Emerging Markets: The Rise of Singapore and What it Means for Expanding Law Firms

Posted on July 16, 2012 at 5:07 PM

Singapore’s ascent in the global market has helped paved the way for international law firms looking to expand in Southeast Asia.  In a move to further liberalize legal practices, the Singapore Ministry of Law has decided to open up a second round of applications for the Qualifying Foreign Law Practice (QFLP) license.  The first round took place in 2008, seeing the introduction of six new law firms: Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Latham & Watkins, White & Case, Norton Rose and Herbert Smith. Related Singapore Cypress Recruiting openings: Junior Associate, Finance Associate, Banking and Finanace Attorney, Energy Associate, Asset Finance Attorney, Projects Attorney

After receiving approval for their licenses, international law firms have six months to set up their offices.  Successfully doing so ensures the ability to use their QFLP licenses for up to a five year period. The Singapore Ministry of Law hopes that their restructured legal program will encourage more established law professionals to relocate to Singapore.  Aside from QFLP’s and Joint Law Ventures (JLV), which allows international law firms to buy stakes in local firms in return for advice on legal matters, foreign law firms are prohibited from practicing law in Singapore.  Applications will be accepted until August 31st of this year, with licenses being awarded as early as 2013.

In previous years, Singapore was always second to the current regional hub, Hong Kong, as Chinese policymakers have worked to make the region their financial center since it was acquired in 1997.  But Singapore’s government has been committed to changing the country’s infrastructure ever since it became an independent nation in 1965.  This has helped them today, as they challenge Hong Kong as a leader in international business, as well as becoming an attractive location for expanding law firms.


Since 2001, Singapore has seen steady growth in its economic strength.  Its economy has increased by 7.4% in 2011, with an industrial production growth rate of 6.8% as of 2007.  It’s also seen its lowest unemployment rate in the past decade at 2.1%.  According to the World Economic Forum, Singapore also boasts the most open economy for international trade and investment.  The past ten years have proven integral to Singapore’s rise in the world market, as well as competing with Hong Kong as the top Asian financial center.

Singapore’s ascent has also allowed it become a leader in the Asian legal market, as it has established itself as the Asian center for major global insurers, pharmaceutical companies, and private banks.  In the past five years, there has been a 10% annual growth in its legal industry, with more than 100 international law firms in Singapore.  In addition, Bloomberg reports that the number of foreign lawyers based in Singapore has doubled in the last four years, going from 633 in 2007 to 1200 towards the end of 2011.

Singapore has recently taken ground from Hong Kong as being the main location in Asia for international arbitration and disputes, establishing itself as the place to settle issues that Chinese authorities are not able to resolve. Singapore has become such a powerhouse, that Hong Kong recently implemented a major reform of its arbitration program, seen by analysts as a move to re-establish itself as the international arbitration center.

Singapore has seen enough growth in the past ten years to make it a substantial player the global market.  If the once colonized country can manage to keep this trend up, it may be the player on the most significant global markets in the next decade to come.

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