King & Spalding has appointed a new Singapore managing partner as the firm continues its push to diversify its sector expertise in the city-state.
Debt finance and restructuring partner Andrew Brereton, who joined the firm in 2019, will take on the new role, succeeding project finance lawyer Kelly Malone.
Brereton advises financial institutions and investors on acquisition finance, structured lending, syndicated loans, trade finance, project finance, reserve-based lending, and restructurings and workouts. He was previously a Singapore-based partner at Clifford Chance, where he had practiced for more than two decades.
King & Spalding launched its Singapore outfit in 2010. At that time, the firm’s practice in the city-state was very much focused on the energy sector. The majority of its Singapore partners still specialize in energy and infrastructure projects, even in its disputes offering, but Brereton says the firm is pushing for more diversification in its sector expertise.
“Now, we’re very much sector agnostic,” said Brereton.
“About five years ago, the firm began to see a lot more activity in the private equity, M&A and the financing space, particularly for private credit,” he added, noting that King & Spalding responded to the shift by hiring former Clifford Chance M&A partner Lee Taylor, who has since retired. “Then, I joined in 2019, so that was really the start of broadening out the footprint of King & Spalding.”
The firm’s Singapore office counts 33 lawyers, including 13 partners. More than half of those partners have a contentious practice, with some acting on pharmaceutical, construction and engineering, and investor-state disputes.
On the corporate end, Brereton says the firm is now working on “broad-based M&A, including related financing work, acting for both borrowers and lenders, as well as restructuring work.”
In Singapore, many of the firm’s clients have their roots in the U.S. and the flow of investments by American businesses into Asia over the last 18 months has created a strong stream of work for the local practice, particularly in the technology space, Brereton explained.
“There’s been a decline in interest and investment into China, given the obvious geopolitical reasons,” said Brereton. “And so that has led to a big wall of capital, pushing over to India. But the inflow of capital has also increased valuations in India, which means now Vietnam and the Philippines are also becoming great targets for capital deployment.”
For that reason, the firm last year brought on Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom counsel Parveet Singh Gandoak as a partner in its corporate, finance and investments practice in Singapore. Last month, Gandoak advised Saudi business Abdul Latif Jameel on its $150 million 35% share subscription in Greaves Electric Mobility Private Company, an Indian electric vehicle manufacturer.
Earlier this year, the firm also hired international arbitration partner Nils Eliasson from Shearman & Sterling. His client base includes technology and construction industries, but he also has an investment treaty and energy specialty, which fit nicely with the firm’s core strengths, Brereton said.
King & Spalding ranked 27th on the 2021 Global 200 survey, which ranks the world’s top 200 international law firms based on revenue. In 2021, the firm raked in $1.82 billion in gross revenue—up 25% from the previous year. Its revenue per lawyer also increased to $1.4 million from $1.14 million.
Over the past two years, Singapore has seen an influx of new legal competitors. Of the new entrants, McDermott Will & Emery has the strongest energy focus. In 2020, the firm closed its last office in Asia but then relaunched via Singapore last year. It has hired away King & Spalding partner Merrick White, and its two other partners—Ignatius Hwang and Clarinda Tjia-Dharmadi—are also energy projects specialists.
To deal with growing competition, Brereton says that King & Spalding’s edge lies in its low leverage model, which means that when clients engage the firm, they receive a lot of “hands-on partner time.”
“That’s one of the things, I think, that distinguishes us from a lot of our competitors,” he said.
In a talent crunch market, Brereton thinks that King & Spalding has something different to offer.
“There is something to be said for finding the best young talent in the market—perhaps counsel or junior partners who are struggling for whatever reason to make headway in their current firm,” said Brereton. “Maybe there’s just not space for another partner in that area and their firm can’t give them the opportunity. We are about locating the best people and then giving them a platform to grow. For up-and-coming talent, we are a greenfield opportunity.”
In Asia, the firm also operates an office in Tokyo that has a less diversified offering. That office has one partner and one senior counsel, as well as three other lawyers, all of whom focus on energy and projects work.
“We still have huge strength on the energy side and the arbitration side but we’re looking to build out further,” said Brereton. “That is really the focus for the next phase of our growth in Singapore. Really building and growing out from our strengths and not necessarily trying to put dots on the map around the region.”