The Singaporean government has decided to delay the renewal process for five international firms’ licenses to practice local law.
The Ministry of Law announced Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Latham & Watkins, Norton Rose Fulbright, and White & Case will have their licenses extended by one year to 2020 before the government decides whether to renew and how long the new licenses will last.
The five firms were among the first batch of foreign law firms to receive licenses as the Qualifying Foreign Law Practices in 2009; their licenses were due to expire in 2019. The QFLP program enabled foreign firms to directly hire Singapore-qualified lawyers and give Singaporean law advice. But a few domestic practice areas including litigation, conveyancing and family law remain off limits for the QFLPs.
The Ministry of Law said the temporary extension was given to the five firms so the government can better assess their contribution to Singapore alongside another four firms, whose licenses were also extended to 2020. The QFLP licenses for Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Jones Day, Linklaters and Sidley Austin were originally due to expire in 2018, but in late 2017, the government announced a similar two-year temporary extension because the firms’ performance was weaker than expected.
The ministry did not give specific details about the performance of Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Latham, Norton Rose and White & Case since their last renewal in 2014. (White & Case only received a full renewal in 2015.) Instead, the government made a general comment that the QFLPs “have contributed strongly to the growth of Singapore’s legal sector.”
In fiscal year 2017-18, according to the law ministry, the nine QFLPs contributed over S$400 million, or $295 million, in total revenue, and about 80 percent of that combined income was generated by, as the government put it, “work that could have been done elsewhere.” The ministry cited the exact same revenue figures for fiscal year 2016-17.
The government also said that about 35 percent of the 450 lawyers the nine QFLPs employ in Singapore are locally qualified. That’s about 158 Singaporean lawyers—up from about 30 percent of 450 lawyers from a year ago.
In deciding on a renewal, the government said it will consider the value of work the Singapore office generates, and the extent to which the Singapore office functions as the firm’s headquarter for the region, the firm’s contributions to Singapore during the licence period relative to its earlier commitments, and the firm’s proposal for the new licence period.
The QFLP program has not been open for applications since 2012. Foreign firms can choose other avenues for a Singaporean practice. Last week, K&L Gates and Withers, respectively, completed a merger with a Singaporean law firm. Morgan, Lewis & Bockius and Eversheds Sutherland also merged and fully localized in Singapore.