Law Firm ILN-telligence Podcast | Noel Ng, Goodwins Law Corporation

April 25th, 2024

Law Firm ILN-telligence Podcast | Noel Ng, Goodwins Law Corporation

POSTED IN Uncategorized

Noel Ng is the COO of Goodwins Law Corporation in Singapore, a firm with more than twenty years in the legal industry and a member of the International Lawyers Network. In this episode, Lindsay and Noel discuss Singapore’s importance as a gateway to Asia, as well as Europe and South America’s increase in focus on the country, and how creating online relationships are improved by taking them offline.

You can listen to the podcast here, or we’ve provided a transcript of the highlights below.

Lindsay: Hello and welcome to the Law Firm Intelligence Podcast. I’m your host, Lindsay Griffiths, executive director of the International Lawyers Network. And our guest this week is Noel Ng from Goodwins Law Firm Corporation. He’s from Singapore and we’re really glad that you could join us this week. Noel, I really appreciate you coming on the podcast, and it would be great if you could tell us a little bit about yourself and your law firm and your practice.

Noel: Well, first off, good evening to you, Lindsay, and I mean, it’s a morning in Singapore, but I’m very aware of the time difference and I always enjoy talking to overseas friends from all around the world because we may be separated by distance and time, but we’re all on the same planet. So, a little bit of Goodwin. So, we’ve been around for more than 20 over years. I think we have been a very happy and loyal member of the ILN for, I think, 24 years now. And I have met many friends and I’ve personally enjoyed going for a lot of the international conferences, meeting people, meeting dynamic individuals from all around the world, like Italy and the US. And it is just magical when we all come together just to spend a couple of days together, share in the joy of just being together with friends.

And I think that’s essentially what the ILN represents, and we hope that to continue this very close and strong friendly legal connection. So, Goodwins, we are a full service law firm, so we do everything from mergers and acquisition, to the simple contracts, to family law, to corporate law, and a lot of stuff. We do have certain specific niche areas of practice of which the first is on the IT side of things, the e-commerce side of things, which is helmed by our chair, Dr. Toh See Kiat, who was also a former member of parliament. So, we do have contacts in the government and he’s also a very distinguished speaker as well as lecturer in some of the Singapore universities. Recently he was in Bhutan of all places trying to help them with putting up a law degree there. And in fact, in another one or two months we’re going to have a few folks from the Bhutan Law School to come with us to intern in Singapore, and so that’s something that I’m looking very forward to.

And I’m also very aware that I think this year the ILN is also putting together something called the ILN Light, of which we’re trying to generate and foster internships amongst the member firms, then seeing how it fits. And so, from us at Goodwins all the way in Singapore, we do know that Singapore is a travel hub, and so we are actually very keen and excited to see how many countries will actually be sending their interns to us, and so that we can learn as well as to impart some of our legal knowledge all the way in Singapore. Another area of practice that we have is in financial services and insurance law, which is helmed by our managing director, Ms. Ang Kim Lan. And she has a very extensive area of practice in the sense that in Singapore we have what we call the Singapore Armed Forces, which is something like the Singapore military.

And as with a lot of things, you need insurance. So, she’s actually the one that drafted that insurance policy for the Singapore Armed Forces.

Lindsay: Oh, wow.

Noel: Yes, yes, yes. She did that. So, a lot of other things she does. In fact, a lot of the major insurers when they come from the US or from the UK, she’s the first port of call when they want to ask for regulatory compliance matters, how to deal with our regulator, the Monetary Authority Of Singapore, and so she’s very active in that space.

Another very specific area and niche area of practice that I would say in Singapore that maybe about maybe five to eight lawyers in the whole of Singapore, they are really expert in doing this would be the setting up of a not-for-profit charitable organizations, which is helmed by one of our senior directors, Ms. Pauline Ang. And I would say that because she’s been in practice for close to 50 years, so she’s a very experienced lawyer, about 85% to 90% of all charitable organizations in Singapore were all set up by her and are still-

Lindsay: Wow.

Noel: Yes. So, a lot of churches, a lot of the foundations and everything, so they were all set up by her. And so, obviously, as a law firm, we do have a very active litigation practice as well, which is held by one of our very senior lawyers, Mr. Daniel John. Who I always tell people, and it is always awestruck whenever I tell them the fact that he’s actually one of the few people in the whole world, and especially in Singapore, who actually cross examined the late Mr. Lee Kuan Yew when he was still alive. Yes, in one very important case, many, many years back. So, he is very experienced. He has, I think, close to almost 50 years of litigation practice. And yes, we do have a lot of practice.

And of course, we do have other lawyers as well that focuses. We have one consultant that focuses on media law, so he was formerly the dean of one of the Singapore universities in mass communications, if I’m not wrong. So, he’s a very distinguished writer, prolific speaker on media law and this and that. So, yes, that’s about all about the law firm.

