Commentary
PROFESSIONAL SERVICES/LEGAL | Contributed Content, Singapore
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Matthew Kay

Why businesses are using lawyers differently in Singapore

BY MATTHEW KAY

Singapore businesses are facing several significant legal changes on the horizon which will impact how many companies work day-to-day.

The first is the both recent and imminent changes to how data in Singapore needs to be stored. There’s been a huge focus on data protection across the world, with the European Union seeing the transformative General Data Protection Regulation introduced last month, forcing the hands of thousands of business owners to hold a magnifying glass up to how they store and use data. In the same vein, Singapore is undergoing a progressive period related to data. The Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) have introduced new mandatory breach notification obligations which mean businesses have to report cyber incidents to the individuals and authorities. In addition to this change, there are a raft of other developments which companies have to digest, understand and ensure their policies adequately cover. The picture is ever-changing too and it’s essential businesses are up-to-date.

Likewise, the changes to employment law mean businesses have to ensure they’re compliant. Next year the salary cap will change, meaning higher-paid members of staff who were previously not protected by the Act will now benefit from certain employment benefits such as paid sick leave.

It’s clear – businesses in Singapore are going to need to rely heavily on both their in-house and external legal teams to ensure these seismic changes are reflected in their practices and processes. Across the Asia-Pac region, in-house legal teams are certainly a vital resource, and more than that – they are helping drive innovation, particularly regarding technology and specifically areas like fintech.

However – we’re also seeing a change in the way businesses in Singapore use lawyers and legal resource, driven by a number of factors. Partly, it’s the incoming legal changes I mentioned at the top of this piece – some companies may find usually they only require a fairly basic legal resource in-house, but on the advent of significant legal changes which alter how they store and use data, as well as how employees are treated, additional legal support is often needed.

It’s not just big legislative changes on the horizon which can make a business assess how they use legal resource and how much help and support is needed day-to-day. Some companies naturally operate in a seasonal market which goes though peaks and troughs, which means a permanent in-house lawyer might not always be needed. For other companies, it may be that a permanent hire of a new in-house lawyer just isn’t an option due to budgetary constraints; but due to a new business win or changes to the regulatory landscape, they need more legal support.

This is where we’re seeing contract lawyering really gaining momentum in the Singaporean market. Still a relatively new concept across Asia, contract lawyering – where a lawyer is seconded into a business for a period of time – is growing in popularity for companies which need an extra pair of hands on the legal team but this isn’t a full-time requirement. In Singapore it’s a small but growing population of lawyers turning to contracting. Research of the marketplace would suggest that there are upwards of several hundred contract lawyers in the region, with Singapore and Hong Kong having the most. These flexible lawyers generally work on different contracts which last between six to 18 months and are individuals who have decided they want to work differently.

In Singapore we’re seeing businesses in the financial services industry - predominantly American and European multi-nationals, having the most appetite for contract lawyers, although demand is growing from those multi-nationals predominantly from Hong Kong and China, with bases in Singapore.

Agile working – where presenteeism is forgotten and the focus is on performance and innovation - is also growing in popularity in Singapore. According to a recent study by IWG, 60% of employees in this country work remotely every week, and almost 50% do so for least half the week. A huge 92% of businesses surveyed felt allowing this extra flexibility had contributed to their growth and 81% felt it had helped them attract and retain top talent.

For lawyers, it’s still relatively new ground to work as a contractor, but we are seeing demand from those lawyers who have worked in private practice and in-house for a number of years and want to add more variety to their career. For the lawyers, this type of career means they are parachuted into different clients across diverse sectors and met with new and exciting legal challenges to help unravel. We’re also seeing parents, looking to re-join the world of work after having a baby, drawn to this new way of flexible working.

Generally in Singapore we are seeing lawyers who have been qualified for five years or more turning to contracting and as commercial work tends to make up most of the demand from businesses, these lawyers are most needed followed by Corporate (M&A), Compliance, Corporate Finance and GC.

For businesses, this option is growing as a cost-effective way to get some quality legal support in-house, when it’s needed. 

The world of business is certainly evolving, so it comes as no surprise that how lawyers are utilised is also changing. Like with many other resources, this needs to be more flexible and agile – luckily contract lawyering has come to Singapore to help with this requirement.

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Matthew Kay

Matthew Kay

Matthew is the Director of Vario and has overall global responsibility for the strategic direction, management and growth of Vario. Since joining Pinsent Masons in 2015, Matthew has led Vario on a rapid programme of development, more than doubling in size and expanding the business into new jurisdictions across Asia Pacific. Under Matthew’s leadership, Vario has become the leading law firm led provider of flexible legal solutions. Vario now represents almost 500 lawyers across numerous jurisdictions. Matthew is passionate about how the Vario approach solves real business problems for some of the world’s leading organisations, and offers alternative working patterns to talented legal professionals.

Prior to joining Pinsent Masons, Matthew worked internationally for a global management consulting organisation, specialising in major business process outsourcing (BPO) projects.

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