DEBBY LIM ON FINDING JOY IN THE GREY
The Director of BlackOak on what the new the Insolvency, Restructuring and Dissolution Act 2018 will bring and why diversity in her area of law matters.
For some, the grey areas of the law can be a frightening space. But for others, like BlackOak director Debby Lim, these areas are fascinating to work in, as each successive case tests a different aspect of the law. This drew her to insolvency practice, of which she got a first taste as a third-year intern at Tan Kok Quan Partnership, under the mentorship of Justice Kannan Ramesh, then a Partner at the firm. “I was working on a scheme of arrangement matter and that really piqued my interest in insolvency,” she tells SAL.
That was more than a decade ago—in the years since, Ms Lim has mastered the various skills necessary to thrive in the restructuring and insolvency space. “Besides a good grasp of the law, you also need really strong people skills because there are multiple stakeholders involved,” she explains. “You have to know how to balance everybody’s interests, because unlike, say, litigation, it’s not just about a win or lose situation.”
PICKING UP THE PIECES WHEN THINGS FALL APART
She recounts one instance when such skills proved handy. “My clients, who were the second-largest creditor, and the debtor company had fallen out and misunderstandings were rife. The creditor instructed me to apply for judicial management through the court,” she recalls. But Ms Lim intervened to resolve the tension and successfully persuaded her clients to withdraw the application. This involved negotiations with other stakeholders including the debtor company and the largest creditor to ensure that her clients’ rights were safeguarded.
Judicial management, which has been a bedrock of Singapore’s restructuring and insolvency landscape for more than 30 years, is back in the spotlight since the Insolvency, Restructuring and Dissolution Act 2018 (IRDA) came into force at the end of July. The Act brings together all of Singapore’s insolvency and restructuring laws into a single legislation and has several provisions for judicial management, including an out-of-court system.
Ms Lim welcomes such changes, noting that the application for judicial management through the court can be inefficient. “Distressed companies would have to spend precious time and resources on the application when these could be channelled towards rehabilitation instead,” she explains. This also reduces the attendant stigma of a formal judicial process and a 'light touch' judicial management is possible now. But she is quick to point out that this is not the only inefficiency that IRDA tackles. “The new Act makes the dissolution process for clear cut cases, where the company’s assets are insufficient to cover the winding-up expenses, faster and more efficient as well.”
IRDA is a significant legislative step, offering her fellow practitioners “more tools in their arsenal”. But to use these tools effectively and efficiently, practitioners should grasp the rationale behind the changes, as well as what they entail. To do this, they can register for an upcoming webinar devoted to the IRDA, which will feature Ms Lim alongside industry heavyweights Associate Professor Wee Meng Seng, who heads the Corporate Law arm of the EW Barker Centre for Law & Business at NUS; Ms Angela Ee, who leads Ernst & Young’s Turnaround and Restructuring Strategy practice in ASEAN; Mr Harold Foo, a Ministry of Law policymaker who worked on the IRDA, and Mr Sim Kwan Kiat, who heads Rajah & Tann’s restructuring and insolvency practice.
THE CASE FOR DIVERSITY
Ms Lim and I are talking shortly after the passing of US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, so I’m naturally curious about her views on diversity in the law. She is, after all, an ardent advocate for it, serving as the co-chairperson of the Singapore Network of the International Women’s Insolvency & Restructuring Confederation and is a founding member of the Law Society of Singapore’s Women in Practice Task Force.
“Restructuring and insolvency tends to be a male-dominated space, both on the advisors’ side and the legal end,” Ms Lim says matter-of-factly. But she is optimistic that things are beginning to look up for women, especially as clients increasingly value diversity. She recounts a restructuring deal she acted on for a Telecommunications, Media and Technology client that asked for the team composition to reflect diversity. “Such actions prove that there is a growing business case for diversity,” she adds.
“I was initially surprised that the clients would give me a chance to represent them in the Court of Appeal because I used to think I had two things counting against me: the fact that I was young and female. But such thoughts don’t help; having the tenacity to leave no stone unturned and the mental sinew to venture where others may fear to tread does." — Ms Debby Lim, who has appeared twice as lead counsel before the Singapore Court of Appeal (with a full bench of five Judges) in restructuring and insolvency matters.
A LIFE IN THE LAW
Ms Debby Lim
Called to the Bar: 2007
Debby has been named as one of “40 of the world’s leading restructuring specialists, aged 40 and under” by the Global Restructuring Review in 2016. She has been noted as a leading lawyer in many publications including Chambers Asia, Legal 500 and Who’s Who in Legal Restructuring & Insolvency. She is also one of the first three Singapore-qualified practitioners to be bestowed the prestigious fellowship from INSOL International.
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