MARK WONG ON HIS FRENCH CONNECTION
He may have left Paris 10 years ago but the city’s lessons—and allure—live on.
BY ASHUTOSH RAVIKRISHNAN
France looms large over my lunch with Mr Mark Wong—and why wouldn’t it? He holds the distinction of being the first Singaporean to be called to the Paris Bar and it’s clear that he still cherishes his 10 years there. “My first office was located very near to the Eiffel Tower and I would decompress by walking home from work along the River Seine, even at 2 or 3 in the morning,” he recalls wistfully. “Stepping into the streets and seeing the mesmerising sights of Paris at night after a long day of hard work seem to make it all worth it.”
Beyond the beauty, Mark also absorbed plenty of lessons, many of which are still relevant to his practice at Dentons Rodyk today. “When I started my M&A practice in Paris, some aspects of the work there were more advanced. For example, there was tremendous emphasis on the regulatory area of merger control in Europe as far back as 20 years ago.”
He continues, “Having a solid understanding of EU regulations and European customary practices has been very helpful when dealing in cross-border transactions involving European parties or businesses.” He briefly describes a matter he’s handling, where this knowledge has come in especially handy. “I assist Asian entities in the acquisition of European targets and the lessons learned have been crucial in allowing me to better protect my client’s interests.”
Such experiences have made Mark an ardent advocate for common law practitioners to learn more about civil law systems. “That familiarity with those systems is very lacking,” he says. “It’s something that I observed at the start of my career: a notion that you can just rely on counsel from a foreign jurisdiction to help.” But ignorance of civil law systems and norms means you might not be protecting your clients as well as you should, he stresses.
At the same time, he’s also eager to share that the two systems are not as divergent as people might think. “There are of course many other stark and interesting differences between the common law and the civil law systems, but by and large we are observing a great deal of convergence in thought and practice between the different laws today as cross-border deals increase in volume and intensity in Asia.”
Mark and his wife with their two children, including aptly-named Paris and newborn Paige
After his time in Paris, Mark moved to another global capital, this time in the East: bustling Beijing. Like Paris, it also holds a special allure for him—his first daughter was born there 10 years ago and many of his clients are based there. “Working with them was a completely different experience than what I'd been used to in Paris. Expectations were different with very much tighter timelines,” he says, adding that he worked through most Lunar New Year breaks while he lived there. But he regrets little of it: “There’s something to be said about the joy of setting your mind to a complex problem—and finding a solution to it.” Perhaps it was his commitment to his craft or his affable personality—many of the clients he advised eventually became lifelong friends.
China remains an important market for Mark. The pandemic has meant that he hasn’t seen his Chinese clients in person for more than two years, but he is buoyant about what the future holds. “From a geopolitics perspective, there has been a shift in the economic centre of gravity towards Asia. Singapore is on track to becoming a global hub and has successfully integrated itself into global value chains. I think that we are very privileged to be lawyers practising in Singapore today.”
Legal professionals looking to expand their understanding of European law can attend the following:
· The two-day Asia – Europe Law and Business Symposium (26 – 27 May) adopts a comparative lens to issues like data privacy, the enforcement of foreign judgments, leadership in legal circles and the value of the legal function. Register here.
· A new executive programme (kicking off on 24 May) focuses on the green financing, digital intellectual property and data privacy laws of the European Union. It runs in partnership with Paris 2 Panthéon-Assas University, often dubbed France’s top law school. Register here.