For myself, I focus a lot on international trade and relations as well. Because of my background prior to becoming a lawyer, I was actually in the law enforcement. So, I started off my career in criminal litigation because of being in the Singapore Police Force for a few years. And life always has a funny way of pushing you where you didn’t want to go. So, now I’m going more into the corporate scene, the startups, helping SMEs. And recently, especially with Singapore continuing to be a travel hub or at least being a springboard for some of the other markets such as Australia, we do have a lot of inquiries and helping companies to come to Singapore as well as connecting them to other parts of the world. For example, it could be to Hong Kong, or it could be to the UK. Recently, we had inquiries for us to connect people to Indonesia.

So, in some ways the legal practice is always evolving, and especially with the changing times. It’s very interesting how in order to survive in this very complicated world, we can’t just focus on servicing our clients in the legal advice and that’s about it. But I think in order to set us apart, increasingly a lot of law firms have started to focus a lot on the business developments, upgrading the website, being more active online, sending out more of their [inaudible 00:07:52] and everything. But I do think that as lawyers, in some ways or even in recent years, we have become a bit like a concierge, not just providing legal services, but actually connecting people to other jurisdictions. And at the same time, being very conscious of the fact that whatever that I recommend, whoever they recommend is putting my own reputation on the line.

And so, that’s why we’ve always been very fond of the ILN because whatever referrals that we give, whatever clients that requires services, for example in the UK, we always have just one law firm that we trust, and we have been working for so many years with them. And so, one example would be Fladgate in the UK where we just have a very long-standing relationship with them. And I think last year we had about two or three visits from some of the lawyers. And it’s always very heartwarming that they actually reach out to us and tell them that we’ll be here which day of the year and it would be nice to meet up for a meal or whatever. And we’re always more than happy to meet anyone from ILN because we know for sure that it’s going to be fun and meaningful.

Lindsay: Absolutely.

Noel: Yes.

Lindsay: You’ve said so many interesting and important things, I think, in the last few minutes. I mean obviously the breadth and depth of expertise at your firm is really incredible. And some of that I knew and a lot of it I didn’t know, considering I’ve known a lot of the people at your firm for almost 20 years. They keep some of those interesting stories to themselves. So, I think I’ve got to convince more of them to come on the podcast and spill some of that. And your career trajectory has certainly been very interesting too. So, I’d love to get your take on what you think your biggest challenge is at the moment as a firm and how you’re working to overcome that.

Noel: I’m not too sure about how it’s aligning in the rest of the world, but at least in Singapore, we see in the course of about the last five to 10 years, there have been a lot of new law firms that have been sprouting up and a lot of them are very ferociously growing because a lot of the management team as well as the lawyers, they’re really… And some of them they’ve been only in practice for maybe about five to eight years. And then because they just don’t like the hassle of being part of a very big firm and not having the freedom to invest or to really help their clients, they all start to come out and form their own firms, which is a good and a bad thing as well. Because the good thing is more competition and always having more competition, there will be more growth in new areas and it’s always very rewarding and enriching at the same time.

But at the same time, it’s very tricky because a lot of these newer law firms sometimes like to over promise. And we do have cases where we do have clients that come to us after going to them, and it’s a very, very messy process. And sometimes I’ve also heard of cases, thankfully not for us, but I’ve heard other of my counterparts where they aggressively try to take clients from their previous firms that they were in, or they actually aggressively just send out mass emails trying to get people. And so, in a way, for a profession that is supposed to be honorable and distinguished after so many years, it’s getting a bit interesting, especially in Singapore where it’s always a very fast-paced society with the business community always moving and following all the market trends overseas or even the domestically.

So, I think one of the biggest challenges that firms like us where we are kind of medium-sized by Singapore, Asian standard, and we’ve been around for more than 20 years, quite established, and we are quite renowned in our own reputation, I think the challenge that we have is how do we survive in all of this in the sense that the world that we are living in right now, it’s complicated or it’s going to become even more complicated in 2024? We have, I think, about 10 more general elections to go, if I remember correctly, around the world. I mean Taiwan just had that general election, I think yesterday or the day before.

Lindsay: I saw that.

Noel: Yes. So, we still have another 10 more to go. So, with each new president or prime minister or new cabinet, it changes things geopolitically. And it’s prudent to just say that Singapore, we know how small we are, but at the same time, we do know that we do connect some of the markets with other markets as well and I think that’s the special part about Singapore. So, we live in interesting times, and challenges are always there. It’s just that how do we go through it with ourselves, with the firm, and especially with important networks such as ILN.

