UK firms eye Singapore entry via newly-liberalised licences
At least six City firms have applied for new liberalised licences to practise local law in Singapore, including Ashurst, DLA Piper, Herbert Smith and Norton Rose.Around five licences are expected be awarded under the system, which goes beyond the current local joint venture (JV) model which allows foreign firms to practise local law in restrictive alliances with local firms. Around 20 firms are thought to have applied for the licences.Clifford Chance (CC) and Allen & Overy (A&O) - both of which have local joint ventures - are also believed to have applied for a licence, although both firms declined to comment. A number of US law firms are also known to have applied.The Singapore Ministry of Law has said it will take around two months to process the applications under the so-called qualifying foreign law practice (QFLP) scheme following the deadline for submissions earlier this month (9 October).Linklaters and Lovells both stated that they were happy with their JVs and have, therefore, not applied. JVs already in place are also set to be transformed to 'enhanced joint ventures' as a part of the scheme, enabling further access to the local legal market.Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, which ended its Singapore JV with Drew & Napier last year, has previously stated it will not attempt to re-enter the market. Top 15 UK law firms Eversheds, CMS Cameron McKenna and Simmons & Simmons, none of which have a Singapore presence, said they have not applied for a licence.In contrast to the generally unpopular JV regime, the new licences will allow foreign firms wider freedom to employ locally-qualified lawyers. Applying firms will be expected to demonstrate their commitment to the local market. However, the liberalised model has been criticised in some quarters for only offering around five licences."The true benefits are that you will be able to offer a full service to international clients. Being able to get a licence will fill a gap which is there - so that we could advise all international clients also on regional transactions," commented Herbert Smith Singapore head Austin Sweeney.Norton Rose Singapore-based dispute resolution partner Guy Spooner said: "It is a development and a chance to do work that we cannot do now. We feel it is a step in the right direction, especially since it is regarded as a first, rather than last, step."
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