Singapore has awarded additional Qualifying Foreign Law Practice licenses to four international law firms out of 23 that applied.
Sidley Austin; Linklaters; Jones Day; and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher are the four firms that received QFLP status, Singapore’s Ministry of Law announced Tuesday. Unlike other foreign firms, QFLP firms are allowed to practice local Singapore law in certain areas and directly hire Singapore-qualified lawyers.
The four new QFLPs join six firms that were awarded licenses when the program was first rolled out in 2008: Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Herbert Smith, Latham & Watkins, Norton Rose, and White & Case.
In deciding whom to name this time around, the ministry said it considered factors including the value of offshore work the firm’s Singapore office would generate, the number of lawyers who would be based in Singapore, and the degree to which the Singapore office would serve as a regional headquarters.
The ministry did not name the unsuccessful applicants but firms that had previously said they were applying in this round include DLA Piper, Ashurst, and K&L Gates.
The QFLP scheme embodies the Singaporean government’s desire to simultaneously make Singapore a regional hub for international law firms while avoiding complete domination of its local profession by foreign firms. Before the QFLPs were introduced, foreign firms were only permitted to practice local law through joint law ventures with local firms.
These JLVs were nonexclusive, and tensions invariably arose as each firm within the venture continued to freely work with other firms outside of it. Most JLVs involving major U.S. firms quickly collapsed, and most of the large U.K. firms pulled out the moment QFLPs became available. Clifford Chance and Allen & Overy, for instance, were both previously in JLVs with local firms WongPartnership and Shook, Lin & Bok, respectively.
Linklaters’ successful QFLP application this time around followed the collapse last year of its JLV with local market leader Allen & Gledhill. The firms’ decade-long arrangement fell apart when Allen & Gledhill decided to discuss a strategic alliance with Allen & Overy. Those talks ended without a deal, but the Singaporean government decided to make such tie-ups easier by permitting international law firms to own one-third stakes in local ones.
Though foreign firms are clearly interested in becoming QFLPs, those who have the status largely regard it as "nice to have" rather than a necessity. QFLP firms have hired relatively small numbers of Singaporean lawyers, most of whom are dual-qualified.