A&O pledges Singapore growth despite Allen & Gledhill setback

Allen & Overy’s (A&O) managing partner Wim Dejonghe has stated that his firm is still committed to expanding in Singapore, following its aborted tie-up talks with local player Allen & Gledhill.

Wim Dejonghe
Wim Dejonghe

“We’re definitely committed to growing in Singapore,” said Dejonghe. “The proposals with Allen & Gledhill didn’t happen for reasons that were what they were, but that hasn’t changed our attitudes towards the jurisdiction.”

A&O’s merger discussions with Allen & Gledhill collapsed in March after the pair failed to agree terms (26 March 2012).

A spokesperson for A&O added that the firm was not in discussions with any other local firms in Singapore at present and said that the firm was open minded about how it approached its expansion in the country. Sources at international firms in Singapore also said that they had not heard about any talks between A&O local firms.

“If the firm is looking at another suitor in the country it’s not something I’ve heard about,” said one source in Singapore. “But it’s equally possible that they will transfer people from other offices or try to hire single partners from firms.”

At present A&O operates in Singapore through a Qualifying Foreign Law Practice (QFLP). The firm was one of the first batch to receive the licences – along with Clifford Chance, Herbert Smith and Norton Rose – in 2008 (5 December 2008).

Firms with QFLPs, but no local-firm alliance, are still prevented from practising certain lines of work in Singapore, like litigation. One example of a UK firm with a local-firm partner in Singapore is Clyde & Co, which is associated with Clasis Law LLC.

In February the Singapore government amended its Legal Profession Act to increase flexibility and scope for collaboration between foreign and domestic law firms (16 April 2012).

In January at the opening of the legal year in Singapore, attorney general Sundaresh Menon announced that he was chairing a committee to look at the emergence of new business structures among the legal profession.

“As the line between domestic and offshore practice begins to fade a little it will be important to address a number of matters including such things as how legal service providers in Singapore may be organised, how the ethical standards of all legal practitioners should be monitored and upheld in a fair and equitable manner, and how the interests of the consumers of such services may be safeguarded,” said Menon.

A number of international firms, such as Allen & Overy, Ashurst, Clifford Chance and King & Spalding, are liaising with the attorney general about possible reforms.

Dejonghe’s comments comes shortly after A&O announced its intention to open two offices in Vietnam after hiring Mayer Brown JSM country managing partner Dao Nguyen (24 May 2012).

“We were finding that a lot of the work we were doing in Asia was relating to Vietnam,” said Dejonghe about the office launch. “The country has the second fastest growth in Asia after China and our exposure to it was increasing. Law firms’ strategies in Asia are shifting now, from regional hubs to a more spread out presence. There are now many more countries sizable enough to justify having a presence there.”