Legal Market Overview
Singapore’s legal market remains in good health despite the recent challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Its status as a major commercial and financial centre for Asia Pacific has been further advanced by the uncertainty and civil unrest linked to new national security laws in Hong Kong imposed by Beijing. As a consequence, there is a growing expectation that businesses will begin to relocate from Hong Kong to Singapore.
At the same time, Singapore continues to reassert its position as the principal commercial, financial, and legal hub for Southeast Asia. For international and Singapore firms, it is the most logical platform for regional business. Many Singapore firms, such as Rajah & Tann Singapore LLP and WongPartnership LLP, have felt assured enough to build a regional presence in jurisdictions such as Vietnam and Myanmar.
Singapore remains an important location for international and offshore law firms. Moreover, with its growing fintech and start-up community, it is attracting further investment from the legal community; Silicon Valley giant Cooley LLP launched a new Singapore office in 2020. Mishcon de Reya LLP also established a Singapore office in 2020 with an initial focus on private client work for high net-worth families in the region.
The market continues to be divided between foreign firms and local firms, though increasing integration over the years has led to a more fused profession. This includes the Qualifying Foreign Law Practice (QFLP) used by the likes of Latham & Watkins LLP and Allen & Overy, which allows international firms to hire Singapore-qualified lawyers and provide Singapore law services. Other models include the joint law venture (JLV), which allows local and foreign firms to establish a financially integrated entity, and a Formal Law Alliance (FLA), which enables foreign and local firms to collaborate but remain operationally and financially distinct.
At the same time, there have been plenty of examples of disintegration in recent years. Notably in 2020, Eversheds Sutherland (International) LLP separated from Harry Elias Partnership in July 2020. The two firms merged with full financial integration in 2017. Sadly, Harry Elias Partnership’s founder, Harry Elias SC, died in August 2020.
Lateral moves remain a regular occurrence in this key market. Top corporate partner Jake Robson left Morrison & Foerster (Singapore) LLP for King & Wood Mallesons in March 2020. Prominent corporate partner Mark Cooper joined Latham & Watkins LLP from Hogan Lovells Lee & Lee in April 2020. Soon after Hogan Lovells Lee & Lee recruited Charles Clayton-Payne from the Hong Kong office of Harneys to boost its banking and finance practice; Clayton-Payne was previously a counsel at the firm before his short stint at Harneys.
The Legal 500 Client Service Survey
Data extracted from The Legal 500 Client Service Survey. Data point size indicates number of firm rankings in this jurisdiction in The Legal 500 this year. Color strength indicates positive client scoring. All firm scores on display are above the Global Benchmark score for this criteria.