Singapore, a small trading port turned thriving global business hub, is on the rise. With a strategic vision, innovative policies, and relentless ambition, this city-state has become a powerhouse in Asia. With its ascent, law firms are seeing Singapore as an emerging legal hub.

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) ranked Singapore as the world’s best business hub, acknowledging its exceptional infrastructure, connectivity, and regulatory environment. The city-state also holds the title of Asia’s top air travel hub, serving over 62 million passengers annually, according to the Financial Times.

As mainland China’s crackdowns intensify, the country’s wealthy are flocking to Singapore for financial refuge, reports Al Jazeera. With a reputation for stability and reliability, Singapore has become “Asia’s Switzerland” – a sought-after destination for China’s affluent class.

Magnet for Wealth and Family Offices

Singapore has attracted substantial wealth, with assets under management (AUM) reaching a whopping $4 trillion as of December 2021. The city-state is now home to over 1,500 family offices, a significant increase from just a handful in 2018. Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s clampdown on technology entrepreneurs has heightened Singapore’s attraction as a destination for wealthy elites and their funds.

Since mid-2021, Singapore’s foreign currency deposits have increased by more than $100 billion, while Hong Kong banks have seen deposits dwindle. Major financial institutions like BlackRock and Wells Fargo have recognized this shift and responded accordingly. BlackRock doubled the size of its Singapore office in 2022, and Wells Fargo shifted its Asian hub from Hong Kong to Singapore the year before. Singapore now hosts over 400 hedge funds.

Bridging the Gap with Hong Kong in Asset Management

Although Singapore’s security market turnover and market capitalization are impressive at $0.23 trillion and $0.62 trillion, respectively, it still lags behind Hong Kong by roughly seven times. However, in the asset management and advisory service industry, Singapore is fast closing the gap with its regional rival. In 2021, Singapore’s AUM grew 16%, while Hong Kong’s increased by only 2% to $4.6 trillion.

A Thriving Hub for Tech and Innovation

Singapore is fast becoming a preferred destination for tech companies and startups. Its strong intellectual property protection and support for innovation have attracted top global tech firms, fueling the growth of the city-state’s tech ecosystem.

Talent Attractor

Singapore has been working hard to attract top talent from around the world. The city-state offers competitive salaries, an exceptional quality of life, and a robust infrastructure. This has resulted in a talent war with regional rival Hong Kong, which is witnessing a narrower gap in office rent costs.

A Gateway to Southeast Asia

Strategically positioned in the heart of Southeast Asia, Singapore is the perfect gateway for businesses looking to expand in the region. The city-state’s well-established air traffic infrastructure provides excellent connectivity to the rest of Asia, making it an ideal base for international firms.

Intense Law Firm Activity in Singapore

As Singapore’s status as a top destination for commerce and finance grows, so does the presence of international law firms. In recent years, the city-state has witnessed significant growth in the legal sector, attracting global law firms that are eager to tap into the burgeoning opportunities in the region.

Major law firms from the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, and India have set up offices or established joint ventures in the city-state, capitalizing on its growing prominence in global business.

The city-state of Singapore, a dynamic powerhouse in Asia, has been transforming itself into a global legal hub, riding the waves of its rapidly growing economy and thriving business sector. With an influx of international law firms establishing their presence, Singapore’s legal landscape is now a fertile ground for innovation, collaboration, and expansion.

At the heart of this transformation lies Singapore’s burgeoning status as a top destination for commerce and finance. The island nation’s strategic location, world-class infrastructure, and reputation for stability have attracted major law firms from across the globe, eager to capitalize on the wealth of opportunities in the region.

In recent years, a series of strategic moves by leading law firms has intensified the city-state’s legal scene. Mayer Brown has adopted a dual-hub strategy in Asia, with Hong Kong remaining a center for the firm’s Greater China and North Asia practice, while Singapore serves as its Southeast Asia hub. The firm recently established a joint law venture (JLV) with Singapore law firm PK Wong & Nair, marking the first JLV in Singapore since 2016. This expansion reflects the increasing prominence of Singapore law as a preferred governing law in the region.

Intense Law Firm Activity in Singapore

The energy sector, too, has seen heightened activity. Squire Patton Boggs’ addition of partner Lian Yok Tan, former global co-head of the Energy, Infrastructure, and Resources Practice at K&L Gates, to its Singapore office, reflects a growing need for expertise in this area. Squire Patton Boggs has also strengthened its Global Data Privacy, Cybersecurity, and Digital Assets Practice with the addition of partner Charmian Aw in Singapore. Aw’s arrival is part of the firm’s efforts to address evolving data, digital, and cyber risks and rewards in the Asia-Pacific region. Her expertise in multijurisdictional projects involving regulatory compliance, data governance, and cybersecurity measures will contribute to the firm’s growing presence in Singapore.

Norton Rose Fulbright has set up a restructuring base in Singapore, with Meiyan Tan leading the practice. The move is in response to the city-state’s rising importance as a restructuring hub and the increased client demand for advice on restructuring and insolvency in Southeast Asia, particularly on cross-border cases.

Singapore’s appeal as a leading financial center in Asia has also lured top-tier talent to its shores. Allen & Overy’s hiring of Kenny Kwan and Caryn Ng, leading equity capital markets and public M&A lawyers, as partners in Singapore from Baker McKenzie is a prime example of the ongoing talent war, as the firm aims to bolster its mergers and acquisitions and capital markets practices in the city-state.

Expanding their footprint in Southeast Asia, South Korean law firm Shin & Kim opened an office in Singapore, leveraging the city-state’s strategic location to access key markets in the region. It is the firm’s sixth overseas office, aimed at strengthening its services in Southeast Asia. This move exemplifies the growing recognition of Singapore as a vital hub for legal services in Southeast Asia.

Several other prominent law firms have expanded their presence in Singapore recently. For instance, K&L Gates added project finance partner Sarah Park, while Milbank hired its first dedicated Asian restructuring partner, Nicholas Dunstone. Goodwin Procter relocated private investment funds partner Greg Barclay from Hong Kong to Singapore to build its private equity offering.

These recent hires and expansions by global law firms in Singapore are a testament to the city-state’s growing importance as a legal hub in the region. With its strategic location, pro-business policies, and robust legal system, Singapore offers an attractive environment for law firms looking to expand their presence in Asia. As more law firms establish a foothold in Singapore, the legal sector in the city-state is set to experience continued growth and success.

Singapore’s evolution into a global legal hub is not just a collection of isolated events but a carefully orchestrated symphony of growth and opportunity. With each strategic move, the island nation further solidifies its reputation as a beacon for legal expertise, attracting top talent and firms from around the world.

As the legal sector continues to thrive and innovate, Singapore’s ascent as a global legal hub promises to resonate far beyond its shores, leaving a lasting impact on the entire region and contributing to the city-state’s ongoing success story.

Posted by Sourabh Gogna

Sourabh Gogna is the Vice President of the Professional Services sector in North America at The Smart Cube. With 15 years of consulting experience, Sourabh partners with leaders in professional services and corporate strategy, driving business growth, analytics, and cost optimisation. Prior to his current role, he managed the operations of the professional services practice in India, implementing innovative capabilities, solutions, and technologies. Sourabh, an alumnus of Delhi University and the National Law School, Bengaluru, holds a Bachelor’s degree in Law and Business Management, and a Master’s in Business Law. Outside of work, he is the voice behind Firmroute.co, a blog that provides data-driven insights for the North American professional services sector. Sourabh is a cricket enthusiast and follows the sport in his spare time.

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