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14 October 2019

Mastering ASEAN Cross-Border Legal Practice: Insights from Raphael Tay

Published on 14 October 2019
Differences in culture and language can pose unique challenges for lawyers. This is particularly true for lawyers in the ASEAN region, an area which spans ten countries, each featuring vastly different cultures, languages and religions. Insights spoke to Raphael Tay, partner in charge of M&A and FinTech in the Malaysia-based law firm Lee Hishammuddin Allen & Gledhill, about how he manages these jurisdictional differences as a corporate lawyer. Raphael also serves as Director of the ASEAN+6 Mergers and Acquisitions Programme at The College of Law Asia.

Raphael co-hosted the ASEAN Cross-Border Legal Practice Information Webinar with Asia Pacific Director James Jung, to assist lawyers keen to expand their cross-border practice.

Rich cultural diversity unique to ASEAN countries
“ASEAN countries are fragmented in their history, politics, economic direction,” explained Raphael. “Simply put, ASEAN countries are not a monolithic culture as compared with countries in the EU, for example. ASEAN countries are ten different nations with different religions, cultures, customary practices.” 

He also noted that ASEAN countries experience an urban-rural divide which perpetuates further disparities.

“It is important for ASEAN lawyers to understand the context in which cross-border transactions occur simply because the cultural diversity concentrated in one region is so much richer and broader than other parts of the world,” said Raphael.

Deciphering cultural differences
For a lawyer to operate effectively across multiple jurisdictions, they must possess an advanced ability to understand how culture affects the law.

“The ability to decipher cultural differences in the context of the client’s jurisdiction and then being able to advise them in a language and in the context that they understand – this is crucial,” explained Raphael. 

“This must then be supported by strong project analysis and management skills and the ability to provide dynamic answers within a short turnaround time.”

Where some may be daunted, Raphael thrives.

“Learning how to navigate around different cultural practices within the given regulatory and market environment really forces you to think about what drives and motivates a person, the client and the business,” he said.

Know your client, culture, and market
Career highlights include acting as corporate counsel to the ICT arm of a corporation ranked in Fortune Global 500. 

“They were going through a worldwide software audit had appointed me and my team to negotiate on the results of the audit,” said Raphael. “Having dealt with many lawyers and clients from different cultures, it is suicidal to approach negotiations without understanding their motivations, or without researching their background and carefully planning a strategy.”

“Through many intense discussions with the software company, we managed to save the corporation of at least RM 50,000,000.00 from alleged licensing breaches simply because we understood the parameters of the software company’s limitations in the industry and the market,” he said.

Central to Raphael’s success is his talent as a ‘facilitator.’

“I enjoy being a “facilitator” in the development of society, not just by contributing to the development of law and justice but to also help businesses succeed,” Raphael said. “I believe economic prosperity ultimately increases the overall human dignity in any given society.”

His main advice to new lawyers is simple - stay focused and stay relevant.

“Be present at all times to build your core competencies,” advised Raphael. “Keep yourself informed and up-to-date. Do not stop learning.”

Learn more about The College of Law's ASEAN Cross Border Legal Practice Program - watch our free information webinar recording