Norton Rose's Singapore ally wounded by mass defection

Norton Rose's Asian arm is reeling after an associated firm in Singapore was decimated by walk-outs.

Ally practice Lee & Lee, one of the top firms in Singapore, lost seven partners and up to 10 associates when the entire litigation department left to start a rival firm.

Norton Rose, which has 30 lawyers in the island state, is barred from practising Singapore law under local rules. Instead, it operates through a network of informal alliances and friendships.

Senior partner David Lewis says that the split at Lee & Lee was unfortunate but not terminal. “Lee & Lee is best at litigation and corporate. It is a blow to them, but it is not a blow to us,” he says.

Lewis adds that the walk out does not reflect badly on Norton Rose, as Lee & Lee was only one of several firms it uses in the former colony.

He says that Norton Rose hopes to form a new alliance with the dissident partners.

Lee & Lee's former head of litigation, Tan Kok Quan, one of the leaving partners, is to set up the new operation with several of his former partners and corporate and property boutique firm Khoo Aeria & Partners. The firm will be called Tan Kok Quan & Partners and is expected to offer a full range of services and employ several former Lee & Lee associates.

Tan says that he will be looking for a formal tie-up with a US or UK firm once local rules allow it. The Singapore government has agreed in principle to open up its legal and financial services industries and allow multi-national joint ventures.

Tan says he will be happy to continue taking work from Norton Rose.