© Efi Chalikopoulou

Whatever their area, practice lawyers who stand out for legal expertise have usually made a mark by challenging preconceived ideas and doing something a bit different.

The FT Innovative Lawyers awards seek out practitioners who create new areas of proficiency. Those lawyers may work in fields as disparate as energy, trade policy, capital markets or regulation, but they all tackle issues that go way beyond the law — with implications for business and society in general.

One lawyer ultimately stood out for the panel of judges (see list below) for the “individual practitioner” award. Blind since he was a teenager, and with a degree in social work as well as law, Darren Fittler sought to bring the might of a leading corporate firm to the service of charitable organisations. ­As well as calling on personal experience and tech skills to persuade the firm and prospective clients, he also tried performing comedy sets for colleagues to highlight disability and the charitable sector’s need for legal expertise.

Not every lawyer can do stand-up, but the panel judged Fittler to be a role model for any practitioner because of his innovation, leadership and general drive to achieve a breakthrough.

Profiles compiled and edited by RSGI researchers and FT editors. “Winner” indicates an Innovative Lawyers 2024 award, the rest are in alphabetical order

Winner: Darren Fittler
Partner, Gilbert + Tobin

Darren Fittler, a blind middle-aged Caucasian man wearing a shirt and a suit facing the camera

As lead partner in his firm’s charities and social sector group, Darren Fittler specialises in providing legal advice to a range of social impact bodies in Australia and beyond.

Blind since he was 13, Fittler has established himself as one of few top-tier corporate law partners living with a disability in Australia. He has built a team of six lawyers who specialise in advising charities, not-for-profit groups, social enterprises and philanthropists on a tailored “fee-for-service” basis.

Recent work includes advising on a project including 350 affordable build-to-rent homes in Sydney for essential workers. Fittler has also offered expert guidance to the broader social sector.

After a spell as a social worker, he retrained as a lawyer and, after six years with his firm, won backing for his ambition to establish his niche practice.

He also performs stand-up comedy occasionally.

Supratim Chakraborty
Partner, Khaitan & Co

Supratim Chakraborty, a man of Indian descent wearing a suit smiles for the camera

The enactment of digital data protection legislation in India, in August last year, has created a big challenge for businesses and organisations in the world’s biggest jurisdiction by population. Supratim Chakraborty and his colleagues are attempting to rise to it.

In a market previously marked by weak privacy requirements, Chakraborty’s team has focused on becoming a frontrunner by working with tech partners to develop compliance services that can be offered to both domestic and foreign clients. His firm has also worked with a range of industry associations to raise awareness of new data privacy obligations which, if breached, can result in significant fines and other sanctions.

As well as advising the Indian government, Chakraborty’s team has worked on data matters for domestic and overseas clients including Reliance Group, Microsoft and Zoom.

Aylin Cunsolo
Partner, Baker McKenzie

Aylin Cunsolo, a smiling Caucasian woman with chin-level hair wearing office attire

As a member of the firm’s energy and resources team in Melbourne, Aylin Cunsolo focuses on renewable and clean energy project development and regulation.

Her work includes advising on energy contracting, including hedging and offtake arrangements, connection arrangements and the retail sale of renewable power. She has also advised on a range of M&A deals, including the purchase of wind and solar farms.

In addition, Cunsolo has been involved in the development of so-called power purchase agreements in Australia for renewable projects. These agreements set the commercial terms for the supply of green energy to the local market and help ensure certainty over long-term revenue and the raising of finance.

Her work extends beyond advising clients that are directly involved in the sector to helping other businesses achieve their sustainability goals.

Kojiro Fujii
Partner, Nishimura & Asahi

Kojiro Fujii. A Japanese man wearing a suit and a tie

Kojiro Fujii has emerged as a leading specialist in competition and international trade law at his Tokyo firm, during almost two decades of practice.

As a former deputy director of Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, he handled several significant trade disputes on behalf of the government. Other former government lawyers now have critical roles in his team.

Demand for their expertise in trade disputes has been revived in recent years by the political backlash against globalisation. Fujii works for a range of foreign and domestic government bodies, multinationals, and industry associations.

Clients have included those involved in auto parts, air cargo, power networks, steel and metals, banking and securities exchanges, where the strength of leading players can cause concern over the dangers of pricing power, excess state subsidies, dumping, or other unfair trade practices.

Timothy Goh
Partner, Dechert

Timothy Goh. A Singaporean man, smiling with his head tilted slightly to the side

Singapore-based Timothy Goh has established himself as a sought-after adviser on corporate acquisitions, debt and equity investments, and fundraisings in the environmental field.

Appointed as partner in 2022, he leads Dechert’s ESG and sustainable finance practice in Asia. He brings together companies, asset managers, and regulators to deliver projects that help to advance emerging economies while attempting to mitigate their impact on the environment.

