Five local law firms have topped Singapore Business Review’s inaugural top 25 law firm rankings for 2012 despite the government awarding licenses to 6 foreign law firms this year.
Allen & Gledhill ranked first followed by Rajah & Tann, WongPartnership, Drew & Napier, and Rodyk & Davidson.
Local firms on the rise
Local law firms have dominated the list with only 11 foreign firms making it to the top 25. Together the top 25 law firms employed 3,798 people in Singapore, according to figures compiled by Singapore Business Review. The average number of employees in the top 25 firms was 42.
Allen & Gledhill employed a total of 357 law professionals. The firm, which ended merger talks with Allen & Overy last March, was the legal counsel for CapitaLand in a $5bn Euro medium term note programme and DBS Bank in a $1bn fixed rate subordinated notes due 2023.
The legal market in Singapore continued to grow during 2011 thanks to the influx of foreign law firms in the city.
According to Rikvin, a Singapore company registration specialist, Singapore’s legal industry has seen an annual growth rate of 10% for the past five years. Data from Bloomberg shows that the number of foreign lawyers in Singapore has doubled over the last four years - from 633 in 2007 to 1,200 at the end of 2011.
Rikvin sees these trends continuing with the results of the second round of applications for the Qualifying Foreign Law Practice (QFLP) license set to be revealed over the next three to six months. The QFLP licensing program, which commenced in 2008, has approved six international law firms including Allen & Overy, Herbert Smith and Norton Rose to practice and render services in approved areas such as commercial and corporate law during the first round of applications.
According to Taylor Root, a legal and compliance recruitment agency, a number of international firms opened offices in Singapore in 2012, including Olswang, LG, Collas Crill, Mayer Brown JSM, Squire Sanders, Withers and Reynolds Porter Chamberlain. Rumours of other new entrants continue but Taylor Roots notes that whilst these latest developments point to a very vibrant legal scene, it is worth remembering that the market is still small in comparison to other major markets such as London and Hong Kong.
A big red flag, it says, was the proposed merger between Allen & Overy and local firm Allen & Gledhill, which ultimately did not happen. “This could have been the catalyst to a more open legal market in Singapore and further developments of this nature are anticipated. Litigation can still only be practised in local law firms, although Singapore continues to expand as a centre of international arbitration,” it says.
“Growth over the last 18 months has been cautious and firms generally only have less than a handful of specific requirements at any one time. The bar continues to be high and only very strong foreign lawyers are able to secure roles here,” it adds.
High profile disputes on the rise
WongPartnership, which ranked third on the top 25 rankings with 270 law professionals, saw a healthy growth in international and cross-border transactions and an upswing in international arbitration and domestic litigation matters, including high profile disputes.
Among the firm’s major deals include ThaiBev’s stake acquisition of Fraser and Neave, named as the largest M&A transaction in Singapore in 2012. The law firm also took part in DBS Group Holdings’ proposed $9.1 billion acquisition of PT Bank Danamon.
Drew & Napier, fourth in the top 25 Law Rankings with 233 professionals, also takes pride in its major litigation and arbitration deals abroad. Drew & Napier’s Davinder Singh is named as the first Singapore Senior Counsel to represent a foreign government in a court case abroad.
Singh was admitted ad hoc into the Brunei Bar in which he successfully defended the former deputy Defense Minister, Commander of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces and Commander of the Royal Brunei Air Forces in a claim filed against them by a former officer of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces in the Court of Appeal of Brunei.
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