Linklaters and trio of US firms gain Singapore licences

Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, Jones Day, Linklaters and Sidley Austin have been awarded qualifying foreign law practice (QFLP) licences by the Singapore Ministry of Law as 19 other firms miss out.

The ministry announced results of the second round of QFLP licences this morning (19 February). A total of 23 firms from the UK, US and Europe applied for the licence last year (7 September 2012).

Firms understood to have missed out include Berwin Leighton Paisner, DLA Piper, K&L Gates, Olswang, Shearman & Sterling, Stephenson Harwood and Watson Farley & Williams. German firm Luther is also understood to have applied.

The licences allow foreign law firms to practise permitted areas of Singapore law. The four successful firms have six months from 1 April to commence their operations as QFLPs, and licences are initially valid for five years from the date operations begin.

In a statement announcing the licences, the Ministry of Law said the evaluation and selection committees took into account factors such as the value of work that will be generated by the firms’ Singapore offices, the number of lawyers based in Singapore, the areas of practice offered, the extent to which Singapore will function as a regional headquarters and the firms’ track records.

Fred Dos Santos, a consultant at recruiters JLegal in Singapore, said: “It will have taken the Singapore legal community by surprise that even fewer QFLP licences than the last round have been granted this time round. While the Ministry of Law will have their reasons for this I’m sure, I think the end result is that Singaporean firms will be happy that any extra competition for local work from international firms will be limited more than expected, and limited at that to firms who are expected to focus on ‘high-end’ work and not clog the market.

“There will be no shortage of disappointment among a number of esteemed applicants who will have had ambitious and interesting growth plans for the market and now need to shelve their ambitions or look for a ‘plan B’ – most likely a local joint venture partnership firm.”

The first round of QFLP licences were awarded in late 2008 (5 December 2008) with six firms successful out of 20 applications – Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Herbert Smith, Latham & Watkins, Norton Rose and White & Case.

Linklaters did not apply in the first round, preferring to maintain its joint venture with local firm Allen & Gledhill. However this relationship broke down in 2011 (3 November 2011) leaving Linklaters without a local ally.

Firms had a two-month window to apply for the second round of QFLPs. Applications closed on 31 August 2012.

The Ministry of Law said the nominal value added of the Singapore legal services sector hit S$1.9bn (£990m) in 2012, up from S$1.5bn in 2008. Meanwhile the value of legal services exported from Singapore increased by 51.8 per cent, from S$363m in 2008 to S$551m in 2011.