Singapore branding and the cultural and political connections between the nations in this region,” reveals Mr Lee.
Venturing into South-East Asia has largely been beneficial for Rajah and Tann and though Mr Lee is aware of possible setbacks, he remains steadfast in his vision. If stagnation means moving backwards, then “It is clear that all major Singaporean law firms have to do something that is strong, decisive and dramatic in order to survive in this new landscape that will continue to change in the coming years.”
Mr Lee prepares to answer a query
With these words of advice, Mr Lee took on some thought-provoking questions from the floor which included topics on employment and comparisons between the pros and cons of mergers between recognised accounting companies and law firms. An insightful evening came to a close as guests continued their discussion over a dinner buffet featuring a spread of local delicacies.
By Clement Wan