Norton Rose misses out on Singapore deadline

The deadline for Singapore joint venture licences closed over the weekend with Norton Rose opting out of the party due to its former alliance partner choosing Lovells.

Nine UK and US law firms are chasing the five licences available. They are Linklaters & Alliance, Baker & McKenzie, Clifford Chance, Allen & Overy, Freshfields, Lovells, White & Case, Weil Gotshal & Manges and Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe.

Norton Rose has not applied for a licence but its former Singapore alliance partner Lee & Lee has linked up with Lovells. After 19 years the alliance broke up in March this year (The Lawyer, 6 March), leaving Norton Rose with too little time to find a new partner.

A source says: “It looks like Norton Rose was unconvinced about taking on a local legal partner because there was a question of how much onshore work there would actually be.”

Norton Rose already has an office in Singapore as well as Jakarta, Bangkok and Hong Kong.

But the Singapore government has indicated that it may extend the number of licences available.

Allen & Overy is the only one among the nine that has gone public with its plans, announcing that it is linking up with Shook Lin & Bok. If granted a licence, the partnership will set up a venture called Allen Overy Shook Lin & Bok which would concentrate on acquisition finance, asset finance, banking and business reconstruction and insolvency.

Freshfields is understood to be applying with Singapore’s third largest firm, Drew & Napier. A source close to Freshfields says: “The aim of the change is to strengthen Singapore as the regional financial and legal centre. In principle, we would be very keen to be part of this.”

Linklaters is believed to be applying for a licence with Allen & Gledhill, the country’s top law firm which has over 160 lawyers.

Clifford Chance has linked up with Wong Partnership despite the original proposal put forward by the two firms being rejected by the Singapore government. It is understood that the past proposal aimed for a full merger within three years.

Colin Ng, which has an alliance with Sinclair Roche & Temperley in London, is applying with White & Case.

According to the rules laid out by the Singapore Attorney General, the joint venture may corporatise the practice but the foreign firm must locate at least five resident offshore lawyers in Singapore, of whom at least two must be equity partners.