Meet One of the World’s Leading Banking Lawyers

Rafael Morales has been in the legal game for over 30 years and has witnessed many changes in the Philippines’ legal sector and has partaken in several impacting cases; among his several qualifications and his important role as a university lecturer, Rafael has also had much recognition for his legal work, including citations in Euromoney Legal Media Group’s “Guide to the World’s Leading Banking Lawyers” and Asian Legal Business’ “List of 100 pre-eminent Asia-Pacific Lawyers.” He has been cited as a leading lawyer on several accounts and Chambers Asia Pacific considers him as an Eminent Practitioner in Banking and Finance. This month we discuss with Rafael his path to success; he reveals what aspiring lawyers should do in order to be an inspiring professional and how he wishes to see Asia and the Philippines progress in upcoming years.


What difficulties did you face along the path to a successful career in law? How did you overcome these?

It was not actually difficult as I was very much focused and determined to succeed in my legal career. What is more, I joined a law firm which placed a premium to excellence and integrity – the same guiding principles I have subscribed. I was, therefore, in a legal environment that I cherished and that made work less a chore, but more of a joy.


What has been the most challenging yet rewarding case you have worked on in your career so far, and why?

What comes to mind was my involvement in the restructuring of the external debt of Philippine borrowers, following the declaration of a debt moratorium by the Philippine government. My firm then acted as counsel to the Bank Advisory Committee that represented more than 450 commercial banks and financial institutions, and I was one of the partners in charge of the project. It took around ten years to restructure the debts and for the Philippines to exit from the moratorium. It was quite satisfying to have assisted our clients and at the same time helped the country get accepted once more by the international banking and financial community.


Out of all the areas in commercial and corporate law, what is your favourite area to work on and why?

That would be project financing because it is multifaceted. Not only am I involved there in the construction phase of the project but also its financing aspect, sometimes dealing with more than one syndicate of lenders especially in huge infrastructure projects. Structuring transactions or products is also quite interesting, as my forte is financial regulations. Derivative transactions also appeal to me as, in fact, I originally wrote the industry opinions for the Philippines to the International Swaps and Derivatives Association.


Which area of corporate law have you seen make the most changes and advancements since you began practising law?

Good corporate governance has been one of the thrusts of regulation. Minority stockholders’ rights are being increasingly protected. New regulations affecting corporates have emerged, notably in personal data protection as well as in the prevention of money laundering. In the recent past, Congress enacted a competition law that regulates, among others, M&A.


How are you hoping the Philippines and Asia itself, to progress globally, in relation to its M&A sphere?

Harmonisation of laws and regulations in the region should be fostered to progress, not solely in the M&A sphere. This is an initiative that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations must continue to pursue, although the process will be difficult because of the differing legal systems of the member states. For instance, Brunei, Singapore and Malaysia have common law systems in contrast to the civil law system of Indonesia. The Philippines and Thailand, on the other hand, have hybrids of both systems.


Are there any changes in banking and financial law you wish to see for the better of your clients?

I would like to see the passage of a general legislative framework for Islamic banking and finance but, in the meantime, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas should already authorise the opening of Islamic windows within conventional banks. It is also timely to streamline the regulations, particularly the reportorial requirements that are becoming cumbersome and overlapping.


As a lecturer at the University of Philippines, what is most important for students to know about their future in law to ensure they become the best in their sector?

Law students must study their lessons seriously and diligently and keep abreast of legal developments when they become full-fledged members of the bar. Exposure to the different areas of law and practice is a must, for while specialisation is unavoidable, one must be a generalist to see the big picture. It is inevitable for the Philippine legal profession to open itself to foreign lawyers, partly in view of the General Agreement on Trade in Services. This means more opportunities for lawyers, and students should be inspired to excel in law school to be among the best and the brightest members of the legal profession.


Finally, what do you think is key in order to become one of the world’s leading lawyers?

The key is devoting the same level of skill and attention to all legal matters, big and small alike. It is producing excellent legal work with promptitude. It is about primus lex in operation, that is striving to be first in legal practice but without forsaking integrity.


Is there anything else you would like to add?

The legal market has changed and the transformation is ongoing. Legal futurists are trying to divine what the legal profession will be in the years to come. Law firms face competition not only within their own circle but from other professionals like accountants. In-house legal teams can now confidently dispense with external counsel’s advice on many matters. Global and regional law firms have been expanding beyond their respective home fronts. All these developments make career in law exciting. The challenge is in coping with the changing face of legal practice.



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