New programme launched to help Singapore lawyers venture abroad
First trip in April will be for 35 lawyers to Guangzhou
By Faris Mokhtar
For some lawyers in Singapore, doing business overseas could be a challenging proposition. They might either lack the know-how to market their expertise or a full grasp of the foreign legal systems and business norms.
But in a bid to push Singapore law firms to venture overseas and capitalise on the burgeoning demand for legal services in Asia, a new programme will bring lawyers on overseas mission trips so that they can network with businesses abroad, as well as assist the lawyers in developing their branding strategies.
Set to benefit over 200 lawyers over the next three years, the “Lawyers go global” programme will be organising at least eight overseas trips to countries including China, India and other Southeast Asian nations.
There will be as many as 35 lawyers going on each trip – lasting up to five days – with at least 50 per cent of them doing so for the first time. The first trip will be to Guangzhou, China in April.
At a media briefing, the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) said that the move to introduce the programme is part of efforts to grab a greater share of the international demand for legal services.
Within Asia-Pacific, legal services is set to grow 5.5 per cent annually by 2019, more than the two per cent annual global growth. The trend is set to continue given the rising infrastructure projects in the region, propelled by China’s One Belt One Road initiative.
MinLaw said the new programme will particularly benefit small and medium sized law firms. These companies might have the expertise but “lack the resources to do their own market research and explore overseas markets on their own”, the ministry noted.
Other reasons that could hinder law firms from expanding their reach include not knowing which markets they should focus on, and not having an understanding of the foreign legal jurisdictions and cultural practices.
For law firms that have ventured overseas, some might not be informed of the specific growth areas, which not only include infrastructure but also intellectual property, dispute resolution and financing. Insights provided under the programme will point them towards that direction, said MinLaw.
The programme – a joint effort by MinLaw, the Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc) and International Enterprise (IE) Singapore – was borne out of the recommendations by the Committee on the Future Economy Working Group on Legal and Accounting Services, which was released last April. It will be funded through IE Singapore’s Local Enterprise and Association Development programme.
Speaking to reporters after the briefing, Senior Minister of State for Law and Finance Indranee Rajah said that the time is right for Singapore law firms to venture overseas given that they have built up their capabilities, and the fact that the centre of global economic gravity is shifting towards Asia.
She noted, for instance, that Singapore’s dispute resolution hub was a “much smaller sector” 15 years ago but it has grown in competency to become an international hub. Said Ms Indranee: “So, I would say it’s the right time and we’ve gotten to the size where we have the right capabilities and we’re ready to venture out.”
Although the LawSoc has occasionally organised similar overseas trips before – most recently to Myanmar last August – the programme provides a more coordinated support, said its president Gregory Vijayendran.
Mr Vijayendran, who is also a partner at Rajah & Tann, noted that there are law associations in other countries that are “very protectionist” in nature, and are not prepared to work with lawyers outside their own countries. Having such a programme makes the process of collaboration “easier” and “non-threatening”, he added.
“We want to let professionals from other jurisdictions know that we’re not here to take from your rice bowl. We’re looking at a win-win solution… bearing in mind that some deals will have that cross-border flavour,” said Mr Vijayendran. “So, there are opportunities for all of us to collaborate.”
As part of the programme, the LawSoc also aims to launch a marketing campaign by the end of this year to promote the “Singapore lawyer” brand, said Mr Vijayendran. The campaign will be based on the outcome of a study that will assess perceptions which businesses have of the Republic’s lawyers.