The United States is Singapore’s largest foreign direct investor
As Kirk Wagar, United States Ambassador to Singapore and Ashok Mirpuri, the Singapore Ambassador to the United States have outlined in the Straits Times, “with over 3,700 US companies headquartered in Singapore…the United States is the largest foreign direct investor in Singapore – more than Australia, China and Japan combined.”
The Office of the United States Trade Representative provides greater detail about this investment and trade relationship. In particular: “U.S. goods and private services trade with Singapore totaled $68 billion in 2012 (latest data available). Exports totaled $43 billion; Services exports were $12 billion.
Singapore was the United States’ 26th largest import market in 2013. U.S. foreign direct investment (FDI) in Singapore (stock) was $138.6 billion in 2012 (latest data available), a 16.9% increase from 2011. Notably, U.S. direct investment in Singapore is primarily concentrated in the non-bank holding companies and the manufacturing sectors.”
The Singapore Legal Market: Hyper-competitive
As Ranajit Dam and Cynthia Claytor detail in a recent issue of Asian Legal Business, Singapore’s legal market is becoming more competitive, with local, medium-sized firms at particular risk. They note “an upward trend of internationalization within – and emerging from – Singapore’s legal sector. For long one of the more liberal markets in Asia, Singapore is now embracing global in an unprecedented way.”
Hri Kumar Nair SC, a director with Drew & Napier, told Dam and Claytor that “domestic firms…have to raise their game to compete…” “Midsize firms [in particular] look vulnerable unless they seek tie-ups or look to specialize” he explained.
Singapore law firms can successfully build a US client base
Despite the competitive pressures, Singapore law firms can increase their client based via three core initiatives.
1. Seek to be a gateway into Singapore for US companies and investors
One of the most effective ways to attract foreign clients – is to make yourself a resource for overseas companies seeking to do business in your jurisdiction. International companies are consistently seeking to enter or expand in new markets. If you make yourself a key resource for US companies and investors seeking to do business in Singapore – you’ll find yourself with more business than you would have imagined possible. Among the core elements of this strategy is to establish a focused publishing effort with a considered social media presence to effectively transmit key messages to US investors and corporate C-Suite executives.
2. Take a proactive, not reactive, business development posture
Of vital importance for a law firm of any size – indeed even an individual practitioner – is the adoption of a proactive new business pipeline discipline which serves to keep your business development efforts active and in your control. This effort is also more measurable in terms of return on investment (ROI). Key too is – this discipline includes the follow-through your business development efforts need to ensure you’re signing more clients. What’s the purpose of blogging or social media or even attending conferences or being active on LinkedIn – if you don’t have a concrete, disciplined plan for following through until your firm is engaged by new clients?
3. Establish a representative business development presence in the United States
Utilizing a forward-positioned consultant or employee in a vital foreign hub of investment is particularly useful for a law firm with no practice in that foreign jurisdiction. A foreign-based law firm representative is in a position to identify, on-the-ground, actionable opportunities for very lucrative referrals and new work from highly specific sources and, as a part of the overall business development posture I’ve outlined above, not just identify but secure new client engagements on the ground, in the US, before those prospects have reached Singapore and are meeting with your competitors.
Singapore law firms serious about proactively seeking to generate new work from US investors would be wise to conduct a business development audit to first determine your current business development posture and how you can integrate the methods I’ve described above into your existing efforts. Then, move forward with an improved effort aimed at generating new work from Singapore’s largest single source of direct investment, the United States.