Helen Yeo Cheng Hoong
Pioneer in the regional expansion of Singapore’s law firms
Graduating from the University of Singapore in 1974 and being admitted to the local bar in early 1975, Helen Yeo practiced law for 18 years with Chor Pee & Company. With a team of 10 lawyers, she started HelenYeo & Partners (HY&P) in 1992, with its sights set on the region. It was a strategy that served the firm well.
Helen first ventured into Vietnam, which at that time was a new frontier. The country was just beginning to open its doors to foreign business, but information was scanty – and law firms almost non-existent. HY&P opened offices in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and reaped the benefits of being the early bird in an emerging economy. An office was also opened in Yangon, Myanmar, and in 1996 it was the first Singapore law firm to open a licensed branch in Shanghai, China.
In 2002, Helen led the merger of HY&P and Rodyk & Davidson. The coming together of HY&P, which in 10 years had as many lawyers as its 141-year-old merger partner, created a firm with close to 100 lawyers, making the merged firm the fifth largest then.
After pulling off a historic merger of equals, a feat yet to be repeated in Singapore legal profession history, Helen became the managing partner. She successfully raised Rodyk’s profile, re-branded and re-organised Singapore’s first and oldest law firm as a contemporary law practice and expanded the firm in size, reputation and reach.
After turning 60 in 2010, the compulsory age at which Rodyk partners withdraw from equity ownership, Helen moved into the role of senior consultant.
A firm believer in the importance of a good work-life balance, Helen supported flexible working arrangements that allowed staff to work hours suited to their family needs. In an interview in 2010 she said: “..our priority is to achieve work-life balance, but when push comes to shove, family should come first. There were times I advised several partners with young families that they had to let go of some work.”
"I would encourage young lawyers to view working life as a 40-year saga where there is ample time to do different things at different stages and not a four-year sprint."