Already the legal centre of Southeast Asia, Singapore plans to award more licenses as soon as next year if that would help the economy, Law Minister K. Shanmugam said.
“The direction has been set and we don’t intend to turn back,” he said in an interview. The government will review the progress of its liberalization program in the first six months of 2010 and could award more licenses then if the market can “digest them”.
Clifford Chance LLP and the five other new licensees have increased the lawyers they have in Singapore by 20 percent from last year, Shanmugam said. With a collapse in corporate finance work, U.S. and U.K. firms have been expanding their arbitration and India practices in Singapore.
The Southeast Asian city state hopes more lawyers will strengthen its financial sector.
London-based firms have expanded in Singapore even as they’ve cut jobs at home, with Clifford Chance setting up a dispute resolution practice and raising the number of lawyers in its Singapore office to 50 from 38. Allen & Overy LLP hired all 10 lawyers from Singapore firm Venture Law LLC, bringing its total to 44.
As of last month there were 95 foreign law firms with offices in Singapore, a 13 percent increase from a year earlier, according to the Law Ministry. That’s more than the 66 such firms in Hong Kong, according to the Chinese city’s Law Society. The number of lawyers working for foreign firms in Singapore rose 12 percent to 757 in July from a year earlier, while there were 1,100 foreign lawyers in Hong Kong.
Singapore’s liberalization aims to develop the city as a top arbitration center, an area where Hong Kong “has been ahead of us,” Shanmugam said. The Southeast Asian city offers tax incentives for growth in arbitration work, set up a hearing facility and attracted institutions like the American Arbitration Association.
Bloomberg News, Singapore Won’t ‘Turn Back,’ Will License New Foreign Law Firms, 11 Aug 2009, http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601102&sid=aS6aOikDhoJg