DLA, Jones Day, K&L Gates Bid for Singapore Law Licenses

DLA Piper, Jones Day, K&L Gates Bid for Singapore Law Licenses
An elevated view shows the buildings in Singapore's skyline. Singapore opened its legal industry in 2000 to boost the financial services market and allowed foreign firms to set up joint ventures. Photographer: Munshi Ahmed/Bloomberg

Aug. 31 (Bloomberg) -- DLA Piper, the world’s second-largest law firm by revenue, and Jones Day, the top legal adviser on mergers by deal count, said they bid for licenses in Singapore as the Asian city further opens its legal market.

Twenty-three foreign law firms applied for the licenses as at the close of submissions today, the Ministry of Law said in an e-mailed statement. The licenses allow foreign firms to practice Singapore corporate law and hire locally qualified lawyers.

K&L Gates LLP, based in Pittsburgh, and Watson, Farley & Williams LLP, based in London, also said they bid for the so-called Qualifying Foreign Law Practice licenses in Singapore, where $35.6 billion of mergers and acquisitions have been announced this year, a 25 percent increase on the same period in 2011, while deals in U.S. and Europe fell.

“Asia is a key driver of global economic growth,” said Sushma Jobanputra, the partner in charge of Jones Day’s Singapore operations. “With that growth will come the increased need for Singapore law advice.”

The number of licenses to be awarded will depend on the quality of the applications, Singapore’s law ministry has said. Determining factors include the firm’s track record, number of lawyers, commitment to offshore work and practice areas.

The law ministry, which will assess the applications with officials from the finance ministry, central bank and attorney-general’s office, said it expects to award the licenses by the end of the year.

Double Revenue

White & Case LLP, Latham & Watkins LLP, Clifford Chance LLP, Herbert Smith LLP, Allen & Overy LLP and Norton Rose LLP won the first licenses in 2008. They committed to double their revenue, staffing and profits in the city in five years. Twenty firms including Washington-based Jones Day had applied.

Foreign firms could previously advise on Singapore corporate law through joint ventures or refer clients to a local practice. The number of foreign lawyers in the Southeast Asian city has almost doubled to 1,200 at the end of 2011 from 633 in 2007.

“The license has been very helpful to us in meeting the needs of our clients since there is an increasing demand to provide ‘one-stop’ shopping on matters,” said Barrye Wall, the Singapore-based regional section head for White & Case in Asia.

Law firms aren’t the only ones drawn to Singapore. Investment bankers in the U.K. favor working in Singapore over New York and London, according to recruitment firm Astbury Marsden. About 60 percent of bankers said they expect the Asia-Pacific region to dominate the global financial industry within a decade, the recruiter said in its annual “Preferred Location Survey.”

Joint Ventures

Singapore opened its legal industry in 2000 to boost the financial services market and allowed foreign firms to set up joint ventures. In 2008, the joint law venture scheme was enhanced, allowing the foreign law practice to share as much as 49 percent of its Singapore partner’s profits in permitted areas and directly hire local lawyers.

The Southeast Asian city announced in February that foreign law firms can own stakes in local legal practices and relaxed the rules for the admission of experienced foreign trial lawyers. Singapore’s legal services reform has raised concerns among the local bar and lawmakers including Hri Kumar, wary that foreign law firms may dominate the industry.

Baker & McKenzie LLP, the largest law firm by revenue, and Philadelphia-based Duane Morris LLP, which have joint ventures with Singapore law firms, said they won’t apply for the Qualifying Foreign Law Practice licenses.

Duane Morris’s ties with local law firm Arfat Selvam Alliance LLC allows it the flexibility and ability to expand in Singapore and the region, said Krishna Ramachandran, managing director of the venture.

Clients are looking for law firms that can advise on international and domestic issues, including on disputes, said Edmund Leow, managing principal of Baker & McKenzie.Wong & Leow in Singapore.

“The joint law venture arrangement has allowed us to do just that,” Leow said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrea Tan in Singapore at atan17@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Douglas Wong at dwong19@bloomberg.net