Law Minister Questions Clifford Chance's Singapore Claims

, The Asian Lawyer

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Singapore’s law minister has cautioned Clifford Chance against inaccurately describing the scope of its local practice offering.

Last December, the British firm announced it had entered into a formal law alliance with Singapore litigation boutique Cavenagh Law, which was established two months earlier specifically for that purpose. Cavenagh’s three partners are all concurrently partners at Clifford Chance. The two firms also operate under the common brand Clifford Chance Asia.

In a July interview with the U.K.’s Legal Business magazine, Clifford Chance managing partner David Childs cited the arrangement in saying: “'We are the first full service firm in Singapore offering litigation advice.”

But, in a session of parliament in Singapore Monday, Minister of Law K. Shanmugam was questioned about Childs’ comment. “[T]he statements could be read to mean that a foreign law firm can now practice litigation in Singapore,” Shanmugam responded. “That would not be accurate.”

Singapore bars foreign firms from practicing local law unless they hold a Qualifying Foreign Law Practice license, which Clifford Chance does. But QFLP firms are still barred from handling litigation in Singapore courts. Shanmugam said in a statement that firms could not get around such restrictions through FLAs and semantics.

The law minister said that foreign firms and domestic firms which have entered into FLAs must “exercise restraint in their publicity and refrain from overstating the facts” and avoid “clever word game[s].”

“We will also not condone arrangements where the Singapore law practice is, for all intents and purposes, a proxy of the foreign law practice. All collaborations must comply with the spirit as well as the letter of the law,” said Shanmugam. At press time, the ministry had not replied to a request for comment on what kind of practice is considered a proxy.

The two firms are allowed to share office premises, resources and client information, but “both firms should remain separate and distinct entities, and may only provide such legal services as they are respectively permitted to provide,” said a statement from Shanmugam.

Responding to the criticism, a spokesperson at Clifford Chance says the FLA was “approved by the Ministry of Law and the Attorney-General's Chambers” and “has at all times fully complied with all applicable regulations and will continue to do so.”

Shanmugam said ministry officials have called in partners of Clifford Chance and Cavenagh Law and told them their inaccurate statements should be stopped.

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