Linklaters, Sidley Austin Win Singapore Law Licenses

Linklaters LLP, Sidley Austin LLP Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP and Jones Day won licenses to practice local corporate law in Singapore as the Southeast Asian city further opens its legal market.

The firms have six months from April 1 to start their operations as Qualifying Foreign Law Practices and the licenses are valid for five years, Singapore’s law ministry said in an e-mailed statement today. Twenty-three law firms had applied.

International law firms have expanded in Asia citing a shift in global business activity to the region. Singapore has opened its legal market to boost its reputation as a financial center and as cross-border deals rise. The city awarded the first six licenses allowing foreign firms to practice Singapore corporate law and hire locally-qualified lawyers in 2008.

The second round of licenses “marks Singapore’s continued push to broaden and deepen its legal services market,” the law ministry said in the statement.

The four firms, ranked among the world’s top 20 law firms, have extensive global networks and expertise in key practice areas that will support Singapore’s economy and the development of its legal services, the ministry said.

“We’ve seen a substantial increase in the frequency and complexity of transactions negotiated from Singapore,” said Sushma Jobanputra, partner-in-charge of Jones Day’s Singapore office, which has 27 lawyers. “We have fairly aggressive plans for Singapore.”

Deals Rise

Mergers and acquisitions in Southeast Asia rose 45 percent to $140.9 billion in 2012, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The value of such deals globally fell 7.8 percent to $2.23 trillion, the data show.

London-based Linklaters, the No. 2 legal adviser on mergers and acquisitions in 2012 according to data compiled by Bloomberg, last year ended an 11-year-old joint venture with Singapore firm Allen & Gledhill LLP.

The license will “open up further opportunities for Singapore lawyers in international practice and help internationalize the Singapore legal profession,” Kevin Wong, managing partner of Linklaters’ Singapore office, said in an e-mailed statement today.

Chicago-based Sidley Austin opened office in Singapore in 1982, its first in Asia. Gibson Dunn, based in Los Angeles, has over 1,000 lawyers in 17 offices.

Washington-based Jones Day, which opened its Singapore office in 2001, was one of 20 firms which applied in the first round in 2008 on the day Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. filed for bankruptcy.

Market Growth

All four winners had revenues of at least $1.17 billion in the latest fiscal year, placing them among the world’s 20 biggest law firms, according to trade magazine American Lawyer.

Singapore’s legal services market has expanded 27 percent to S$1.9 billion ($1.5 billion) in 2012 from S$1.5 billion in 2008, according to the law ministry.

White & Case LLP, Latham & Watkins LLP, Clifford Chance LLP, Herbert Smith LLP, Allen & Overy LLP and Norton Rose LLP had committed to doubling their revenue, staffing and profits in the city in five years when they won licenses in 2008.

The second batch of licenses comes as some international firms including DLA Piper LLP, Allen & Overy and Eversheds LLP move jobs to cheaper locations or cut positions to trim costs.

Singapore started opening its legal market in 1981 by allowing foreign banks to bring in lawyers from New York, London and Hong Kong to advise on some offshore transactions. In 2000, the Asian city formalized collaborations between foreign law firms and local ones by allowing joint ventures and alliances.

Available Work

Since then, the number of foreign lawyers registered in Singapore has more than doubled to 1,304 as of September from 630 in 2007, according to figures from the Attorney-General’s Chambers, which also regulates foreign lawyers.

“I’m not so sure if there’s enough depth or available work for the foreign firms here,” said Patrick Ang, deputy managing partner of Singapore’s Rajah & Tann LLP, Southeast Asia’s largest law firm. “There’s more scope for the foreign firms who come here and use Singapore as a base to work in the region.”

In 2008, the city-state enhanced the joint law venture program, 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.

Singapore announced last February that foreign law firms can own stakes in local legal practices and relaxed the rules for the admission of experienced foreign trial lawyers.

Attorney General Steven Chong has signaled that the city will probably further open its legal services market.

“Singapore is already thinking ahead and looking for new ways in which we can continue to further develop Singapore as a key regional center for the provision of legal services,” Chong said in a speech on Nov. 27. “Liberalization is a journey.”

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