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FINANCIAL SERVICES | Krisana Gallezo-Estaura, Singapore
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Singapore's 25 largest law firms in 2016

It’s high-time to broaden their international reach and base.

The year 2015 saw several new partnerships between local and international law firms, and this has put unwanted pressure on local firms to keep up and be competitive internationally. Internationalisation of law practices looks like a key theme that is developing, and will continue to shape Singapore’s legal sector in the coming years. “2015 saw many well-known Singapore law firms tying up with global partners, including Rodyk & Davidson and Dentons, Stamford Law and Morgan Lewis & Bockius, and KhattarWong and Withers. These tie-ups highlight the pressure on local firms to broaden their international reach and base” according to George Lim, Co-Chair of the Singapore International Mediation Center (SIMC). Lynee Roeder, managing director at Hays Singapore, notes that this trend has led to strong demand from international law firms for junior to mid-level attorneys, especially those who have international qualifications.

Cross-border transactions will become increasingly important as this trend plays out and Roeder notes that in addition to these international certifications, language proficiency will also become increasingly important. Meanwhile, despite global falls in business confidence, Roeder notes that in 2015, hiring has been pretty stable in private practice, particularly in the areas of banking and finance, mergers and acquisitions, etc. Slowing profit growth for companies has also led to tighter budgets for headcount, which has created a large disparity between compensation between in-house and private practice roles. This trend is expected to bleed into 2016 and may manifest itself in the headcount requirements for 2H ’16 and 1H ’17, which are expected to firm up in the first ew months of the year.

Going into 2016, the legal sector definitely faces some headwinds but there are still pockets of opportunities for those with the right skillsets. “Those who are able to set themselves apart from their peers, for example through creating a niche specialisation or developing strong legal skills, will likely excel. What will drive growth will likely be cross-border work, particularly with the ASEAN Economic Community, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and China’s push for “one belt one road,” says SIMC’s George Lim. Serene Wee, chief executive of the Singapore Academy of Law, notes that there is also a large emphasis, especially for junior lawyers, on proficiency with digital legal research tools and ability to operate in  technology-enabled practice. Broadly however, the challenging global macro environment will hamper overall growth in the sector due to its strong link to the underlying businesses’ IT services. “Private practice firms will continue to look for top talent with excellent academics and experience, whilst corporations will remainquite conservativ e on headcount requirements for their legal departments” says Roeder.

Who made it to the SBR’s list?

Local law firm, Allen & Glehill remains the largest law firm in Singapore with 355 legal professionals. Close behind is another local firm, Rajah and Tann with 334 headcount. Morgan Lewis Stamford, the result of the merger between New York based Morgan Lewis and local firm Stamford made it way to rank 11th with 75 legal professionals.

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