LexTalk World Talk Show with Daniel Ho, Senior Associate, Baker McKenzie Wong & Leow


Daniel is an engineer-turned-lawyer in the Singapore office of Baker McKenzie, one of the world’s largest law firms and named the world’s leading law firm brand for the past 12 years. Between the roles of an engineer and a lawyer, he has more than a decade of experience in the construction and engineering industry. Daniel specialises in dispute resolution, project advisory and contract drafting services for international construction, infrastructure, engineering and energy projects all around the world – including Singapore, India, China, Korea, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Dominican Republic, the Maldives, Bahrain, Vietnam, Taiwan, Myanmar, as well as offshore projects such as Floating Production Storage and Offloading (FPSO) units and offshore oil and gas platforms. The projects that Daniel works on are typically high-value in nature, and are commonly in the region of ranging from USD 300 million to upwards of USD 1 billion. On the dispute resolution front, Daniel has appeared in international and domestic arbitrations administered by various arbitral institutions (e.g., the International Chamber of Commerce, the Singapore International Arbitration Centre, the International Centre for Alternative Dispute Resolution etc). Daniel has also appeared in all levels of the Singapore courts (namely, the State Courts, the High Court and the Court of Appeal) with corresponding success. In relation to project advisory, Daniel regularly advises his clients on their projects in relation to the entire spectrum of issues such as claims for outstanding payment, omissions, variations, delay and/or disruption, suspension, acceleration, inspection and quality assurance, defects, insurance, indemnity and termination. As regards contract drafting services, Daniel has helped his clients put together suites of contracts (whether bespoke or based on standard forms) for many complex turn-key construction, infrastructure, engineering and energy projects.


Interview:

Host: Tell us about yourself and your legal expertise. What kinds of matters do you focus on?

Daniel: • I would just need to preface our discussion by saying that all my views expressed today are mine personally and are in no way intended to represent the views of my firm or anyone else.


• With that out of the way, My name is Daniel and I’m an international construction and engineering lawyer based in the Singapore office of Baker McKenzie. Prior to practicing law, I was a naval engineering officer with the Republic of Singapore Navy and during my time there I took charge of the retro-fitting projects for naval vessels.


• So all things considered, between my roles as an engineer and now as an engineering lawyer, I have now spent more than a decade in this industry.


• In terms of the work that I do, there are mainly 3 aspects:


• (One) I help clients to draft and put together the suite of contracts and related documentation for construction and engineering projects all over the world.


• (Secondly) I partner with my clients’ teams during the project to help them with all things legal - for example, claims management or even general business law queries.


• (Last but not least) I represent clients in their disagreements with their contractual counterparties if there are any disputes that arise out of these construction and engineering projects. The most common form of dispute resolution in my line of work is international arbitration, because most international construction and engineering contracts stipulate arbitration as the parties’ preferred mode to resolve their disputes.


• Regarding the types of projects that I handle, these are typically high value international projects all over the world – including the likes of China, India, Korea, Dominican Republic, the Maldives and the list goes on.


• I for one have had the pleasure to travel to India many times in the course of my work with clients based there – for example Delhi, Bangalore, Agra - so I do hope to have the chance to resume the travels now that the pandemic travel restrictions are slowly being lifted.


Host: How would you rate the current legal system's drive towards encouraging access to justice? Is there tangible movement in closing the justice gap?

Daniel: • When we talk about access to justice, one way to look at it is to ask ourselves this question - are people able to easily gain access to a lawyer whenever they need legal assistance?


• And not just any lawyer - but one that is well trained with the right kind of skill, experience and expertise to help - for example, if you are having a problem with your eyes, you don’t want to just consult any gynaecologist just because he or she is a doctor - you would want to look for an eye doctor who would be able to help you address your problem.


• So is the case for lawyers and their respective legal expertise. Some lawyers do 1 or 2 construction cases and then they claim to be experienced and experts in such disputes – I don’t. I have been doing this all my life, and I know for a fact that construction and engineering legal matters belong to a highly technical and specialised domain - and you need proper counsel and advice on such matters.


• And when we look at it that way, Vinay, I believe that more than anything, technology is the single driving factor has helped facilitate access to justice.


• Today, because of technology in the form of Virtual Meeting Platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Webex, Google Meet - I am able to share my construction and engineering law expertise with clients all around the world at the click of a mouse button.


• It used to be the case that clients in some parts of the world may not have access to lawyers with such specialized knowledge and expertise within their network in their cities – but now all they need to do is google, connect with specialised lawyers like myself online and jump on a Zoom call – and they will be able to receive the help and advice immediately.


• To-date, I’ve provided numerous advice and legal support to my clients for their construction and engineering projects via virtual calls.


