Alumni Profile: Lawyering in the Asian Century

By Andy Walsh

Working on the world's largest initial public offering and witnessing first-hand the Occupy Hong Kong movement are just two stimulating experiences Melbourne Law School alumnus Antony Dapiran has had since relocating to Asia for a successful legal career.

Antony Dapiran
Antony Dapiran

Mr Dapiran (LLB (Hons)/BA (Chinese) 1998) relocated to Hong Kong following completion of his degree almost two decades ago.

As a student, going on exchange to Peking University, undertaking Chinese language and law studies, and working part-time in Australian and Chinese law firms advising foreign businesses investing in China provided the impetus to move.

"While studying at Melbourne Law School, I studied a number of subjects in the Asian Law Centre, which helped foster my interest in and knowledge of Asian law and society," he says.

"(Then) my experience living and studying in China made me realise that the best opportunities to utilise my skills lay in this part of the world, and so I decided to come directly to Hong Kong to commence my career immediately upon graduation. I have been here ever since."

Mr Dapiran joined international law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer as a graduate lawyer in Hong Kong, becoming partner in 2008 and ultimately managing partner of its Beijing office.

In 2010, he joined New York-based firm Davis Polk & Wardwell to launch its new Hong Kong law practice.

His time in Asia has seen Mr Dapiran work on the IPOs of three of China's 'Big Four' commercial banks – China Construction Bank (CCB), Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), and Agricultural Bank of China (ABC).

ABC's IPO was valued at more than US$22 billion upon completion in 2010, a then world record.

"CCB was the first of the major Chinese banks to pursue an overseas listing, at a time when those banks still wore the stigma of being government-run bodies engaged in policy-directed lending with balance sheets full of bad loans. The process of helping them to restructure and make themselves attractive to international investors was fascinating," Mr Dapiran says.

"ICBC was the first ever simultaneous dual Hong Kong and Shanghai listing, a process that involved numerous legal innovations, while ABC was at the time the world's largest ever IPO."

The Occupy Hong Kong movement last year literally took place on his doorstep, offering Mr Dapiran a unique insight into a significant moment in Hong Kong's history.

"Beyond the political – and, yes, constitutional law – issues the protesters raised, there was also a huge outpouring of artistic expression, a kind of cultural renaissance, and also a re-fashioning of public space and Hong Kong's urban landscape," he says.

"In addition to my legal work, I write on China law and business-related issues, and a number of my pieces reporting on and analysing Occupy Hong Kong were carried by News Corp's China Spectator, The Age, and other media outlets, as was my photography of the protests.

"It was an exciting time."

Mr Dapiran says his involvement in capital markets transactions and witnessing the Chinese economy undergoing great change has been rewarding.

Asia is the most exciting and dynamic place in the world. Many of the matters that we work on are the first of their kind, and often involve helping to innovate the very latest legal and regulatory developments in the region. It is always challenging and fascinating to do all of this while working in a foreign language and culture

"I have been extremely fortunate to be working in China at a time that has seen great change, from the years leading up to China's accession to the World Trade Organization, through to China now growing to become the world's second largest economy and on track to become the largest.

"Throughout this period I have had the opportunity to work with leading Chinese companies as they undergo the process of reforming from pseudo-government departments to commercial enterprises, accessing international capital markets, undertaking acquisitions overseas and developing into multinational corporations.

"If anything has surprised me, it is the speed with which all this has happened. When I began my career I don't think anyone would have expected China would assume the size and importance that it has in such a short period of time."

Image: Antony Dapiran
Credit: supplied

This article originally appeared in MLS News, Issue 14, October 2015.