New Regulatory Framework for legal practice in Singapore
1. The Committee to Review the Regulatory Framework of the Singapore Legal Services Sector (“Regulatory Committee”) submitted its recommendations to the Ministry of Law (“MinLaw”) on 21 January 2014.
Recommendations by the Regulatory Committee
2. The recommendations aim to update and bring about greater consistency in the regulatory regime of the legal profession in Singapore, which now comprises not only Singapore-qualified lawyers (“SLs”) but a growing number of lawyers qualified in foreign jurisdictions (“FLs”) and also FLs practising Singapore law. The Ministry welcomes the recommendations by the Regulatory Committee which include the following:
(i) Individual Level Regulation
3. New Professional Conduct Rules (“PCR”) to apply to all lawyers:
- The PCR currently applicable only to SLs and FLs practising Singapore law, will be reviewed and updated to apply to all lawyers in Singapore:
- There will be general universally accepted principles of conduct that will apply to all lawyers in Singapore.
- There will be specific rules that are more relevant to the practice of Singapore law which will only apply to SLs and FLs practising Singapore law.
- There will be new management rules applicable to lawyers involved in the management of a law practice.
- A Professional Conduct Council (“PCC”) will be established to oversee the new PCR. It will include senior representation from the Judiciary, the Law Society of Singapore, the Attorney-General’s Chambers, SL and FL community, and MinLaw. Non-practitioners may also be invited to sit on the PCC.
4. Disciplinary process 1:
- There is no change to the current disciplinary process for SLs 2.
- FLs will be subject to the same disciplinary process as their SL counterparts, but with one FL member in each of the committees / tribunal at every stage of the disciplinary process before the matter reaches the Court of Three Judges for final disposal.
(ii) Entity Level Regulation
5. New entity regulator to oversee all law practice entities :
- With law firm structures becoming increasingly complex, a new entity regulator, the Legal Services Regulatory Authority (“LSRA”) will be established.
- The LSRA will regulate all law practice entities in Singapore. Existing regulatory functions performed by the Law Society of Singapore (for Singapore law practices) and the Attorney-General’s Chambers (for foreign law practices, and registration of foreign lawyers) will be transferred to the LSRA.
- LSRA will focus on regulating business criteria 3.
- The regime will also be updated to accommodate law practices wishing to adopt Alternative Business Structures (“ABS”) 4 in Singapore for various reasons such as to permit greater participation of non-lawyers with deep management or finance experience in the law practice, and the ability to offer multi-disciplinary solutions within one entity, subject to appropriate limitations and safeguards. For a start, Legal Disciplinary Practices (“LDPs) will be permitted, where non-lawyer managers / employees will be allowed to own equity and/or share in the profits of the LDP. LDPs will only be allowed to provide legal services.
6. Permanent Secretary of MinLaw, Dr Beh Swan Gin, said: “The legal sector is evolving to meet the changing and increasingly varied needs of international trade and business. We believe that the recommendations will enable Singapore’s regulatory regime to keep pace with and where possible, anticipate these changes so that the legal sector maintains its high professional standards even as it continues to grow as a high-value segment of the economy.”
 Under the present system, the Law Society of Singapore and the Supreme Court oversee the discipline of Singapore-qualified lawyers while the Attorney-General oversees the regulation of foreign-qualified lawyers.
 Under the present system, complaints against Singapore-qualified lawyers are dealt with through various stages: a Review Committee, Inquiry Committee, Disciplinary Tribunal, and ultimately, the Court of three Judges.
 Law firms are traditionally 100% lawyer owned, and offer only legal services. ABS are innovative law firm entity structures, where non-lawyers are allowed to be partners/directors/own a stake/share in the law firm entity’s profits. More liberal forms of ABS also offer multi-disciplinary services that go beyond just legal services e.g. accountancy services, etc.