Lindsay: Yeah, I think it’s interesting because you say Singapore, I mean it is a small island. But as you say, it is such a very important gateway not just to Australia, but as you say, to the rest of the Asian region. I think a lot of countries in the West will use it as a stepping point to the rest of the Asia-Pacific region and as a way to get into China, get into Malaysia, into Indonesia, because there’s a level of comfort in doing business there because it’s such a well-established economy. And culturally, people feel much more comfortable coming in there if they’ve never done business in Asia before. And I think it’s very stable, very stable government. So, I think as you say, it is very, very important for the region. You may be small, but you’re very mighty.

Noel: Yes, but another thing that has become really interesting is the shift focus of Europe to Asia. So, I would say that maybe about a decade ago or just maybe over a decade ago, Singapore never had a European Union office in Singapore. We never even had a European Union Commission in Singapore, and now we have both. And because I do have to attend some of the European Chamber events, you can really see that there is a bit of a shift in a sense that I think in Europe and in some of the countries, such as Italy or even some of the smaller Slavic countries, they have actually started to set up embassies in Singapore, alongside their trade representative office. So, I think for example, end of last year we actually had the first embassy of Estonia.

Lindsay: Wow.

Noel: Yes, it’s a small country, but they actually realized the importance of establishing a strong relationship with Singapore, and they actually just opened one end of last year, even though they had a trade representative office maybe the last five years or so. So, I think that it’s very interesting in the sense that traditionally a lot of the times we focus a lot on the Asian market, for example, from Indonesia, even from Australia, and in recent times China. But what is making me very interested is in a lot of the other markets, which are very far off, for example, one good example would be Brazil.

In the last year, and I think even in this year, a lot of our trade ministers or trade representatives have been going to Brazil. And it is very interesting because Brazil is so far away. But apparently there’s a lot of things that’s happening in Brazil. And I was very bummed when I couldn’t go to Brazil last year for the ILN conference because I’ve heard so many good things about it. So, yes, that’s a bit of a sore point for me in 2023 that I wasn’t able to go to Brazil to check it out. But there’s just so many things happening and I think… Yes, it is interesting how a lot of emerging markets, even like El Salvador, a country that’s really small, they just opened their embassy the start of last year as well in Singapore.

Yes, it’s very interesting how for such a small country, there’s a lot of this happening. And one thing that personally I always look forward to is I always like to see how this turns out. I like to do things first, and that’s why when I came on board the management, one of the things that we started to realize very, very early on is we need to upgrade our online presence, so be it on LinkedIn or on the website and everything, because even though you have a longstanding and good reputation, life moves on. Clients may stay, clients may move, clients may forget, clients may have new people in the management that may not have heard of us. And so, if you’re not active, be it in networking events, going out, giving out [inaudible 00:18:11] cards and talking to people, you’ll be left behind.

And it’s something that really depends on the firm culture in the sense that it’s fine if you want to just be comfortable with whatever existing clients you have. But yeah, it really depends on what exactly the firm culture is like, what exactly the management is looking forward for the next five to 10 years. And yes, it’s challenging.

Lindsay: It certainly is challenging. And I think it’s an interesting point that you make about new and emerging markets and existing markets as well, having more of a presence in Singapore itself. Because I think your firm is very well-established in Singapore and has that presence and reputation, but because those new and existing markets may not be as familiar with the firm, having that online presence is then very important because while the local presence may help you and the reputation, those countries that may not be as familiar with you may be able to understand who you are as a firm better through that additional online presence, and then get to meet and know you when they’re there in person in Singapore. So, have you found that that’s been the case?

Noel: Yeah, I think ever since becoming more active and aggressively promoting our website or media presence, we do have actually inquiries. In fact, last year we had a lot. Interestingly, we had people that emailed me, and they were big real estate companies in the US, and they were actually going to come to Singapore to just visit or to just look around to see whether is there potential to set up a branch office here for potential investors and everything. And we also had, I think an Italian furniture company or Dutch tire company. And so, it’s very interesting how a lot of this comes from media platforms such as LinkedIn, where amidst all the spam, amidst all the scam or the chat-bots and everything and I think because of that we’re always very skeptical when we have personal message from whoever that PMs us on LinkedIn.

But I think always being open and amidst all our busy [inaudible 00:20:39], just try to reply them. You never know what will happen. And it’s very interesting as well when you go out to network. Then, you start to realize that there is actually a large investment in actually going out for networking events, because you actually do not know what is connected to what. You may open another door that you didn’t know existed. And you actually have people that will come up to you and say, “Oh, I follow you on LinkedIn. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you in person. Can we have a picture?” And it’s nice once in a while even though we’re not yet in Hollywood, but it’s nice once in a while to feel like a superstar when people come up to you and will take a picture and they actually post it on LinkedIn. And yes, it’s quite nice.

Lindsay: It’s true. You do feel a little bit like a celebrity. It starts to get strange when you have no idea who that person is, and they know a little bit too much about your personal life.

