Written answer by Minister for Law, K Shanmugam, to Parliamentary Question on the Ministry of Law’s decision to award more licences for foreign law firms in 2012
14 May 2012 Posted in Parliamentary speeches and responses
Mr Pritam Singh, Aljunied GRC
To ask the Minister for Law in view of the Ministry’s decision to award more licences for foreign law firms in 2013 (a) whether the Ministry has done any projections on the likely impact of such a move on local law firms and, if so, what are the results of these projections; (b) whether such a move will jeopardise the interests of local law firms since the legal industry has already grown by about 10 per cent for the past five years; and (c) whether he will consider allocating additional resources to train lawyers in local firms to prepare themselves for higher-end corporate/financial services and other transnational work.
The Qualifying Foreign Law Practice (QFLP) scheme was recommended in September 2007 by the Committee to Develop the Singapore Legal Sector, chaired by Justice V K Rajah. The Committee comprised senior practitioners from leading law practices, including Wong Partnership, Drew & Napier and Rajah & Tann, where the Member works. After broad-based consultation with a spectrum of law practices, the Committee made several recommendations to liberalise legal services in Singapore in order to make Singapore a vibrant legal hub.
One of the main recommendations made by the Committee was that Foreign Law Practices (FLPs) should be allowed to practise Singapore law. These and other proposals of the Committee were accepted by the Government. This allowed FLPs to obtain licences to practise permitted areas of Singapore law. Six FLPs were awarded QFLP licences in December 2008.
As part of the implementation of the recommendations of Justice Rajah’s Committee, further QFLP licences will be issued in the second half of this year.
In respect of training, one of the recommendations of the Report also resulted in the setting up of the Singapore Institute of Legal Education (SILE), which now oversees the continuing legal education of the legal profession.
When the Legal Profession (Amendment) Bill was debated in Parliament in 2008, Mr Low Thia Kiang said that he was not speaking on the issue as lawyers were more than capable of speaking for themselves. The Workers’ Party did not state that it opposed the move, and the Bill was passed. Singapore has 821 local law practices and they fall within a broad spectrum, ranging from large to small law practices, and doing very different types of work. It will be helpful if the Member can specify which law practices he refers to in respect of his question.
The following can be said to be the result of the steps that have been taken so far: the legal services sector’s value-add to the Singapore economy increased from $1.4 billion in 2007 to $1.8 billion in 2011, a growth of 28 per cent, despite difficult economic conditions. Job opportunities for lawyers have increased. The moves have been welcomed by our financial services sector, as being important. 80 per cent of the QFLPs’ revenue in the past two years has come from offshore work. This means that work which would have been done elsewhere is being done out of Singapore, with increased opportunities for Singapore lawyers. Singapore has become a global arbitration venue, and the leading arbitration centre in Asia. Some local law practices have benefitted substantially from this, and some of them have ranked highly in global arbitration surveys. Tax incentives are also in place for law practices which handle arbitration, cross border and international work. Some of these incentives require law practices to have a law corporation structure. The Ministry of Law is working on measures to broaden this framework, so as to benefit more law practices.
Last updated on 23 Nov 2012