Singapore Proposes Legal Regulatory Overhaul
A committee appointed by the Singaporean government has recommended creating a new regulatory body to oversee law firms operating in the island nation.
The proposed Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) will license and regulate all firms, foreign and domestic, operating under the various business structures available in Singapore. Currently, local practices are overseen by the Law Society of Singapore, while foreign law practices, joint law ventures and qualifying foreign law practices fall under the authority of the Singapore Attorney General’s Office.
In their report, the committee headed by Singapore Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said a more integrated regulatory approach was warranted by “the growing complexity in the way law practices were now formed and run as businesses.”
The panel also recommended that new rules of professional conduct be adopted that will be applicable to both Singapore-qualified lawyers and foreign lawyers working in Singapore. The latter would also be subject to the same disciplinary process as local lawyers, with the difference that one foreign lawyer would serve on the relevant tribunal at each stage prior to final disposal.
According to the committee, Singapore should also begin experimenting with alternative business structures for legal practice. Though they stopped short of approving multidisciplinary practices in which lawyers practice alongside other professionals like accountants or allowing outside entities to invest in law firms, the committee did endorse the idea of permitting so-called legal displinary practices. In LDPs, certain nonlawyer employees of law firms are entitled to share in a firm’s profits.
Noting moves in the United Kingdom and Australia toward greater acceptance of alternative practice structures, the committee said Singapore should not seek to be a leader but should keep pace with developments in the area.
“This is an issue on which a carefully deliberated and conscious decision needs to be made,” the panel stated in its report. “Otherwise, it may affect us adversely if we exclude foreign MDPs, LDPs or [incorporated legal practices] from our jurisdiction and find that our key competitor jurisdictions take a more liberal approach.”
The Singapore government is now looking at means of implementing the committee’s recommendations, including introducing necessary legislation, with an eye toward introducing a new regulatory regime sometime in 2015.