Lion City set for roaring trade

Singapore is an increasingly attractive proposition for international firms

Last year Hong Kong was at the centre of the international legal community’s attention, with US firms expanding aggressively there. But in the Chinese year of the dragon, it is the turn of Singapore, the ’Lion City’, to shine.

The island city-state has long established itself as the gateway to South East Asia and has grown exponentially as a business and financial hub for the region. Its increasing competitiveness among international arbitration seats combined with a strong level of cross-border commercial activity have generated demand for top-tier legal representation. Also, its proximity to both Australia and China makes it a strategic location to develop an Asia-Pacific practice.

Naturally, it is becoming a more attractive place for international law firms. The number of intended office launches in the country reflects on its elevated importance.
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, which closed its Singapore office in 2007, has now added a relaunch to its agenda; LG plans to open there by forming an alliance with local firm PK Wong and Associates; Squire Sanders has recently hired Bryan Cave Singapore managing partner Ignatius Hwang to establish a new office; and the recently merged Clyde & Co has relocated senior shipping partner Brian Nash to head its Singapore operations.

The Singapore government’s efforts to internationalise its legal market go back a long time. In 2000 it introduced its Joint Law Venture (JLV) and Formal Law Alliance (FLA) schemes, and nine years later it launched the Qualified Foreign Legal Practice (QFLP) scheme.

However, the nation has only recently reached the milestone of becoming a truly international legal service centre. On 14 February Singapore’s parliament passed amendments to its Legal Profession Act that will bring about sea change in its legal market. One of the most significant changes will see foreign law firms able to take profit and equity shares in Singaporean law firms for the first time. This will clear the way for firms such as Allen & Overy and Allen & Gledhill, which are considering foreign-Singapore marriages, to merge. The changes will be implemented in the second quarter of this year.