Opinion | 16-05-16

2016: an exciting year for Singapore’s legal market

Last year saw a number of changes in the Singaporean legal industry and presented new ways for international firms to enter the market.  In this article, our consultant Tessa Arquilliere highlights the ways that these firms have been able to set up in the city and makes some predictions of what these latest arrivals will mean for the market. 


Over the course of 2015 new Joint Law Ventures (“JLVs”) and Formal Law Alliances (“FLAs”) were introduced in Singapore. These gave international law firms the opportunity to build deeper roots in the city through local tie ups. In addition to these new emerging alliances, a number of international law firms opened Singapore offices through an ordinary Foreign Law Practice (“FLP”). 


These changes last year have given way to a promising 2016 in terms of additional partnerships and players within Singapore’s legal landscape: 


(i) new JLVs: We believe there will be at least 2 new JLVs within the next few months between Singaporean law firms and law firms whose headquarters are located in the UK. 

(ii) additional FLAs: We are estimating at least 1 FLA to be announced in the short term. 


(iii) an increasing number of international law firms present on the ground: We predict a number of UK and US law firms, who  entered the Asian market through an initial launch in Hong Kong, will now look to Singapore for their next Asian office. 


These changes suggest we are heading to a time where top local talent (admitted as a Solicitor and Advocate in Singapore) will become increasingly attractive for international law firms in order to build their offices with high-calibre lawyers. These lawyers will need to show a commitment personally and professionally to Singapore, and would bring in local law capability for the international firm.  


Furthermore, except for international arbitration (where typically Singapore law would apply for the purposes of the procedural regime and not as the applicable regime to the dispute per se), Singapore law is becoming an increasingly relied upon regime for parties investing in the ASEAN region. 


As a result, law firms who launched their Singapore offices initially through a FLP (i.e. with no local law capability at all) are regularly looking to find the right local law firm to partner with in order to offer their clients advice on Singapore law (especially regarding disputes subject to being resolved before Singapore Courts) and create a ‘”one-stop shop” for all their needs. By way of example, certain firms have chosen boutique firms with which they may have had a previous relationship as partners for their FLAs (e.g. the 2015 FLA between Herbert Smith Freehills and Prolegis). At the other end of the spectrum, certain top US firms with Singapore offices would rather continue exclusively to follow the FLP path. This is partly because from a financial standpoint the revenue potentially generated through a possible local arm would not be substantial (e.g. US firms with a strong and core international arbitration practice).


This is just a snapshot of the kind of changes we are seeing in the legal market across Singapore and presents some of our predictions of how international law firms may look to grow over the medium term. For more information on the current market in Singapore, please contact Tessa Arquilliere at +65 6632 3576 or by email at [email protected]