Clifford Chance, Wong go separate ways as Singapore opens up to foreign firms

<a class=Clifford Chance, Wong go separate ways as Singapore opens up to foreign firms” />Clifford Chance and Singaporean firm WongPartnership have ann­ounced the termination of their joint venture arrangement, as Singapore liberalises its legal market for foreign law firms.

The Singapore Ministry of Law has launched a scheme to liberalise the legal market, allowing ­foreign firms to practise local law. Previously foreign firms had to set up a joint venture with a local firm.

The two firms said in a ­statement that they wished to “pursue separate strategic initiatives”, although the split was amicable.

Clifford Chance’s joint venture with WongPartnership will terminate on 30 April 2009.

Clifford Chance managing partner David Childs said: “While we have enjoyed a productive joint venture with WongPartnership for the past six years, both firms now agree that the time is right to review the way forward for our respective businesses.”

WongPartnership senior partner Alvin Yeo said that recent years had seen a ­significant increase in the size of the firm to 230 lawyers. It implemented an expansion drive and opened offices in Shanghai, Abu Dhabi and Doha.

“This regionalisation ­initiative will ­continue,” he added. “We will focus on increasing the growth in our regional practices while ­continuing to build on our reputation ;as ;one ;of the ­premier practices in ­Singapore.”

Clifford Chance opened in Singapore in 1981 and recently began operating its India desk out of the ­country.

In August the firm hired Rahul Guptan from India’s Amarchand & Mangaldas & Suresh A Shroff & Co and has since relocated lawyers to Singapore.

Counsel Chris Holland moved to Singapore from Hong Kong while London capital markets partner Edward Bradley will relocate there in January 2009 to head the Singaporean India group.

Clifford Chance global head of capital markets David Dunnigan said the moves were not connected to the regulatory change in Singapore, but rather a response to clients’ growing interest in the country, which is an important deal hub for the Asian market and is used by Anglo-Saxon firms as a springboard into the tightly regulated Indian legal market.

Several UK firms, including DLA Piper, Herbert Smith and Ashurst are understood to have applied for local licences under the liberalisation plan, called the Qualifying Foreign Law Practice. The deadline for applications closed on 9 October.

The new regime will allow the firms to employ Singaporean lawyers in their own offices in the country. As a result, the Singapore market is lively as law firms ­jostle for the top-tier ­positions.

Last month DLA Piper hired Linklaters partner Martin David as the new head of its Singapore office.

David will be installed in the newly-created role of regional ;finance ;and ­projects group head, as well as managing partner of the Singapore office. He replaces corporate and ­litigation partner Desmond Ong, who will leave the firm at the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Stephenson Harwood in Singapore has brought in admiralty partner Timothy Elsworth from Australian firm Ebsworth & Ebsworth.