US-trained lawyers and American law firms will find it easier to practise Singapore law under a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) signed last week. But Singapore lawyers are asking, ‘What’s in it for us?’
Among the concessions, Singapore will recognise law degrees from four US universities, and will lower criteria for US law firms entering into Joint Legal Ventures (JLVs) or Formal Law Alliances with their Singapore counterparts.
Harvard, the Ivy League university in the state of Massachusetts, is certain to be on the list. Ditto Yale Law School in New Haven, lawyers said. The list has not been finalised and is subject to consultation.
In general, Singapore lawyers, under pressure from the economic downturn and liberalisation, don’t welcome further opening of the profession.
The recognition of the US universities will put their graduates on par with others who qualify from Commonwealth countries like the UK, which have been accepted earlier because of Singapore’s English law heritage.
But not all degrees from the four schools are kosher. Only degree holders who finish in the top 40 per cent of their class – the equivalent presumably of the minimum second upper requirement for UK universities – will be allowed to practise local law.
A senior Singapore lawyer doesn’t think the move to recognise selected US degrees will have much impact on the profession. ‘The legal market is so small, the impact will be negligible . . . the people who are pushing for this are Americans living in Singapore,’ he said.