Noel: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. It’s very funny because a couple of times I’ve had people come up to me and say, “Oh, I’m so bummed that I didn’t manage to see you last week at this event,” and blah, blah, blah. And even though it does feel a bit like you’re being stalked, it’s nice to know that whatever you post on LinkedIn or even on a website, people are actually looking. And I think that in itself speaks volume because once people are following you, be it on LinkedIn or in whatever social media platforms, that subconsciously they have you in their mind. And hopefully, from whatever translates, be it you meet them out for a coffee day or you meet them for some business deals, you know that, okay, so they do have you in mind and if ever there’s any potential legal matters or non-legal problems, you might be on their speed dial or they will actually reach out to you. And I think that’s something that is getting very important to gather new clients. Yes.

Lindsay: Absolutely. And I think what you’re doing is really the sweet spot, which is not just the online activity, but taking the online activity and pairing it with the offline activity, so that not only are people seeing you online, but you’re converting that to that offline activity, so that you are constantly top of mind with people. Sometimes people forget that second piece, which is taking relationships offline. And that’s really what the important thing is. Those online relationships are very important, and they can lead to business, but it’s that second part which is converting it into an offline relationship that is so key, and I think you’re really doing a nice job of that.

Noel: You’re too kind.

Lindsay: I’m seeing it happen in real time and I like to highlight it because I think that’s not something that a lot of people understand and do really nicely. And I see you do that really nicely and I want to make sure that our listeners know that that’s the piece they need to really do.

Noel: Yes. Reaffirming what you just said, it’s really important to actually try to lock down just like a simple coffee. And generally, what I do is if I meet people and I try my best. And I would say 99% of the time I’m successful, I always try to drop them an after email. In a sense that I’ll do the day after and I just say that “It was a joy to meet you,” blah, blah, blah, “keep safe and in touch.” And generally, I leave it there because after a while I realized that if people want to meet you, they will actually reach out. So, it’s kind of like that email is kind of like an open door from my side, where if you want to find out more, even though we only spoke for about three minutes, generally that’s what you get at a networking event anyway, just to have that initial connection.

It’s on you to reach out or try to get a coffee and everything. And I would say that majority of the time, it’s always interesting because when people are outside of a networking event and it’s just one-on-one, naturally we talk more than just work. And I think that for me, maybe because of my past prior experience or career as a law enforcement officer, I love meeting people, I love finding out their life stories. The human being is just filled with complexity, and underneath it all, exterior facade, there’s always a story to tell. And many a times, you meet people… And I mean my approach is I just meet people, I want to find more about them, establish the relationships, whether or not the work comes, that’s secondary. Because at the end of the day, there’s no point trying to get the work. It’s very transactional. It’s a once off and then you can send them off to another person.

Whereas if you are trying to invest in a relationship in a sense that I really, really want to know the person, human beings, we aren’t stupid, and people know that. And when you can kind of tap into that very deep aspect of them, most of the time when they really, really have problems, they will reach out to you. And I think that’s very special in the sense that you build up the relationship first and without having any preconceived idea of like, “Oh, you know what? Hopefully, I’ll get this million dollar or billion-dollar deal from him because I know that from his name card, he’s a…” blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And so, yes, it is very refreshing every single time that I use this approach because from there you learn so much about a person, you learn what are his hobbies. And from there, you might actually become friends with him, so it’s actually really interesting.

Lindsay: That’s great. That’s a really great approach. So, before we wrap up, I always have one question I ask everybody, having nothing to do with work, that is, what is something that you’re really enjoying right now?

Noel: I think what I’m really enjoying right now is because we’ve been around for more than 20 years. So, what I’ve always liked since I was a kid is trying to bring up to the next level. And I think in as much as it’s really challenging and that’s why I am doing all of this networking along with my management team and aggressively going out, meeting people, I think it’s trying to, I wouldn’t say grow the firm, but I would say upgrade the firm in the sense that there’s a very clear distinction between when you grow the firm, it can still be the same. It can still have a lot of office politics, it can still have people or disgruntled employees, people don’t like that.

But when you upgrade a firm, it means that you are really comfortable with the good firm culture, the good work-life balance that the firm provides, a lot of respect and commitment from both the management as well as the employees. But upgrading it means you just want to see what better way we can do to make the firm better for both our clients, for our business partners. And I think at the end of the day, when you have kind of a goal or vision, it makes life more meaningful and worthwhile living. Yes.

Lindsay: Fantastic. I love that. Thank you so much. Well, thank you, Noel, so much for joining us this week. And thanks so much to all of our listeners. We’ll be back next week with our next guest. And in the meantime, please do take a moment to rate, review and subscribe to our podcast over on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts, and we really appreciate it. Thank you so much.

Noel: Thank you.

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