Asia Law – Singapore boutique YWKLaw shuts shop

LAWFUEL – Legal News Daily – Singapore corporate finance boutique YWKLaw has announced it will cease operations at the beginning of September, with all of the firm’s six-lawyer team, including the firm’s founder Yeo Wee Kiong, joining Singapore’s second-largest law firm Drew & Napier, AsiaLegal Business reports.

Five of YWKLaw’s lawyers – Yeo Wee Kiong, Ralph Lim, Benedict Teo, Tony Toh and Bijay Nawal – are to step into director roles at Drew & Napier. The remaining lawyer, Joseph Manzi, will transition from a foreign counsel role to international lawyer at Drew.

The news brings to a close a four-year experiment for the firm, though YWKLaw’s roots can be traced back to 1996 when Yeo Wee Kiong left Drew & Napier to set up Yeo Wee Kiong & Partners. In October 1999, Yeo Wee Kiong & Partners merged with Rajah & Tann but, with the dissolution of the local law firm’s tie-up with an international group of law firms at the end of 2002, Wee Kiong left to establish YWKLaw in early 2003.

While Kiong has not commented on the reasons for YWKLaw’s closure, sources at Drew & Napier suggest although the firm has strong capabilities, being a boutique means it has been unable to source some of the larger deals available, with many clients preferring the brand-assurance and capacity of a larger firm. Also, with talent an issue in the Singapore market, firms like YWKLaw are finding it hard to compete with the larger players.

A former investment banker, YWKLaw’s Wee Kiong has over 20 years of corporate, corporate finance, M&A and securities experience. He worked with the Singapore Economic Development Board and NM Rothschild in the 1980s, before joining Drew & Napier as a partner in 1989, and leading its corporate practice from 1994.

The hires are welcome news for Drew & Napier, which is currently losing four directors of varied disciplines to competitor Rajah & Tann. Drew & Napier director Gary Pryke said the firm has maintained a relationship with Kiong since his departure in 1996, leading to his decision to come back to the firm with his team. Pryke said the new hires will give a significant boost to Drew’s M&A and capital markets practice, and that it will cement relationships with existing clients who have used both Drew and YWKLaw.

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