Today is a less than entirely happy Friday for Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF). The announcement by Singapore’s Ministry of Law this morning confirmed that the firm would no longer be able to practise permitted areas of Singaporean law from the end of October this year.
Herbies is the only one of the six firms that were first awarded a five-year qualifying foreign legal practice (QFLP) licence in 2008 not to renew its licence. In HSF’s words, it “has decided not to pursue the renewal”. No specific reasons were given as to why, but the firm vaguely mentioned that it just had a merger and didn’t want to commit to any specific growth plans.
Frankly, whether this is indeed a decision made by the firm or forced by a hard reality that it had difficulties in fulfilling its commitments under the QFLP scheme, this isn’t great news either for the firm or for the island state. Singapore has been promoting itself in an effort to open up the legal market, but the signs are that the QFLP scheme is not working perfectly, with too many strings attached.
Many international firms regard the QFLP title as a prestigious trophy, a nice to have for marketing but not so useful in practice. That said, Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Latham & Watkins, Norton Rose Fulbright and White & Case’s lawyers in Singapore all deserve a nice Friday Singapore Sling at The Raffles for their hard-fought win on the extension.
Herbies, meanwhile, should look on the bright side of the life. At least it is no longer under the stringent scrutiny of the MinLaw.
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