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The Singapore government is to allow foreign firms to practise Singaporean law following recommendations made by a review committee of its local legal market.
The move is one of three key recommendations aimed at liberalising the legal market made by the committee that the local government has accepted, as first revealed on www.the lawyer.com (6 December).
"We're pleasantly surprised, and welcome the changes," said Crispin Rapinet, Lovells' regional managing partner for Asia and the Middle East. "It's an exciting opportunity and we're keen to take advantage of it once more information is released."
The government will introduce a qualifying foreign law firm (QFLF) scheme, which will grant licences to five foreign firms to practise Singaporean law through employing Singapore-qualified lawyers.
Firms will be invited to apply for licences through a request for proposal period, during which they will be evaluated by their 'commitment to Singapore'. Criteria that will be assessed include the size and constituency of firms' offices, the areas of work the firms will engage in and the countries the firms will service from Singapore.
A second proposal is to extend the scope of foreign joint law ventures (JLVs) to create enhanced joint law ventures (EJLVs), which will allow firms to hire Singapore-qualified lawyers to advise on Singaporean law.
Third, foreign firms in existing JLVs will be permitted to hire one Singapore-qualified lawyer for every foreign lawyer it houses in its Singapore office.
Additionally, firms in existing JLVs will be permitted to propose alternative structures that go beyond existing arrangements to the Singaporean Law Ministry and attorney general.
The government has indicated that the QFLF scheme may take up to 12 months to roll out, while the EJLV scheme is expected to be implemented between 18 and 24 months after the QFLF scheme has been put in place.
The government will also allow foreign law firms to participate in more areas of international arbitration through employing Singapore-qualified lawyers.
The local government has indicated that it will 'fine-tune' these initiatives before liberalising the sector further.