Reed Smith has continued its expansion into Asia with the opening of a Singapore office this month.
The launch has been in the works for about two years and makes for the firm’s fourth office in Asia after Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai. Reed Smith now has more than 135 lawyers in the region.
Global managing partner Gregory B. Jordan said the firm will have a tailored focus in Singapore, concentrating on its trading and commodities practice, shipping and international arbitration.
The trading and commodities practice is housed within Reed Smith’s energy and natural resources industry group, which will play a large role in the Singapore location. And the firm’s financial industry group represents a number of large banks that are involved in the trading and commodities market, Jordan noted.
To start, the office will have five partners and, in short order, will be up to about 15 attorneys once associates are brought on board, Jordan said. With the amount of work the firm expects to get from its existing clients doing business in Singapore and the work brought over from some of the new lawyers, Jordan said he would anticipate the Singapore office adding between $10 million and $15 million in revenue by the end of the first full calendar year.
Reed Smith’s Singapore office will be led by Gautam Bhattacharyya, who will relocate from London, and will also include new partners Barry Stimpson, Simon Sloane and Philip Antcliffe. An additional lawyer from the firm’s London office has also relocated.
Reed Smith has leased temporary office space in Singapore and will move into permanent space in Ocean Financial Centre in early 2013.
Stimpson and Sloane will join the firm from London-based Holman Fenwick Willan. Antcliffe is rejoining Reed Smith after departing the firm in 2011 for Citigroup. Prior to his move, Antcliffe was an associate in Reed Smith’s energy and natural resources group in London.
While a number of Am Law 200 firms, including K&L Gates, applied for Singapore’s second offering of a Qualifying Foreign Law Practice license this summer, Reed Smith has foregone that route because it doesn’t intend to practice local Singaporean law.
Singapore first opened its doors to foreign firms in 2000 by allowing joint ventures and then issued the first round of QFLPs in 2008. Six firms, mainly from London, were awarded the licenses and more than 20 firms applied for the second round in 2012. The licenses have not yet been awarded.
Singapore’s government has looked to generate revenue and put the country on the international business map, issuing more foreign law licenses and supporting the Singapore International Arbitration Centre.
Jordan said trading and commodities clients based in Europe are increasingly looking to relocate their operations to Singapore because of the country’s favorable tax and business environment and the closer proximity to their customers.
“We think this is going to be very successful right off the bat between the work people are bringing and relationships we already have and clients interested in us being closer to them,” Jordan said.
While all firms are more cautious about expansion in this market than they were in 2005 or 2006, Jordan said Reed Smith is expanding into a market where it already has clients and it will focus on areas in which it has expertise. Jordan said Reed Smith won’t be opening a number of offices in the next year, nor are there any other immediate plans for new offices in Asia. He said the firm’s sights are next set on Houston, where it has been trying to open for several years.
Reed Smith is not the first Pennsylvania firm to open in Singapore. Duane Morris opened an office there at the end of 2006, led by firm partner and former Mexican ambassador to Singapore Eduardo Ramos-Gomez. K&L Gates opened in the city-state in 2009.
A number of the initial lawyers hired by Duane Morris in Singapore ended up leaving, with the exception of Ramos-Gomez, but the firm has rebuilt and is now up to more than 30 lawyers, Chairman John Soroko said.
In 2010, Duane Morris took the opportunity under relaxed Singaporean law to open a joint venture rather than apply for a license to practice local law. It joined with Singapore firm Selvam to form the joint venture Duane Morris & Selvam.
“We’re getting everything we think we need there through our enhanced joint venture,” Soroko said, adding Duane Morris doesn’t want to work on someone’s deed in Singapore, but rather wants to do international corporate law there. The Selvam firm can handle their joint clients’ needs when it comes to local law in the region, Soroko said.
Duane Morris & Selvam recently served as lead counsel to Heineken in its attempts to increase its holdings in Asia Pacific Breweries through a $4.6 billion deal.
Along with the transactional and international arbitration work handled out of Singapore, Soroko said Duane Morris uses the office “as a hub to do legal work throughout the region.” The only other location where Duane Morris has opened in Asia is in Vietnam, but through its Singapore office, the firm has “desks” in which there are lawyers who specialize in Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and India.
Soroko said the growing number of law firms that have entered or are pondering entering the Singapore market has not created increased competition. He said it has been a very well-developed market for some time — one that some could say is “at the margins, potentially overlawyered.”
“I think it would be difficult, but not impossible, to do a true startup,” Soroko said of opening in Singapore. “The key to the success we’ve had with our office was hooking up with a firm which on its own had a great reputation and were leaders in the local bar. … That has given us a client list and a lot of credibility there.”
While Soroko said he thinks it would be difficult to start anew in Singapore with just a few lawyers, he said that could be the case in any market. He said Singapore is a big business center and there is enough work to go around.