Goh also mentors early-stage “impact” start-ups across Asia and is co-author of an annual Sustainable Finance Law Review, tracking regulatory efforts and trends in the topic across many jurisdictions.

Recent work includes advising a charity on structuring carbon credits to help conserve forest wildlife sanctuaries in Cambodia, and advice to a leading backer of a $1bn wind power project in Laos.

Ken Kawai
Partner, Anderson Mori & Tomotsune

Ken Kawai. Japanese man wearing glasses, a suit and a closed lip smile

Ken Kawai has emerged as one of Japan’s leading practitioners and advisers in fintech law. He regularly counsels a range of financial institutions, start-ups, and corporate clients on complex finance and financial regulatory matters with a particular focus on technology.

He is in demand for guidance on legal issues affecting fintech firms, including the complex legal framework governing cryptocurrencies, initial coin offerings and blockchain.

Kawai has also been involved in a continuing campaign to open up Japan to the rollout of “stablecoins” as a new payment method in negotiations with Japanese regulator, the Financial Services Agency, over the past year.

He advises on derivatives and has counselled global banks, broker-dealers and investors in this business area, following a 17-year career at Japan’s MUFG Bank that involved derivatives trading.

Lena Ng
Partner, Clifford Chance

Lena Ng. A middle-aged Singaporean woman in an office attire

Lena Ng leads the financial regulatory practice in Clifford Chance’s Singapore office. She advises on a wide range of topics covering banking, securities, futures, derivatives, funds and payment services.

Ng’s work extends to advising on bank secrecy, confidentiality, and data privacy. She is also part of the firm’s tech group and counsels on fintech, blockchain and cryptocurrencies.

She was recently part of a core group of lawyers collaborating on Project Guardian, sponsored by the Monetary Authority of Singapore. This project has been exploring the best ways in which to integrate new technologies — including blockchain-based asset tokenisation and decentralised finance — into the country’s financial systems.

Ng first joined the firm in London in 2001 and quickly developed expertise in financial derivatives and an interest in regulatory affairs.

Susan Ning
Partner, King & Wood Mallesons

Susan Ning. A  Chinese woman wearing glasses in an office attire

Susan Ning’s 35-year career has coincided with the Chinese economy opening up to foreign investment and trade. She is now a leading figure in navigating the mainland’s stance on driving growth in the digital economy.

As managing partner of KWM’s regulatory and compliance group, she and her team advise clients on setting up and improving data and cyber security compliance programmes, to align with the complicated regulatory requirements of China, the EU, the US, and other jurisdictions.

Ning also specialises in antitrust and competition law and has represented a range of western companies in dealings with Chinese regulatory authorities throughout her career. Using her decades of experience in the tech sector, she has also worked with mainland regulators to shape industry standards in the emerging digital economy.

Doil Son
Partner, Yulchon

Doil Son. A middle-aged Korean man wearing glasses and a suit

As head of his firm’s intellectual property and technology practice, Doil Son leads efforts to explore the challenges of deploying artificial intelligence — both within and outside the business.

His team is evaluating various AI systems against efficiency, accuracy and confidentiality criteria. This task is made more complicated by the linguistic and structural differences of the Korean language, and specific confidentiality demands that have so far held back the adoption of AI systems among law firms in the country.

But, as head of a group comprising about 70 lawyers, he anticipates success in a $5mn project to introduce AI systems to the firm.

Since qualifying as a lawyer in 1996, his experience covers mergers and acquisitions, disputes and regulatory work across a wide range of businesses, and handling issues of trade secrets, IT security and internal investigations.

Agnes Tsang
Partner, A&O Shearman

An Asian woman in an office attire smiles with closed lips

Based in Hong Kong, Agnes Tsang advises issuers and underwriters on a wide range of capital market transactions, including ESG bonds, regulatory capital, and convertible debt fundraisings.

Recently, she advised the Hong Kong government on the first tokenised green bond issuance in the jurisdiction, using blockchain technology. She is now focusing on helping to develop the market for “stablecoin” cryptocurrencies as an alternative payment method.

Beyond her interest in developing “green” capital markets, Tsang has been involved in initiatives to adopt the latest legal tech and in encouraging welfare policies at Allen & Overy, which this month completed its merger with New York’s Shearman & Sterling.

Tsang is often called on to support clients in delivering “first-of-its-kind” mandates and to help promote Hong Kong as a key financial centre in future digital debt issuance.

Judging panel

Harriet Arnold, assistant editor, FT Project Publishing (panel chair)
Amy Bell, commissioning editor, FT Project Publishing
Michael Kavanagh, FT Project Publishing contributing editor
Yasmin Lambert, managing director, RSGI
Rebecca Lim, general counsel, University of Wollongong
Paul Neo, chief operating officer and chief financial officer, Singapore Academy of Law
Brian Tang, executive director, LITE Lab, University of Hong Kong
Paul Walker, Emea technical director, iManage

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