UK firms prepare applications as Singapore announces new QFLP licences

The government of Singapore is inviting more foreign law firms to apply for Qualifying Foreign Law Practice (QFLP) licences and will start accepting applications from 1 July.

Ashurst, DLA Piper, Eversheds, K&L Gates, Linklaters and Watson Farley & Williams (WFW) are among the firms that have expressed an interest in applying. 

The move marks Singapore’s continued effort to liberalise its legal services market and position itself as a vibrant legal hub. The QFLP licences allow foreign law firms to practise permitted areas of Singapore law. Six law firms – Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Herbert Smith, Lathan & Watkins, Norton Rose and White & Case – were awarded QFLP licences in December 2008 (5 December 2008).

The fresh round of applications will close on 31 August, at which point they will be assessed by evaluation and selection committees. The Ministry of Law will announce the successful firms by the end of this year.

DLA Piper Singapore managing partner Matthew Glynn said the firm will be applying for a licence because “being able to provide Singapore law advice is part of the firm’s strategy”.

“Singapore has continued to provide a strategic location for corporates and financial institutions to headquarter themselves to service the region, in particular India and Indonesia. It presents one of the best growth opportunities for business. The country’s at the heart of DLA Piper’s South East Asia strategy,” Glynn added.

WFW Singapore partner Chris Lowe said he does not believe it makes sense for international firms to be located in Singapore and not be able to practise local law, adding “a joint law venture and/or a QFLP are important, even if advising on Singapore law is not a firm’s main line of business”.

“Although the firm already has a joint law venture arrangement, a QFLP layered on top should enable us to provide a greater number of our lawyers as a Singapore law legal resource,” he said.

Similar to the selection process for the first round of QFLP licences, the committees will consider factors such as the applicant’s commitment to the amount of offshore work that the Singapore office will do, and the number of lawyers who will be based in the office, the areas of legal practice that the Singapore office will offer and the extent to which the Singapore office will function as a headquarters for the firm in the region.

Once approved, the QFLP licensees will have up to six months to set up their Singapore office and their licences will be valid for an initial period of five years from then.