Like in our previous editions, we take the number of lawyers based on the Malaysian Bar legal directory website as at the time of writing. We total up the number of lawyers for the law firm, including its branch offices.
Year 2020 in Review
We start off with a brief review of the year 2020 for Malaysian law firms.
Largest Malaysia Firms
Zaid Ibrahim & Co remains Malaysia’s largest law firm. This is with a total of 156 lawyers, and where 101 lawyers are at its main Kuala Lumpur office. Zaid Ibrahim & Co has a large Penang branch office with 33 lawyers.
The list of largest Malaysia law firms remains at 13 large law firms. The threshold size appears to be around 60 lawyers and above. Once you go below this number, we then see medium-sized and smaller-sized law firms.
The table below sets out the trend in law firm numbers:
Further, the large law firm model has not headed to the 200-lawyer mark and beyond. In recent years, the largest single law firm size (excluding branch offices) has been in the range of 120-130 lawyers.
In a year of COVID-19 and movement controls, there were understandably no medium-sized law firm mergers and no big growth seen in lawyer numbers.
Law Firm Departures and Headlines
2020 saw certain departures from the larger law firms and with some news headlines.
In July 2020, Bahari Yeow and Lim Zhi Jian, former IP partners of LHAG, and their team, joined Gan Partnership. In November 2020, Dato’ Thavalingam also left LHAG to set up his boutique employment practice, T. Thavalingam & Co, with his team members.
In July 2020, three partners and five associates from Skrine left to set up the disputes boutique firm of Lim Chee Wee Partnership focusing on commercial litigation and international arbitration. Part of a trend of more specialist litigation firms.
In late October 2020, there was news that Zaid Ibrahim would be returning to the firm as Chairman of Zaid Ibrahim & Co. But in November 2020, it appeared that Zaid Ibrahim was terminated as chairman. This is now subject to legal proceedings.
Regional and International Legal Networks
There was activity in regional legal networks.
In March 2020, Shearn Delamore joined the regional network of Drew Network Asia (DNA). DNA is made up of Singapore’s Drew & Napier, Malaysia’s Shearn Delamore and Indonesia’s Makarim & Taira S. DNA aims to be a blue-chip legal network and we can foresee more firms in the region joining the DNA network.
DNA joins the growing list of regional networks and international firms with a Malaysia member. Singapore’s Allen & Gledhill network includes Malaysia’s Rahmat Lim & Partners, Rajah & Tann Asia has Christopher & Lee Ong, while Singapore’s Wong Partnership has its associate firm of Foong & Partners. International firms Baker McKenzie (with Wong & Partners) and Dentons (with Zain & Co) have a presence here.
Growth in Group Law Practices
Among the small law firms, we see a slight increase in the number of registered group law practices (GLP). There are now 22 GLPs. In a GLP, up to five small law firms can operate together. But the firms remain as separate entities. Through the GLP, small firms can reduce costs, and also share their expertise. In November 2019, based on this speech, there were 14 GLPs. There is more potential for GLPs to be further refined (see some of the flaws outlined here).
We turn to the listing of Malaysia’s largest law firms and followed by foreign law firms.
Malaysia’s Largest Law Firms
We count down the list of the top 13 largest law firms in Malaysia. All images are from the law firms’ website.
#13: Shook Lin & Bok – 68 lawyers
Shook Lin & Bok Malaysia maintains its position at #13 with total lawyers at 68.
#12: Wong & Partners – 71 lawyers
Wong & Partners moves down from last year’s 11th position to 12th position. From 75 lawyers to this year’s 71 lawyers.
#11: Raja, Darryl & Loh – 75 lawyers
Raja, Darryl & Loh also moves down one position to 11th this year.
#10: Azmi & Associates – 78 lawyers
Azmi & Associates moves up from 12th position to 10th position this year. Its 78 lawyers are divided into 75 lawyers in its main Kuala Lumpur office and with 3 lawyers in its Johor Bahru office.
#9: Chooi & Co + Cheang & Ariff – 82 lawyers
Chooi & Co + Cheang Ariff moves down from last year’s 7th place to 9th place. From 91 lawyers last year to 82 lawyers.
#8: Christopher & Lee Ong – 87 lawyers
Christopher & Lee Ong, part of Rajah & Tann Asia, moves from #9 up to #8 on the list this year.
#7: Rahmat Lim & Partners – 88 lawyers
Joint #5: Adnan Sundra & Low – 90 lawyers
Adnan Sundra & Low maintains its 5th position on the list this year.
Joint #5: Lee Hishammuddin Allen & Gledhill – 90 lawyers
Lee Hishammuddin Allen & Gledhill moves to joint 5th position this year. From 126 lawyers to 90 lawyers this year.
#4: Zul Rafique & Partners – 97 lawyers
Zul Rafique & Partners moves up from last year’s #8 to this year’s #4. From 90 lawyers up to 97 lawyers this year.
#3: Shearn Delamore & Co – 108 lawyers
Similar to last year, Shearn Delamore & Co maintains its more than 100-lawyer number. It moves from 4th up to 3rd this year. From last year’s 111 lawyers to this year’s 108.
#2: Skrine – 112 lawyers
Skrine maintains its 2nd placing on the list. It is also the largest Kuala Lumpur law firm. This year’s 112 lawyers compared with last year’s 126.
#1: Zaid Ibrahim & Co – 156 lawyers
Zaid Ibrahim & Co maintains its streak as Malaysia’s largest law firm. This year, it has a total of 156 lawyers compared with last year’s 160. The breakdown of numbers from its offices:
- Kuala Lumpur: 101
- Penang: 33
- Johor Bahru: 16
- Kota Bahru: 6
Foreign Law Firms
In addition to the domestic law firms, the two foreign law firms continue to grow their headcount in their Kuala Lumpur offices.
Herbert Smith Freehills
Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) in Kuala Lumpur continues with its steady growth. In 2018, we saw a headcount of 10 and in 2019, a headcount of 12.
Trowers & Hamlins
Trowers & Hamlins in Kuala Lumpur has also seen growth. It has grown from 5 lawyers in 2018, to 11 lawyers in 2019, and now to a team of 12 lawyers this year.