For a small island nation, Singapore sure packs a punch. The Lion City—deriving its nickname from the Sanskrit “simha,” meaning lion, and “pura,” meaning town—is a leading global business center and a major hub for foreign investment into the region. In recent years, Singapore has also emerged as an international dispute resolution hub favored by businesses operating in Asia-Pacific countries and around the world.
There is no better time for a global law firm to have a presence in this vibrant part of the world. On April 1, Morgan Lewis celebrates its first anniversary since joining with leading Singapore-based law firm Stamford Law Corporation to create Morgan Lewis Stamford LLC, the only fully integrated law firm in the country. The combination gives our team in Singapore global reach—increasingly coveted by local firms—and provides Morgan Lewis with an anchor in Asia.
“Many Morgan Lewis clients are investing globally and seeking legal representation in Singapore and the Southeast Asia region,” Morgan Lewis Stamford Managing Partner Suet-Fern Lee said. “We are in a unique position to service clients in cross-border corporate transactions and disputes, areas where we’re seeing increasing demand for multijurisdictional capability.”
The combination of our firms has been lauded as groundbreaking in a country whose regulations restrict full integration of local and global law firms. In a stroke of insight, Fern realized that the laws would permit a full merger under the rules governing the internationalization of Singaporean firms through a provision allowing concurrent partnerships in the event of an international tie-up. Morgan Lewis Stamford is the first and, so far, the only firm to establish this relationship, which affords us the unique option to practice across all legal services within Singapore and expands our reach in Asia. (Read more about our Singapore services.)
“Singapore’s importance as a legal hub for clients for corporate, commercial, and disputes work in the greater Asia region has grown exponentially in the past three years,” Fern told The Lawyer. “We can now meet their needs through our Singapore partners together with the support of the global resources of Morgan Lewis.”
Promoting innovative thinking within Morgan Lewis is a pivotal part of Firm Chair Jami McKeon’s leadership philosophy well into her second year at the helm of our global firm, which offers more than 2,000 legal professionals, including lawyers, patent agents, employee benefits advisers, regulatory scientists, and other specialists across a comprehensive set of services.
“Law firms need to be forward looking and thinking of new ways to do things and trying to stay ahead of where the world is moving,” Jami said in an interview with The Business Times, a financial daily in Southeast Asia. “While the law is generally based on things that happened hundreds of years ago, the legal profession needs to focus on the future.”
Twelve months into our tie-up, the result has been a boon for our clients as well as our lawyers and legal professionals. And the year ahead promises to be an exciting one. Fern, widely recognized as one of Singapore’s top mergers and acquisitions lawyers, has been laying the foundations for a cohesive legal infrastructure that aims to converge the business laws of various Asian countries. To that end, Fern helped lead the launch of the Asian Business Law Institute in January 2016. Its goal is to bring lawyers, business people, and policymakers together to develop a harmonization of business laws in the region, which will help promote cross-border business and trade within and into the region.
At Morgan Lewis, Fern has been part of a team working to make sure our firms’ integration is a success, even as she continues to serve clients full time. She recently sat down with us to discuss what the combination has meant for us and for our clients.
How has your day-to-day practice changed since the combination with Morgan Lewis?
We have had the pleasure of working with impressive colleagues from all over the world. We are doing increasing amounts of work for major global companies and are undertaking much more work in employment, funds, energy, and intellectual property (IP), among many others.
How have clients benefitted from our combined service offerings over the last year?
Morgan Lewis clients from all over the world now have their legal needs in Singapore and the region addressed. The Singapore office can offer enhanced capabilities into India and China by partnering and working collaboratively with existing teams in our Beijing, Tokyo, and other offices worldwide. In addition to being able to provide our strong and highly ranked transactional services, the Singapore office can also advise and assist Morgan Lewis clients with international arbitration in Asia.
We are also now able to provide a seamless experience in addressing the legal needs for many of our Asian clients into the United States or Europe. In addition, beyond greatly extended geographical coverage, our clients have also benefitted from the knowledge that Morgan Lewis has in numerous sectors. These include, for instance, life sciences, energy, and natural resources, and service areas such as IP, white collar, and tax.
Tell us about some of the most significant matters that our Singapore office has handled as a result of the combination.
The Singapore office has successfully supported many existing firm clients with their needs in Asia. For example, longstanding firm client, Compañía Española de Petróleos (CEPSA), a Spanish multinational oil and gas company, was looking to appoint a trusted adviser to support it on a number of issues in Southeast Asia. The client was very pleased to learn that the firm now has a presence in the Southeast Asian region, and we have been appointed as regional counsel.
We have also acted for Maersk, a major global shipping company and longstanding client of the firm. We advised Maersk in connection with a major prospective public mergers and acquisitions deal in Asia with global assets.
Another example has been the amount of India-related work that has come through to our India-focused lawyer in the Singapore office. This has been a great collaboration between the Singapore, New York, Boston, Silicon Valley, and San Francisco offices, offering guidance and advice for all of our US clients looking to invest in India.
Looking ahead into 2016, what are the most important legal, regulatory, or business developments affecting clients in Singapore and Asia?
Globalization continues apace. Even small companies in Singapore and elsewhere in Asia are looking at doing business with the United States and Europe. Clients in Singapore and Asia are looking for firms that understand them but can provide on-the-ground legal advice in the United States and Europe.
Apart from that, businesses continue to restructure and reposition. As a truly global firm, we are better equipped to assist our clients in this area.
Regulation also continues apace. In terms of approach, Asian jurisdictions often look at and adopt the regulatory approaches taken in Europe or the United States, adapted, naturally, for local conditions. Much of the experience that already is embedded in our firm can be very useful.