Lawyer shortage forces changes to Singapore bar

Singapore authorities are radically overhauling the rules governing admittance to its bar in a bid to overcome a shortage of lawyers.

The Second Committee on the Supply of Lawyers first convened two years ago. The shortage has been blamed on increased legal demand, as well as the amount of lawyers going in-house.

To boost numbers the committee has recommended four key changes (see box), although UK-based lawyers are among those who will benefit most.

Graduates with degrees from the universities of Liverpool, Sheffield and Warwick, as well as the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), part of the University of London, will now be eligible to apply for admission to the Singapore Bar. Graduates will still be required to obtain a 2:1 or above.

The committee’s review was the first since 1993. Attorney general Chan Sek Keong says: “The current review is the latest among a series of measures to build up the legal profession. We want to nurture a pool of versatile legal professionals.”

Last year, the Legal Profession (Amendment) Act came into force, allowing foreign firms to form joint ventures and practise local law for the first time.

A range of UK and US firms, including Shearman & Sterling, White & Case and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, have been granted licences to establish ventures.

As well as Chan, the committee consisted of a range of prominent local lawyers, including Philip Pillai, senior partner of Allen & Overy‘s joint venture partner Shook Lin & Bok. Allen & Gledhill partner Michael Hwang also sat on the committee. Allen & Gledhill is associated with Linklaters & Alliance.

The recommendations, which have been accepted by the Singapore government, are based on the predicted demand for lawyers within the next decade. The committee decided that 250 more lawyers will be needed annually during that period.