Freshfields relaunches in Singapore with partner relocations

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has reopened in Singapore five years after its 2006 withdrawal from the city state.

Robert Ashworth
Robert Ashworth

The firm’s global capital markets head Stephen Revell and partner Gavin MacLaren, who joined the firm recently from Australia’s Allens, will lead the new Singapore office.

Revell, global co-head of the capital markets practice and one-time US managing partner, relocated to Hong Kong from London last June as part of the firm’s Asia management reshuffle (13 June 2011). He will relocate again from Hong Kong to Singapore for the new leadership role.

MacLaren, who joined from Allens in April 2012, will also lead Freshfields’ Asia energy and natural resources practice (12 April 2012). Prior to relocating to Allens’ Melbourne office in 2010, he served as the Australian firm’s Singapore managing partner for many years.

Freshfields’ co-head of global international arbitration practice Lucy Reed, who relocated from New York to Hong Kong in May 2012 (21 Febuary 2012), will also spend considerable time in Singapore to spearhead the firm’s arbitration practice in the South East Asia region.

Initially, a small group of associates and support staff will join the three partners in Singapore, mostly through internal transfers. However, the firm will look to hire additional lawyers and staff on the ground according to client demand.

Earlier this week, The Lawyer reported that Freshfields has signed a lease in Singapore’s Ocean Financial Centre for the launch (11 September 2012). It is understood that the new office will become fully operational from early October.

The launch comes two months after the firm obtained a Foreign Law Practice (FLP) licence from Singapore’s Ministry of Law in July 2012. The firm declined to comment on whether it is among the 23 foreign firms that have applied for the second round of QLFP licences (7 September 2012), but ruled out the possibility of entering into a joint venture or a formal alliance with a local firm.

Freshfields closed its Singapore office in May 2007 to focus on Greater China (1 May 2007). The decision to give the Lion City a second go responds to the increasing importance of the Singaporean market for both contentious and transactional work in the South East Asia region.

“We closed our Singapore office in 2006 due to the severe economic pressures. We still believe it was the right decision to make at the time,” said Robert Ashworth, Freshfields’ Asia managing partner. “But Asia is a very dynamic region, where changes are happening constantly and rapidly. So much has changed since 2006 that it’s increasingly important for us to be in the key financial centre in South East Asia.

“There’s been a strong transaction flow between North Asia and South East Asia in recent years, especially in light of Chinese and Japanese investment going into Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. We covered South East Asia work out of our Hong Kong office in the past, but it’s reached a point where having a geographically conveniently located office is necessary,” said Ashworth.

“Singapore’s trading ties with Australia also make it strategically important. A significant amount of Asia investment is going into Australia and using Singapore as a launch pad,” he added.

Freshfields’ new Singapore office will mainly focus on corporate, arbitration and finance work. Prior to the relaunch, the firm was involved in several recent high-profile transactions centred on Singapore and South East Asia, such as the $5.5bn (£3.4bn) IPO of Hutchison Port Holdings Trust on the Singapore Stock Exchange, Vallar’s $3bn stake acquisition of indonesian coal mining companies PT Bumi Resources and PT Berau Coal Energy, and the $2bn concurrent dual listing of Malaysian healthcare company IHH in Malaysia and Singapore.