Photo credit: CHEN ZHIDA


Graduating with an LL.B. (First Class Honours) from NUS and an LL.M. from New York University, Zhida began his career as a Justices’ Law Clerk at the Supreme Court before he joined the shipping and international trade practice at one of Singapore’s Big Four law firms. In 2019, he started Helmsman together with two other lawyers.

Since then, he was featured in Prestige Magazine’s 40-under-40. In addition to his practice at Helmsman, he is also one of the youngest adjunct assistant professors at NUS Faculty of Law. Today, he shares more about his journey!

Tell us more about what you do!

Helmsman is a law firm specialising in complex commercial cases with a focus on the shipping and commodities trading industry. We advise clients when a dispute arises, and if the occasion calls for it, we also represent them in court or arbitration. In the past year, we expanded our services to include non-contentious work such as corporate and finance, as well as employment matters.

What inspires or motivates you to start/do this?

My co-founders and I started Helmsman driven by our belief that law firms can only remain relevant by providing clients with fit-for-purpose, prompt, and cost-efficient advice. This motivates us to do things differently.

We keep it a lean team and make sure everyone pulls his or her weight. We work efficiently, keep the hierarchy flat, and streamline processes so our lawyers are focused on the important tasks. The partners also work hard to maintain an open but respectful culture within the firm so that our lawyers feel there is space to air their thoughts and to grow.

At Helmsman, we are proud to brand ourselves for our plain, practical advice.

Have you faced any challenges so far? And how did you overcome it?

Definitely. Any good sailor will tell you that every voyage will have its fair share of waves that may knock you off-course.

Attracting talent is always one of the key challenges for a young firm. The key to overcoming this is to find lawyers who share our values and will work hard with us to build an even stronger team.

Over the past three years, we have grown from 3 lawyers to 17 lawyers with diverse backgrounds and specialisations, which include shipping and trade, insolvency and restructuring, corporate and finance as well as employment.

We are really proud of the people and the culture we have built together at Helmsman. We have really grown together to become a strong team, with a very dynamic culture.

If you could share one piece of advice with your fellow youth, what would it be?

Find your passion and everything will fall into place. As simple as it may sound, the reality is that we are often distracted by things along the way. The trick is to stay the course and you will eventually reach your destination.

What is your hope or plans for the future? What do you want to see or perhaps do?

We are continuously strengthening our core practice area in the shipping and commodities trading industry, while actively growing our general commercial litigation practice. The idea is to offer the same plain practical advice that we provide to our shipping and trading clients to the wider community.

In the longer term, we wish to train more young lawyers and help them specialise in shipping and trading law. To that end, we have started teaching a course on international trading law at the NUS Faculty of Law. We are excited for young lawyers to join us in helming the future of our firm and the industry.

This article was published on Apr 15, 2022

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