29 Jun 2007 Posted in Speeches
Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen
- I am happy to be here for this year’s Asian Legal Business South-East Asia Law Awards.
ALB SE Asia Awards
- These Awards have a laudable objective - to recognize excellence in the provision of legal services, not only in Singapore, but in Southeast Asia as well. Looking through tonight’s list of finalists in the 37 categories, I am pleased to note that a number of Singapore firms and practitioners have been nominated. These wide-ranging 37 categories remind us that the practice of law has become more complex and challenging, not only in terms of scope and breadth, but also in terms of jurisdictions and texture. Lawyers cannot effectively serve clients by being competent only in what is called “lawyers’ law” but must possess a good grasp of how the marketplace works, the business considerations behind legal schemes, common sense, good public relations and networking as well as keen understanding of how in-house counsels operate.
Growth of legal services in Singapore
- As the economies of countries grow, there will be an increase in demand for legal services. It is no exception for Singapore. In tandem with the growth of our economy, Singapore has implemented several initiatives to help foster the growth of legal services and to enable the legal sector to meet market demands. These initiatives are geared towards developing Singapore into a legal services hub and increasing the supply as well as quality of lawyers working here. Let me outline the key initiatives.
- We have identified international arbitration as a high-growth sector that we are keen to support. Singapore is known for its neutrality, reliability and efficiency - characteristics which are of importance to the arbitration industry. In recent years, we have seen an increased interest in Singapore as a venue for international arbitration hearings. In response to market feedback, the Singapore Government will pro-actively support and foster the growth of this industry.
Tax Incentive for International Arbitration
- In this regard, we have just introduced a new tax incentive for international arbitration, effective from July this year. This incentive allows a 50% tax exemption for a law practice’s incremental international arbitration work, for cases which culminate in hearings in Singapore and is open to all law practices, foreign and local, subject to some qualifying criteria. I am confident that this will raise Singapore’s attractiveness, not just as a venue for arbitration hearings, but also as a preferred location for law practices to carry out arbitration work.
Integrated Arbitration Complex
- Singapore also recognises the importance of having good facilities for conducting arbitration hearings. The Government is therefore developing an integrated arbitration complex that will provide both world-class hearing room facilities as well as all relevant support services. The complex is scheduled to open in early 2009.
Increased Intake of Students into Local Law Schools
- In order to cope with the increase in demand for legal services, we have also put in place measures to boost the number of both local and foreign lawyers in Singapore. More students will be enrolled to study law at the National University of Singapore this year. A second law school will be opened at the Singapore Management University also starting this year. This will be the first time in many years that we are increasing the local intake of law students in appreciable numbers. Given the reputed track record of both the NUS and SMU, I am confident that this move will produce more local law graduates who are geared up to practise law, both locally and internationally. In addition, I look forward to Singaporean lawyers who are now practicing overseas returning to Singapore. With the experience and perspectives gained from their overseas exposure, they will undoubtedly enhance the breadth and depth of our legal services here.
Allowing Foreign Lawyers to Own 25% of Equity Shares / Share of Profits
- To add to this pool, we have also put in place some initiatives to attract foreign lawyers to practice in Singapore law firms. One such initiative is to allow a foreign lawyer to own up to 25% of the equity shares or share of profits in a Singapore law firm.
- I understand that whilst it may be relatively easy for the law firms to employ, say lawyers from China to help them in their China practice, it is difficult for the firms to retain them and secure their commitment unless they are given a direct stake in the performance and growth of the Singapore law firm.
- To address this, foreign lawyers will be permitted to own equity shares and to share profits in local law firms, subject to an aggregate limit of 25% of the total equity shares or profits of the local law firm. This will allow Singapore law firms to acquire in-house foreign law expertise and facilitate the growth of their practices abroad.
- Another initiative which we have introduced is a special scheme which allows Singapore law firms to hire outstanding foreign lawyers to practise Singapore law in certain prescribed areas like banking, finance and corporate law. These foreign lawyers will strengthen Singapore law firms which can leverage on their experience as the firms compete for work in the region.
Review of Legal Services Sector
- Beyond these initiatives, Justice V K Rajah chairs a committee which is currently actively reviewing the entire legal services sector to further strengthen it.
Encouraging Legal Fraternity to Contribute to Community
- Tonight, even as we recognize the best law firms in different work-related categories, we should also remember that lawyers can, in other ways, uplift the community. In this regard, the Law Society of Singapore has recommended that every lawyer contribute 25 hours of pro-bono work annually. This is a laudable objective. I know that many lawyers already do pro-bono work volunteering their services in free clinics run Voluntary Welfare Organisations, the Legal Aid Bureau and the Law Society itself such the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, or CLAS. A new scheme will be launched in September this year when the Ministry of Law collaborates with the Law Society of Singapore and two Community Development Councils to run two Legal Clinics. This will be yet another avenue for lawyers to channel their community service aspirations.
- Tonight is a rare opportunity for you to network with lawyers from the region, catch up with old friends and to make new ones and we have the organizers to thank for putting this event together.
- It now remains for me to congratulate all the finalists and wish all of you an enjoyable evening ahead. Thank you.
Last updated on 25 Nov 2012