Singapore attracts attention from the US, UK and beyond

By Sam Kenworthy

As the Singapore legal market continues to observe internal movement, we have also seen new openings over the past 12 months, not surprising in itself as international firms have long jockeyed for position in the Lion City. However, alongside the headline-grabbing moves of US giants Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and McDermott, Will & Emery, there have also been forays from Korea, the PRC and India.

Orrick pivoted from a Hong Kong office focused primarily on private equity and capital markets to an energy and infrastructure-oriented South East Asia offering, with the strategic recruitment of Jon Thursby from Watson, Farley & Williams following a team hire from the same firm in London. McDermott went in a similar direction, swapping a corporate focus in China for another projects practice after hiring Ignatius Hwang from Squire Patton Boggs.

Korean giants Bae, Kim & Lee have relocated their head of South East Asia Eric Yang to launch the Singapore office, he previously having performed a similar role for the firm’s Myanmar branch. The firm also has offices in China, Indonesia, VietnamHong Kong, and Dubai.

AllBright Law Offices have made a similar move in relocating two partners from their Shanghai headquarters. Despite most of the major PRC firms making inroads into the Hong Kong market in recent years with some eyecatching hires, Singapore seemingly remains of little interest to the Chinese legal market, with Sino-Australian firm King & Wood Mallesons the only other notable outpost of the major PRC players.

With India being a closed market it is interesting to note Singapore openings for two of the country’s most prestigious firms, Khaitan & Co and Cyril Armachand Mangaldas, with both firms expected to focus on offering Indian law expertise and trying to make inroads into Singapore’s lucrative International Arbitration market. The two firms announced their office launches within months of each other, in a scenario reminiscent of a period in 2012/13 when Japan’s Big Four (Nishimura & Asahi, Nagashima, Ohno & Tsunematsu, Mori Hamada & Matsumoto, and Anderson, Mori and Tomotsune) all opened offices in the city state. Let’s see if more Indian firms follow their lead.

Whereas Bae, Kim & Lee, AllBright, Khaitan and Cyril Armachand Mangaldas are all expected to maintain offices of smaller numbers to begin with, one would expect Orrick and McDermott to be more ambitious in their growth plans. Hwang’s former firm Squire Patton Boggs has been very aggressive on the lateral hiring front in recent years and Latham & Watkins recently announced a group hire of three partners from Shearman & Sterling and Freshfields. As firms continue to reconfigure their Asia strategies, Singapore seems to be the current hotspot.

Published by Hughes Castell

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