2021 Message from Oon & Bazul’s Managing Partner Bazul Ashhab
My Partners and I wish each and every one of you a very Happy 2021!
None of us could have been prepared for what 2020 was to bring but it gives me great satisfaction to know that despite the unforeseen challenges we faced, we remained nimble and adapted almost overnight to the ‘new normal’ and thrived as a firm. This would not have been possible if the DNA of the firm has not been wired to continuously evolve with the change of circumstances and the drive to be the leading firm.
When Phase 1 was announced in Singapore we smoothly transitioned from working in the office to working from home. We were ready to continue to serve our clients seamlessly from home, whether the clients are from Singapore or overseas. With the technology we had in place, we could access our email, document database and accounts servers, and could conduct our business almost as if we had never left the office. Facilities like videoconferencing and secure cloud-based document sharing with our clients continued to be available uninterrupted to a large degree. And all this in a highly secure environment. Despite COVID, we also pushed forward with several IT projects. A significant achievement was switching our accounting systems to tesseract.io. This was particularly daunting because we had no physical access to our servers and the office for a period of time during Phase 1. Despite the challenges, I am pleased to report that we have successfully transitioned to the new system. We will continue to invest in the right technology for us to function as a first-class firm.
It is useful to set out some of our achievements in 2020 despite the difficulties presented by COVID, to remind ourselves what we are capable of achieving if we set our minds to it.
With law firms weathering the COVID-19 storm by deferring on new hires, Oon & Bazul did the right thing in retaining nine trainees. This was one of the highest retention aggregates across the legal sector. We believe that we should not only look at lateral hires for growth but also have a critical mass of home grown partners to maintain the good traditions of the firm.
The firm also announced two significant Partner hires – namely Ng Yi Wayn as partner of the firm’s corporate practice, as well as Keith Han as partner of its restructuring and insolvency practice. They are rising stars in their areas of practice and the thinking was to create the right fit to develop their abilities and personalities to be leaders of their practices and also for us to bring in new thought leaders with invigorating ideas for running the firm.
2020 also saw Oon & Bazul achieve the ranking as one of “Singapore’s Best Law Firms 2021” in a survey conducted by The Straits Times and German-based international market researcher, Statista. This is a significant achievement for a firm of our size and to be mentioned in the same breadth as the Big 4 firms is particularly satisfying. I would like to congratulate and thank all our lawyers and staff for their efforts and work.
In February 2020, we were certified as a SmartLaw Singapore Law Practice by the Law Society of Singapore which reflected the firm’s stance of adopting technology to improve productivity and increase business capabilities. We have also built a strong digital presence (I’m told by my Marketing team that the number of followers we had on social media from January 2020 till date increased by 89%!) and will continue to keep this up to connect seamlessly with our clients and also provide business intelligence.
October 2020 saw the firm joining the Law Society of Singapore in taking a stand against all forms of bullying and harassment in the legal profession; I represented the firm at the virtual pledge signing ceremony. With this, we pledge to now “having zero tolerance on workplace bullying and harassment, and standing in solidarity to send the strongest signal throughout the legal industry that law firms will treat lawyers and staff with proper respect and dignity.” This pledge will serve as a beacon of light on the propriety of conduct as well as the inviolability of every employee’s person and privacy.
We closed the year celebrating the appointment of our General Manager, Abdul Malik, as an equity partner; a rare move within the legal circle. I believe that the ownership of future firms will be more inclusive. Diversity is central to “thinking out of the box”. I want to send the clearest message possible that this is not a closed-door ownership.
Here are some other notable achievements for 2020.
- Chambers Asia Pacific 2021
- IFLR1000 Asia Pacific 2021
- Asialaw Profiles 2020
- Benchmark Litigation Asia Pacific 2020
- Global Restructuring Review 2020
- Legal 500 Asia Pacific 2020
- Recognised as a Human Capital Partner – an initiative under the Ministry of Manpower
Investing in our people
The biggest challenge my Partners and I face is to create a critical mass of good people. I am pleased to say that we have achieved this over the last several years and I intend to build on this and organize a much stronger firm. We will continue to recruit both legal and non-legal professionals. Given the presence of growth opportunities, I firstly intend to re- organize the non-legal professionals in the firm. I will make an announcement once the plans are firmed up.
With a strong team of non-legal professionals from disciplines such as business development, marketing, management, IT and finance, Oon & Bazul will be able to structure the manner in which we conduct our marketing activities and price ourselves in the market in order to operate our firm in the most productive manner.
The Oon & Bazul Bursary, established since 2011, provides financial assistance to full-time law undergraduates at the Singapore Management University (SMU) who come from struggling backgrounds. The firm has renewed its commitment for another five years.
Bursary recipients from the coming academic year 2020 will receive S$10,000 for tuition and education expenses, which is double the amount from previous years. To date, the bursary has empowered nine law students to pursue and complete their university education, a crucial first step necessary for them to secure employment and alleviate some of the stresses at home.
The law firm has also agreed to continue supporting the Oon & Bazul Prize for the Top Student in Law of Torts for another five years. The annual book prize recognises the top student in Law of Torts, a compulsory course at SMU School of Law. The prize, worth S$1,500, has been motivating SMU law students to aim for high academic excellence since 2016.
Students who are awarded the bursary and book prize respectively will also be offered internship opportunities at Oon & Bazul. Undergraduates can acquire practical legal skills through experiential learning, poising them to be ready for a successful career upon graduation.
The firm promotes social mobility within the firm not just with our lawyers but also with support staff too. The Oon & Bazul bursary encourages support staff to take on a part education program.
The award helps promote lifelong learning and ensures that support staff continue to keep themselves relevant by gaining new skills and knowledge for the job market of tomorrow as the skills needed to succeed in the workforce continue to evolve.
As a people organisation, we strive to provide a dynamic and intellectually stimulating environment for our people, challenging them to achieve their fullest potential professionally and personally. The bursary is one example of how we reward our people well and invest in those who deserve it.
I see the episode with COVID as a huge re-set button, which allows those who are ready to revolutionize the way they carry out their business to challenge the old established orders. If we and Singapore can improve our productivity in these difficult times we will see our growth increase tremendously. The political and economic power struggle between China and the U.S., although unhelpful in the long run, will allow growth in the short and medium term for Singapore. This together with the political changes in Hong Kong will lead to Singapore permanently thriving as the only logical forum to place substantial funds in Asia and lead to greater growth for legal business.
We have already seen news of a substantial flow of funds into Singapore and property prices being driven up. The Business Times reported that non-resident deposits in Singapore jumped 44% to a record S$62 million in April 2020.
Chinese companies are also setting up substantial offices in Singapore to avoid blacklisting when trading in the U.S.
The World Economic Forum’s decision to convene their Special Annual Meeting 2021 in Singapore in May is a testament to the fact that Singapore is safe for World leaders to travel to and meet.
According to the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Singapore’s economy is forecast to grow 4 – 6 % in 2021, helped by continued expansion of trade and manufacturing and a gradual recovery in construction, aviation and tourism related sectors. Growth in the information and communications, finance and insurance sectors are expected to remain healthy.
We look forward to an amazing 2021 ahead.