• I’ve also closed a good number of deals and contracts purely over virtual calls - and that is testament to how effective these platforms have become in facilitating my work.


Host: In the era of legal technology, what are the most commonly used tools for you?

Daniel: • We were talking about Virtual Meeting Platforms earlier, for clients to locate specialist lawyers and get legal advice and support wherever they are, whenever they require.


• That is a major technological tool that I use in my practice.


• Now when it comes to international arbitrations that I work on,

I engage with an entire gamut of tools to facilitate my workflow.


• In view of the limited time we have today, I am just going to share one or two more that I use in my practice.


• When it comes to pleadings, when I was first starting out in my practice

I remember my seniors telling me that I need to create a table - either using Microsoft word or Microsoft Excel - and then map out all of the paragraphs of the pleadings to make sure all subject matters are covered.


• And then there will be arches and arches of documents to back up those pleadings - and most times, after a while, everybody forgets which arch file goes to supporting which part of the pleading.


• Today, I use an intelligent system we have in house that allows me to map out the pleadings in an organized way and drag and drop the supporting documents against each of those paragraphs of the pleadings.


• I then open up this to the client as well, and the client goes in, has a look, and then they might say - hey I’ve got even more substantiating documents that could help this point - and they can drag and drop more documents into the system.


• Once that is all done, at a click of a button, a draft Statement of Claim or Statement of Defence can be generated and we just need to tidy up the minor details.


• This ensures we never, ever, miss out on any substantive matter that needs to be addressed in the pleadings.


• Another tool that I use relates to document management.


• As you might know, for construction and engineering projects, the contracts span volumes and volumes (normally at least 10 arch files and more) – and then there are volumes and volumes of correspondence and notices between the parties. Not to mention documentation such as variation order instructions and timesheets and the like.


• When it comes to construction and engineering arbitrations, one very important factor that could decide if you win or lose the arbitration is how you manage these huge volumes of documents and how you are able to present them in a systemic, cohesive and persuasive manner to convince the Tribunal of your case theory.


• In my practice therefore, I use an intelligent document management system that sorts these documents, automatically removes duplicity, assigns them to the relevant parts of the case, and tells me if these documents are adverse or helpful to my clients.


• Again, my clients have access to this system and they log on, they check these documents, and they may say hey this email chain is incomplete - I have something else that can show the entire context of the conversation, and then we can enhance the robustness of our case.


Host: The pandemic saw some courts begin moving towards more remote proceedings and availability. Is this sustainable, and a possible way to increase access to justice, in your opinion?

Daniel: • Yes I think this would likely be the way going forward.


• We talked earlier about how, because of Virtual Meeting Platforms, clients all over the world can now have access to specialized needs based legal advice from lawyers like myself who have a very specialized skillset and expertise - but who might be based somewhere across the world.


• One other way to consider access to justice, is to enable people to have their day in court or in arbitration - and Virtual Meeting Platforms are certainly a great way to facilitate that.


• If litigations or arbitrations are conducted virtually, people don’t have to fly in from all over the world to attend the hearing. They can continue working on their various projects where they are, and give evidence virtually through a Virtual Meeting Platform.


• Increasingly, courts and arbitral tribunals are recognizing this and it is becoming more common for virtual or hybrid hearings to be conducted.


• I myself have been involved in many of such hearings and my personal experience is that these hearings can be conducted very smoothly indeed.


• With that being said, there are some instances where we would push for in person attendance.


• When and how we do that is a matter of acumen, and that again comes from experience and expertise.


• For construction and engineering arbitrations, there are some situations where we might recommend for clients to fly in to take the witness stand in person.


• For example if there are complex factual issues that are best explained in person (things like explaining large size drawings to the Court or the arbitral tribunal)


• or where we want the Court or the arbitral tribunal to see and ascertain the veracity and emotional aspects of their factual account.

• But yes, as a matter of general approach, Virtual Meeting Platforms definitely make the litigation or arbitration process much more cost effective.


Host: Time is money in any profession and in legal it's most of all. How do you ensure to make the best of your time as a lawyer?

Daniel: • I think for me, the objective of time management is that it must translate to cost savings for my clients.


• Because we charge by our time as lawyers, it is fundamental that every single minute of our time paid for by our clients is efficient and effectively spent.


• For me, that means I trust my secretary and juniors to carry out the administrative aspects of the matters.


• It means that on my own, I have to always keep an eye on the latest developments in construction and engineering law - so that I already know the answers whenever clients ask me questions and no time is wasted.


• It means also that I rely heavily on technology to make sure the work is done in the most time efficient and cost effective manner.

 

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