Asian Legal Business interviews VDB LoiOctober 1, 2012
ALB, one of Asia’s foremost legal industry publications, published a 2 page sponsored profile of VDB Loi in its September issue. The profile follows a Q&A format and features some interesting questions that go beyond the usual marketing chatter.
Below is the full text, or you can download the PDF of ALB itself as followed.
NEW REGIONAL FIRM FAST BECOMING A PLAYER IN INDOCHINA, INDONESIA AND MYANMAR
Positioned in one of the world’s most dynamic economic regions, VDB Loi, a fast-growing legal and tax services firm in Southeast Asia, has more than doubled its team to over 50 local and international lawyers and tax advisers within just five months of launching.
VDB Loi is a one-stop shop for integrated solutions for structuring investment and business transactions in Southeast Asia. Its advisers bring a wealth of expertise and in-depth knowledge of regional legal and tax issues, having worked on projects such as the structuring of a real estate disposal by a US$275M listed fund in Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore, a US$500M acquisition of coal mines in Indonesia, the US$88M sale of a telecom operator in Laos, a US$2B complex government-leased island resort in Cambodia, a US$2.4B petrochemical joint venture project in Vietnam, and the acquisition of an offshore oil and gas interest in Myanmar.
VDB Loi has offices in Cambodia, Laos, Singapore and Vietnam, and has recently expanded into Indonesia and Myanmar.
The firm launched a little over five months ago. Yet here you are in six countries, having doubled your staff to well over 50 fee earners. How did that happen?
“We didn’t start from scratch. Such an expansion is only possible when you start with an existing team. In our case, the core group included two partners and 20 associates, later followed by another two partners and seven associates leaving the same law firm. We all knew each other well and had worked together before, so that makes a big difference,” says Edwin Vanderbruggen, a tax lawyer with more than 20 years’ experience.
“Additionally, every VDB Loi partner has worked in this region for at least 10 years. We know our way around.
For example, we’ve been working on Myanmar projects for the last five years, and that made it possible for us to expand rapidly there.”
VDB Loi now covers Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore and Vietnam. Is your strategy in
each of these countries the same?
“Our goal is to have a strong combination of legal and tax advisers in each of these countries within the foreseeable future. We still have some work ahead of us in that respect. For example, in Indonesia, a highly respected corporate legal team is already in place that has wideranging experience in M&A, mining and FDI, led by partners D. Larasati and Prof. Fernando Manullang. We’re still in the process of building up a top-notch tax team to complement that. In Laos, it’s the opposite. There we started with a seasoned tax team and we’re now adding a legal team. In Singapore, we’ll keep our presence small, mostly for liaison and specialized international tax advisory work,” continues Edwin.
What makes VDB Loi different from other law firms?
“Our regional footprint is exceptional. We’re the only regional firm to have expanded into both Indonesia and Myanmar, arguably Southeast Asia’s hottest markets at this time,” states Chris Muessel, a former partner at Rajah & Tann and Watson Farley & Williams LLP. “In some of the countries where we’re best positioned, such as Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, there are only a few international firms present. In Indonesia, there are virtually no regional firms actually in-country. So we’re in a good position to act as local counsel in a number of jurisdictions.
The firm’s focus on integrated legal and tax services is another key differentiator. Although a number of other law firms also advise on tax matters, we’re unique in having half of our fee earners in our tax practice. Thus, a lot of our strategy is geared towards excelling at our highly technical specialty, which means thought leadership is a core value. We’re more a mix between a corporate law firm and a Big Four tax advisory, if you look at the background and skills of our people.”
Are the Big Four your competitors for tax advisory services? How do you measure up?
“On specialized tax assignments, VDB Loi finds itself usually competing against Big Four firms rather than other law firms. Having a team of corporate lawyers within the firm led by someone of the stature of Chris Muessel is a game changer when it comes to M&A deals, real estate, FDI and international trade, where integrated legal and tax solutions are an absolute necessity. That’s one big difference with most of the accounting firms,” Edwin Vanderbruggen notes.
Managing Partner Jean Loi: “Having been a tax partner at PwC, I know the global accounting franchises have a strong brand for tax services. But just having the brand isn’t enough. As our team has proven in a number of our markets, and as others have shown in the US and the EU, efficient, specialized outfits can outdistance those with a global network if they deliver better technical quality and real results on the ground.”
We saw in your marketing collaterals that you’ve abolished timesheets? Is that possible in a professional firm?
Edwin Vanderbruggen: “We wanted thought leadership to be the fundamental organizing principle of the firm, not billing. Too much emphasis on billing means there’s no room for associates to develop technical depth, do research and innovate. There’s a lot of criticism of the billable hour, particularly as it rewards inefficiency and creates client-subsidized learning by associates. I’ve seen too often the relationship with the client ruined by excessive billing. We only use timesheets if the client insists. We believe that, where possible, it’s best to make the fee conditional upon the result that was agreed upon, at a price that was agreed upon. This assures our clients that when the fee is charged, we’ve delivered.”
MEET THE PARTNERS:
Jean Loi: Jean is widely recognized as one of the region’s best tax advisers. She was formerly a tax partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers in Southeast Asia and regional law firm DFDL. With extensive experience in infrastructure, energy, logistics, consumer goods and financial services, Jean is respected for her technical knowledge and in-depth understanding of industry practices in tax and legal matters. She’s assisted on many projects in Cambodia and Vietnam, such as hydro and coal power plant projects, oil exploration blocks, and the market entry of international banks into Cambodia and multinationals into Indonesia and Myanmar.
Edwin Vanderbruggen: Formerly with Loyens & Loeff and a partner at DFDL, Edwin has 20 years of experience as a tax lawyer, with 15 of those years in Southeast Asia. He’s structured some of the largest acquisitions, investments and property deals in the region, including a US$4.2B petrochemical plant in Vietnam, a US$425M telecom acquisition in Singapore and Cambodia, and a US$275M listed property fund.
Chris Muessel: Chris is one of Southeast Asia’s most experienced foreign lawyers. In Vietnam, as a Baker & McKenzie lawyer, he advised MNCs on a broad range of legal matters. As a partner with the US firm Duane Morris LLP, Chris headed the firm’s Ho Chi Minh City office, and later undertook equally high-profile partnership roles with Watson Farley & Williams and Rajah & Tann.
Potim Yun Potim is one of Cambodia’s top legal minds. He was formerly a partner at Gordon & Associates and Deputy Head of the Corporate & Commercial Practice Group of DFDL in Cambodia. Potim has worked on some of the largest investment projects in Cambodia, including a high-profile acquisition of a Thai telecom company, a US$90M bond issuance, and IPOs of Malaysian and Singaporean companies.
D. Larasati: A lawyer for more than 25 years in Indonesia, she has practiced with the Indonesian associated firms of Baker & McKenzie and Freehills. Larasati has been involved in major deals in project financing, M&As, private equity and IPOs across several different industries, such as construction, mining and renewable energy, and aviation.
Fernando Manullang: During Fernando’s 10 years of practice, he’s been involved in major project financing, private equity, and M&A deals in Indonesia. He acted as the Indonesia Chamber of Trade and Industry Jakarta’s in-house legal expert and was a research expert and consultant to the Ministry of Trade and Industry regarding WTO agreements and Indonesia’s draft trade law.