Dechert has officially been granted a license to practice law in Singapore, eight months after the firm applied for permission to practice in the country.
Dean E. Collins, a former O’Melveny & Myers partner who joined Dechert more than a month ago, will move to the Singapore office to head up its operations, firm Chief Executive Officer Daniel O’Donnell said. While Collins had been licensed to practice in Singapore for years with his old firm, he couldn’t practice in the country under the Dechert banner until the firm’s license was granted. While he and the firm waited, Collins worked out of Dechert’s London and Hong Kong offices.
O’Donnell said the new office will initially focus on investment funds formation and will also look to expand into international arbitration. Both are key practices for Dechert, and, O’Donnell said, the key drivers behind the firm’s interest in opening in the country.
Collins is a funds lawyer, focusing his practice on private equity, real estate, venture capital and hedge funds in Asia. O’Donnell said Collins will be resident in Singapore full-time.
“We hope that he will be joined by a team in the very near future,” O’Donnell said.
With only temporary office space, O’Donnell couldn’t put a number on how many attorneys a permanent space in the country would house, but he said the firm doesn’t approach growth in that way anyway.
“We target practice areas, and the target areas that we are most focused on in Singapore are, of course, the funds work, which Dean does,” and international arbitration, O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell said international arbitration has become an increasingly important practice for Dechert and Singapore has done a lot to establish itself as a leader in that area in Asia.
“It was totally driven by the practice areas,” O’Donnell said. “We look for places where the existing demand for legal services matches what we do and the funds work and arbitration are things that we do at a very high level and … we’re not one of those firms with 147 practice areas. We’ve got maybe 10 of them, and arbitration and the financial services group are two very important ones. That made Singapore very logical for us.”
Dechert already has offices in Beijing and Hong Kong with about 25 lawyers between them. The firm hasn’t rushed to expand in Asia, however. Dechert has had a license to practice in Shanghai since July 2012 but does not have any lawyers in that market.
“We’re actively engaged in trying to find the right team to open in Shanghai,” O’Donnell said.
Singapore makes for Dechert’s 27th office location, which does not include Shanghai. The firm has also grown in recent years in Moscow; Almaty, Kazakhstan; and Tbilisi, Georgia, as well.
Collins joined O’Melveny’s Singapore office in 2009 from Actis, a private equity investor. O’Melveny has about 15 lawyers with ties to its Singapore office, with about half of them also working as part of the firm’s Jakarta, Indonesia, practice, according to the firm’s website.
An O’Melveny spokeswoman said the firm wished Collins well.
More than a dozen U.S.-based law firms have an existing presence in Singapore, often using it to service the Southeast Asia region.
K&L Gates, Duane Morris and Reed Smith are the only other Pennsylvania-based firms to open an office in the country. K&L Gates has about 15 lawyers in Singapore while Duane Morris, through its joint venture in the region, Duane Morris & Selvam, has close to 30 lawyers in the country. Reed Smith, which opened in Singapore in 2012, has 13 lawyers in the country.
For Duane Morris, having an office in Singapore made opening an office in Shanghai earlier this year a more cost-effective proposition. With China being a difficult place for many U.S. firms to turn a profit, having established relationships through its Singapore location made the prospect of workflow seem greater, the firm had said.
The work the firm has done in Singapore has resulted in the firm handling matters related to Chinese investment into other areas of Southeast Asia, Duane Morris Chairman John Soroko said in January.
The investment in Shanghai was made more manageable for Duane Morris because the Singapore legal market is made up of lawyers from places such as China, India and Indonesia. Duane Morris’ Singapore operation has essentially run a “China desk” for the past few years, Soroko had said.
Soroko said Tuesday that, as the number of foreign firms in Singapore has grown, Duane Morris’ “strategy has been, since the inception, to focus not only on a Singapore-based practice but to use Singapore as a base for our operations more widely in Asia, including our operations in Vietnam, Shanghai and Myanmar.”
Duane Morris’ Singapore location started out with a focus on transactional and corporate matters and has expanded to take advantage of the growing international arbitration market in the country.
Norton Rose Fulbright seems to have the largest Singapore shop of any law firm with U.S. ties, with more than 60 attorneys in that location. Latham & Watkins has more than 30 lawyers in Singapore and Jones Day has 25 attorneys there. Sidley Austin has more than 20 lawyers in Singapore and Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy has 18 attorneys there. King & Spalding has 15 lawyers in Singapore and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher has 12 attorneys in the country.
Hogan Lovells has more than 30 attorneys in the market through its joint venture Hogan Lovells Lee & Lee. Baker & McKenzie has 26 attorneys in Singapore through its joint venture Baker & McKenzie.Wong & Leow.
Other U.S. firms in the region—SNR Denton, Morrison & Foerster, Bryan Cave, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and Mayer Brown—each have between five to 10 lawyers in Singapore.