Opinion: Clifford Chance on QFLPs as proof of globalisation

The QFLP licence system is proof of Singapore’s importance as a global business hub.

nish shetty clifford chance

It is now four years since Clifford Chance received its QFLP licence in Singapore as part of the government’s journey to liberalise the legal profession.

In the intervening period, Singapore has entrenched its position as a global business city and legal hub and this, combined with transactions and disputes becoming increasingly cross border and a trend of broader international regulation, has led to greater demand from our clients for top quality international and local law advice from one platform in Singapore. As a result, we have seen significant growth in our practice, both in headcount and revenue terms since we received our QFLP licence and our more recent FLA approval.

Part of this growth has been driven by the growing acceptance of Singapore law as a governing law for transactions across the region and the highly regarded Singapore courts and Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) as fora for effective dispute resolution. The mooted idea of an international commercial court in Singapore will, if implemented, further cement Singapore’s status as a pre-eminent legal venue.

Interestingly, one key feature of the growth of our practice is that a significant number of our lawyers are now Singaporean – many of whom are dual qualified and have international expertise. For Singaporean lawyers, like me, one of the key attractions of a firm like Clifford Chance is the opportunity to work on leading international matters and the access to world class resource, training and career opportunities, whilst remaining committed to the local community in which we live and work.

Last year alone, our team in Singapore advised on matters in nearly 30 countries – providing expertise locally that makes Singapore an attractive place for our clients to be based and to do business.

A number of good local law firms in Singapore also seem to have flourished in the period since the move to introduce QFLPs. Far from the QFLPs cannibalising the local lawyers’ work, the local legal market has grown – as illustrated by the number of local lawyers in Singapore increasing by around 900 in the five years to 2012, compared with less than 200 in the preceding 10 years.

Our experience in Singapore provides a good example of the government and members of the domestic and international bar working together constructively in an environment of trust and respect and sharing a vision of the opportunities and benefits for our profession, our clients and the broader community. I would venture to say that the phased approach undertaken in Singapore provides a “blue print” for many other countries. For these reasons, we welcome the next round of successful QFLP applicants and wish them well.

There is a little doubt that, in this century, the global centre of gravity will move towards Asia. In ASEAN alone, there are over 600 million people with an aggregate economy in GDP terms which is smaller than that of Italy. This will present enormous growth opportunities for the countries and economies in our region.

As a profession, we have an environment in Singapore that allows us to work constructively together to embrace these opportunities and ensure that we can help our clients invest successfully in the region, generate economic growth for the broader community and provide opportunities for top quality law firms and talented local and international lawyers.

Nish Shetty is a partner in Clifford Chance’s Singapore office