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RHTLaw Taylor Wessing in a hurry to grow

MR TAN: The digital and media subsidiary allows the firm to handle corporate affairs that could turn into crises


INNOVATION and the legal practice are seldom mentioned in the same breath but for RHTLaw Taylor Wessing they are key to the group's accelerated growth.

Within five months from when the firm unveiled plans in February to list its professional services arm or RHT Holdings Limited on the Catalist by early 2016, it has added three new subsidiaries - RHT Digital & Media, RHT Tax and RHT Real - to its RHT Group of Companies, taking the total to 14.

The digital and media subsidiary allows the firm to handle corporate affairs that could turn into crises - a business model that departs from tradition, Tan Chong Huat, the law firm's managing partner, told The Business Times in an exclusive interview.

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It focuses on strategic communications consulting services in the areas including branding, corporate public relations, and digital competency and compliance training.

"By embracing technology, embracing the future, I think it's a sure-footed way to move the practice in a more engaged and a more relevant way to the clients."

He said that RHT Real, incorporated last week, will provide advice to the ultra high net worth and corporate clients in the real estate space.

These are part of wider plans to build a financial services eco-system.

To this end, the firm has applied to regulators for a capital market licence now under review.

It is also in talks with a venture fund and venture services company for an acquisition that targets technology startups to complement the firm's corporate technology practice, said Mr Tan, who painted the firm's ambition to move towards what he described as equity crowdfunding platform.

The vision to list has set the firm on a series of activities to bulk up.

Within 10 months from May 2011 when it first started, RHT Law joined the Taylor Wessing network to expand into Europe and the United States.

Last August, it set up the Asean Plus group comprising Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and Thailand, to strengthen its foothold in the region. This family now comprises 2,000 lawyers including the latest addition of Chinese practice, Grandall Law Firm.

"Working with the leading law firms in this region has given us a very strong pipeline of work. We know the competition from the international law firms. We also recognise Singapore is a small economy . . . so we focus on what Singapore is strong in and use Singapore as a springboard to the region," Mr Tan said.

The law firm might be in discussions to merge with an IndoChina practice this year and an Indonesian practice in 2016, but it is hungry for more as it looks to move into Thailand and Hong Kong.

"We have just acquired a corporate sector of business commerce operations in Hong Kong, and RHT Corporate Advisory Hong Kong has begun operations effective July 1," Mr Tan said, adding that the firm has also incorporated a company in Thailand - a joint venture with a local law firm there - and is beginning operations.

In a matter of four years, the firm now has 220 staff from just over 100. Of these, about 100 are fee earners.

Observers have noted that the marriage of law and professional services would create conflicts of interest but Mr Tan disagreed. He stressed that the Group of Companies make decisions independently.

Other critics say that the RHT model is not as lucrative as those doing "top-tier" work, but Mr Tan believes that if his firm can render services in an integrated and comprehensive way, clients will eventually recognise the value and the firm will be more relevant to clients. "If as a law firm, you're not prepared for this eventual landscape, you'll be swept off your feet even earlier."

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