Friday, March 24, 2023 - 09:44


Why he returned to practice in a smaller outfit after time away from the law—plus, the lessons he’s learnt from being on the other side of the table.



Mr Jeffrey Wong followed the recent news of UBS’ acquisition of Credit Suisse with interest—not just because of its commercial impact, but also because he used to work there.

“I was seconded there from a leading Singapore law firm and, after the secondment, was recruited to join the in-house transactions legal team, covering investment banking transactions for Southeast Asia and India,” he recalls.

While on the Swiss bank’s legal team, Jeffrey was offered to move to the business side of things, which effectively put a pause on his legal career. “The banking guys thought I would be a more useful asset working together with them on the business end, rather than as a control function.”

“I think my time as in-house counsel was key to their making me the offer because to properly provide legal advice on a transaction, one would need to understand the transaction. Frankly, I was quite surprised that the organisation was keen to support the change of role given that I needed to pick up new skillsets. I hadn’t even touched a Bloomberg terminal until I was almost 35 years old!”

Perhaps, because of this commercial understanding, Jeffrey continued his career in investment banking for over a decade.

But there was a nagging itch to return to practice. “My friends know that I’ve been chewing on the idea of coming back to law for a long time. It got to a point where they said, ‘Stop talking about it because nobody believes you are serious anymore!’”

That changed after the pandemic, which Jeffrey describes as a time for plenty of “soul-searching”. Things moved quickly when he got a call from Mr Desmond Ong, the Managing Partner of Solitaire LLP, a boutique firm with four lawyers.



What was Desmond’s winning pitch to him? “Firstly, I’ve known Desmond for some time. I care a lot about who I work with given that I spend most of my time working.”

“The kind of work Solitaire LLP does appeals to me: most of the matters here are not plain vanilla. There is a fair bit of crisis management and working with clients to solve problems. I’m a bit of a geek, so that got my interest.”

Three months in, he’s happy with his choice. “I feel like I am genuinely contributing positively to society by helping my clients, corny as it may sound. I am happy that there is more than enough work here to go around, so I spend most of my time doing actual work and not trying to prospect.”

“It’s not easy to pigeonhole the kind of work we do because it really is whatever the clients need help with. If I had to sum it up, the firm currently tends to handle a fair bit of contentious matters although my personal focus still remains largely transaction advisory.”

“I have sat as an independent director on the boards of listed companies so I understand personally how directors think and how they feel when something unexpected happens.”

“I get pulled in by my colleagues into matters that involve listed companies or securities because of my background in those areas. I have sat as an independent director on the boards of listed companies so I understand personally how directors think and how they feel when something unexpected happens,” he says, breaking into a grin.

“Sometimes, when I’m done giving the legal input, I change hats and say, ‘Let's talk about the other stuff, like the numbers.’ You can’t just look at things from a purely legal or compliance perspective; a sense of the larger commercial context is crucial.”

It is something that future joiners can expect to hone, he says, adding that the team is expanding to include more associates. “I think those who want to get their hands dirty and accelerate their career would be a good fit in a set-up like ours.” 


 The Solitaire team at a Chinese New Year dinner this year.

“And perhaps most importantly, we actually like each other. Lunch around the table is something everybody does regularly in the office. That is something new to me as I am more of a ‘get the job done quickly’ kind of person insofar as meals are concerned.”

This is the latest in a series of articles about SAL members with unique paths within and into the law. Previous features include Mr Joey Pang (DBS), Ms Shu Mei Hoon (Drew & Napier) and Mr Loh Wai Yue (Incisive Law).