Produced by SilverKris for Mishcon de Reya
If Marina Bay is Singapore’s dazzling gateway, the dynamic heart is beating just beyond. Here, the future of global finance, tech innovation and intercontinental trade largely takes shape within a compact triangle of barely 26km².
In each of these areas, legal services play an indispensable role. They enable deal-making, global compliance, dispute mediation – not to mention stewardship of all the wealth generated in the creative vibe. It’s little wonder that Singapore sees its transformation into a premier global legal hub as a key ingredient of future success.
More than 130 foreign law firms have set up shop in the city-state. For global lawyers, Singapore’s ease of doing business matches the opportunities. World-class infrastructure and lifestyle, deep English law traditions, a favourable regulatory environment, commitment to geopolitical neutrality all are key attractions. A superb English-speaking talent pool – thanks partly to Asia’s No 1 law school at NUS – underpins these trends.
These advantages were not built overnight. Singapore has been striving for three decades to create the right business, technological and regulatory framework. “Imagine if an entire nation were to fashion a plan for innovation, earmarking the legal industry as a key element of its integrated, multidisciplinary plan,” Mark Cohen, CEO of legal business consultancy Legal Mosaic, wrote in Forbes. “That’s precisely what’s happening in Singapore.”
A centre for global dispute arbitration
It could be argued that the big leap in legal services began in 1991 when a specialised arbitration framework for maritime disputes was created. Modern arbitration sees parties resolve disagreements at lower cost, greater speed and deeper confidentiality.
The Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) began modestly with two cases in its first year. It ended 2020 with a double milestone that captures its strides toward recognition as a truly global arbiter of commercial conflict.
In December, it launched a representative office in New York in response to surging US demand. The tape-cutting came with the announcement that SIAC’s 2020 caseload had surpassed 1,000 cases, more than doubling the roughly 400 cases in the previous three years. It was a significant feat in a year of pandemic turmoil that had depressed global interaction.
Charting a digital future
Further boosting Singapore’s legal ambitions is a pioneering role in the US$16 billion legal tech industry. Two decades ago, Singapore courts were among the first to introduce electronic court document filing. Today, Singapore has transitioned from early adopter to leading innovator of disruptive legal innovation – enhancing its legal hub ambitions.
Global law has awoken to the need to catch up to the digital revolution. According to a Thomson-Reuters survey, 64% of law firm leaders cited “insufficient leveraging of technology” as a medium-to-high risk factor.
Imagine if an entire nation were to fashion a plan for innovation, earmarking the legal industry as a key element of its plan
That puts Singapore – less tradition-bound than other legal centres – in pole position to carve out the future. Legal tech, moreover, is integral to Singapore’s overall mission to become “Asia’s Silicon Valley” – creating synergies across the island’s digital ecosystem, especially in AI and automation.
Singapore’s legal tech mission is today driven by the Future Law Innovation Programme (FLIP) – a comprehensive strategy to foster innovation and adoption of new legal technologies.
George Loh, programme director at Singapore’s National Research Foundation, captured the city-state’s legal tech vision last March in announcing an S$11 million legal tech research programme to develop smart contracts and smart statutes.
“This new research programme on computational law,” he said, “allows Singapore to build thought leadership and digital expertise in this nascent field, and bring law firms along in the digitalisation journey to incorporate legal technology.”
Meeting the region’s legacy needs
Singapore’s status as a global legal hub is enhanced by wealth generation trends in the city-state and across Southeast Asia.
According to Knight Frank, Singapore enjoyed one of the world’s highest growth rates of ultra-high net worth individuals from 2018 to 2019. More broadly, the growth rate of wealthy individuals in the region is projected to be among the world’s fastest.
“As a gateway city and regional hub, Singapore is primed to benefit from neighbouring growth of UHNWIs,” the property group says. That translates into burgeoning demand for quality legal services, including tax and succession planning, and private capital investments consultancy.
Global law has awoken to the need to catch up to the digital revolution. That puts Singapore in pole position to carve out the future
“When we are building relationships with our clients, our aim is to become their trusted advisor for their most critical legal needs, whether that be for them in their personal capacity or for their businesses,” says Tahirah Ara, Managing Partner, Mishcon Singapore and Head of Asia.
“This is an incredibly exciting market and the centre of professional services in the region, attracting talent and capital from across Asia. Law firms with a physical presence in Singapore will undoubtedly see the benefits that come with reaffirming that commitment to their Asian clients.”
For more information on Mishcon de Reya’s legal services in Singapore, please visit the official website.