Opinion | 04-05-16

Why consider a career at an international law firm in Singapore?

The legal landscape in Singapore is currently developing at a rapid rate. The city is becoming a much more attractive legal market to practise in because of the increased number of international law firms here and the ever increasing number of lawyers relocating from overseas.  This presents strong opportunities for local lawyers in Singapore. In this article, Tessa Arquilliere discusses the benefits for lawyers in Singapore to consider a move from a domestic law firm to an international firm. 

According to the latest statistics, there are approximately 4,900 lawyers practising in Singapore, of which around 20% are foreign qualified. Despite this, many of our international law firm clients in Singapore struggle to hire the right talent on the ground in Singapore for certain niche practice areas such as shipping finance or corporate crime for example. While their preference is always to hire lawyers already located in the city, they are often forced to look overseas in order to find lawyers with the required technical skillset. 

Local lawyers with local knowledge and expertise, especially experience gained from top Singaporean law firms, are invaluable to international law firms. For lawyers at these firms there are a number of advantages to making a move from a local law firm to an international practice: 

(i) Access to international clients: international companies with offices/operations/investments in Singapore typically seek advice from international law firms (with a proven track record at their headquarters), giving lawyers at these firms experience of working closer with this group of clients. 


(ii) Being part of a worldwide network: this provides the opportunity to interact with different cultures and working styles from other offices, i.e. increasing your capacity of adjustment and broadening your horizons. Furthermore, holding an extensive network overseas becomes a strong selling point in order to win international pitches. 


(iii) Exposure to cross-border transactions/cases: in addition to domestic work (e.g. a merger between 2 Singapore-headquartered companies), working at an international law firm provides exposure to transactions involving different jurisdictions (and, thus, involving a higher complexity) and these contribute to the core of the workload for lawyers in international firms. 


(iv) Higher level of responsibility and client-facing work: the largest Singaporean law firms employ up to around 450 lawyers, compared to the international firms where we see up to around 80-100 fee earners on the ground.  Being part of an extremely big team with a substantial number of senior associates and/or junior partners could result in less responsibility and client exposure for these lawyers. Therefore, a move to an international firm with a smaller team could offer a lawyer the opportunity to expand their scope of work and increasing levels of responsibility and involvement on deals.


(v) Corporate culture: the corporate culture reflects principles such as an open-door policy environment, collegiality, lean structures, embracing constructive 360 degrees feedback, etc. 


(vi) Increasingly realistic career prospects: historically, growing within a local firm would involve securing partnership at around 6 years of post-qualification (within the Singapore scale). Currently, actual partnership prospects are significantly different, and, thus, becoming a junior partner within a local firm would typically happen much later. Furthermore, international law firms internally support lawyers who are willing to grow with the firm in Singapore, and building their book of business from the city. 


(vii) Better in-house prospects: working at an international law firm can act as a very good stepping stone for lawyers looking ultimately to move in-house. MNCs and financial institutions will consider candidates with an international law firm background first, as these lawyers are generally already familiar with being part of a complex and multijurisdictional environment. 


(viii)  Attractive packages: international firms offer much more attractive compensation packages. For example, we have recently seen cases where a junior lawyer could easily receive almost a 70% increase on their base by moving to an international practice, e.g. moving from a monthly base salary of SGD 6,800 (NB: including front-loaded bonus) up to a monthly base salary of SGD 11,500.


It is clear that there are a number of advantages for Singaporean lawyers to consider a move to an international firm and with their local market knowledge these lawyers are in high demand. For more information on the current market or if you are interested in making a move, please contact Tessa Arquilliere at +65 6632 3576 or by email at [email protected]