Freshfields Reopens in Singapore as Southeast Asia Booms

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP, the number two legal adviser on mergers and acquisitions, reopened in Singapore after withdrawing in 2007 as deals climb in the Southeast Asia city state’s region.

“The time is right to open in Singapore,” Stephen Revell, who heads the firm’s global capital markets practice, said in a phone interview. “We’ve got a lot of demand from clients to be here and centering deals in Singapore,” he said.

Revell is jointly heading the new office with Gavin MacLaren, in charge of the energy practice in Asia, and they plan to have 15 to 20 lawyers by the end of next month.

The return of Freshfields comes as 23 foreign law firms last month bid for licenses to practice local corporate law in Singapore as the legal market further opens. Mergers and acquisitions in the city state rose 26 percent to $36.3 billion this year while uncertainty over the euro has hampered deal activity in the 17-nation group.

Revell declined to comment on whether Freshfields has applied for a local law licence. It was licensed to advise on non-Singapore law from its office in the city as of Sept. 1.

The London-based firm advised Vallar Plc on its $3 billion investment in Indonesia’s PT Bumi Resources and PT Berau Coal Energy and the $2 billion initial public offering of Malaysia’s IHH Healthcare Bhd. this year. It also advised on the $5.45 billion share sale of Hutchison Port Holdings Trust in Singapore.

Drew & Napier

The firm’s revenue slipped 0.8 percent to 1.13 billion pounds ($1.8 billion) for the 2011-12 financial year, dropping it to the rank of fourth-largest London-based law firm by sales.

Freshfields was the first international law firm in Singapore in 1980 and later established an alliance with local firm Drew & Napier LLC before ending that and withdrawing in 2007.

Revell said the 2007 decision was due to the global economic environment, and the reopening reflects the strong position of Singapore currently.

Singapore opened its legal industry in 2000 by allowing foreign firms to set up joint ventures. There are 110 foreign law firms registered in Singapore as of Sept. 1, a 53 percent increase from July 2007.

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