SINGAPORE'S sixth largest law firm, Stamford Law Corporation, will fully merge with one of the world's top five law firms, Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP, in a trailblazing move that will not only internationalise a local law firm but also pave the way for Singapore law to go global.
Effective April 1, the merger will make the combined practice - to be named Morgan Lewis Stamford LLC - a Singapore law practice where the partners will be concurrent partners of the global firm, said Lee Suet Fern, senior director and founder of Stamford Law.
This means Stamford Law will fully integrate with the other 28 Morgan Lewis offices globally, making it the first Singapore law firm able to offer both foreign law and full Singapore law counsel in all areas, said the two firms in a statement.
Morgan Lewis Stamford will become Morgan Lewis's 29th office as well as the latter's headquarters in Asia, excluding Japan, the firms said.
While there has been talk of a glut of Singapore lawyers, Mrs Lee noted that a merger of this size and scale gives opportunities for Singapore lawyers to be involved in more complex and in-depth cross-border legal transactions for many of the largest global corporations.
"The combined practice will also bring significant work, skills and opportunities for Singapore, and will contribute towards the growth of, and opportunities for, Singapore as an international and regional legal hub - through further exports of legal services to the region."
The idea of a full merger, mooted in late 2014, is also expected to materially advance Singapore's goal to become an international dispute resolution centre and an internationally competitive legal services hub.
Said Mrs Lee: "With the significant growth of arbitration in Singapore in the last few years, and the recent establishment of the Singapore International Commercial Courts as well as the Singapore International Mediation Centre, this merger could help generate growth of large-scale dispute resolution work, especially that involving the Fortune 100 companies that represent some of Morgan Lewis's top clients."
"This could help make Singapore the obvious dispute resolution centre of choice for Asia and beyond. Naturally, Singapore litigation will continue to be undertaken by Singapore-qualified lawyers."
Jami McKeon, chair of Morgan Lewis, welcomed the merger, adding that this integration signals the firm's long-term commitment to Singapore as it makes the combined practice both a centre for Asia sector practice, and a beachhead for further growth within Southeast Asia and the Asia region in general.
Set up in 1873 in the United States, Morgan Lewis is the largest American law firm and has more than 1,000 lawyers in its dispute resolution practice globally. It is understood that more than half of the Philadelphia-based firm's revenue is generated from dispute resolution work. Average profit per partner (a key measurement of a law firm's financial health) is about US$1.57 million at Morgan Lewis.
Asked about plans to grow the Singapore team, Mrs Lee said she expects it to expand in terms of bench strength, including depth and breadth, as well as add new practice areas where appropriate.
Stamford Law started in December 2000, focusing on top-tier mergers and acquisitions, corporate finance and securities law practices. It has since diversified into a full-service law firm.
Under Singapore law, a local law firm cannot be acquired by a foreign one. However, a foreign law firm may set up an office in Singapore either through the Foreign Law Practice (FLP) structure, which allows it to practise foreign law here; or the Qualifying Foreign Law Practice (QFLP) scheme, that allows a foreign law firm to practise Singapore commercial law.
The Joint Legal Venture (JLV) or Foreign Law Alliance (FLA) also provides a platform for Singapore and foreign law firms to enter into licensed, collaborative arrangements to provide their clients advice in permitted areas of Singapore law.
Amendment: The previous article said the idea of merger was mooted in late 2013. It also quoted Mrs Lee as saying that with the recent establishment of the Singapore International Commercial Courts as well as the Singapore Mediation Centre, the merger could help generate large-scale growth of dispute resolution work. Stamford Law has since clarified that the idea was mooted in Sept 2014 and that Mrs Lee was referring to the Singapore International Mediation Centre.
The previous article also said foreign law firms may practise Singapore law only in “permitted areas” and operate under regimes which require periodic licence renewals under the four structures. The Law Ministry has clarified that foreign law firms may practise Singapore law if they meet the requirements under the law.