A US giant’s ‘combination’ with a Singapore law firm does not necessarily pave the way for other foreign firms wishing to operate in the country, the Law Society has said.
Morgan Lewis, which says it is the largest law firm in the US by number of lawyers and one of the top five firms globally, announced this month that it had joined forces with Singapore’s Stamford Law Corporation to create what it said was the only fully integrated law firm in Singapore that can practise across all areas.
Morgan Lewis Stamford, as the firm will be known in Singapore, comes into being on 1 April.
At present foreign firms can establish in Singapore as a licensed foreign practice, qualifying foreign law practice, joint law venture/formal law alliance or representative office. They are required to obtain a licence from the attorney general to practise in permissible areas.
In contrast, Morgan Lewis said that its venture with Stamford would allow it to practise across all legal service areas. Suet Fern-Lee (pictured), senior director at Stamford Law, told the Gazette the combination was ‘unprecedented’ in extent and structure.
Lee, who will continue to lead the Singapore office as managing partner, said the firms were able to achieve the unique structure ‘by starting with a Singapore law firm and then internationalising it with requisite approvals (but without a need for any special licensing) under the available rules for the internationalisation of a Singapore law practice’.
This approach, she said, was unprecedented in Singapore.
However, the Law Society said it ‘did not think this is a significant moment for other firms wishing to operate in Singapore’.
A spokesperson said: ‘The Singapore Ministry of Law sees it as an initiative of Stamford Law rather than a market entry by Morgan Lewis.
‘The Law Society of England and Wales has an ongoing dialogue with the ministry in Singapore so we can represent our members looking for further market liberalisation. We are happy to meet with any member wishing to explore the various market access options in Singapore.’
Singapore’s Ministry of Law said the government would not object to or intervene in strategic partnerships if they were structured to comply with the existing regulatory regime.
This requires two-thirds of a Singapore law practice to be owned by Singapore-qualified lawyers, and the managing partner or managing director must also be a Singapore-qualified lawyer. At least two-thirds of practising lawyers must be Singapore-qualified.
The ministry said: ‘The internationalisation of Singapore law practices enables Singapore lawyers to gain international exposure. Through internationalisation, local law firms can also tap into business opportunities beyond domestic shores, thus strengthening and growing the legal industry in Singapore.’
Morgan Lewis, which has more than 50 lawyers in the City, claimed it would become one of the largest law firms in the world after its partners voted to admit 227 partners from Boston practice Bingham McCutchen last year. From 1 April it will have over 2,000 professionals and 29 offices across the US, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.