Two law firms chided for giving "inaccurate picture" of practice scope

A top foreign law firm and the local firm it has tied up with have both been chided by the Law Ministry for presenting an "inaccurate picture" of their practice of litigation and other domestic law areas in the media and other publicity material.

Responding to a question by Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten), Law Minister K. Shanmugam said an article in the Legal Business magazine published in July this year quoted a partner from international law firm Clifford Chance as saying that it is "the first full service firm in Singapore offering litigation advice". Similar statements were also repeated in previous press releases by Clifford Chance, which entered into a Formal Law Alliance (FLA) with local firm Cavenagh Law last year.

Mr Shanmugam said these statements could be read to mean that a foreign law firm can now practice litigation in Singapore. "That would not be accurate," he said.

Senior officials from the Law Ministry have called in the partners of Clifford Chance and Cavenagh Law and told them that their statements "conveyed an inaccurate picture and should be stopped", said Mr Shanmugam.

He reiterated that under an FLA, Singapore law practices and foreign law practices may collaborate as two free-standing firms and can share office premises, resources and client information as well as engage in co-branding and billing.

However, specific areas of domestic law - such as litigation, criminal law, family law and conveyancing - are "ring-fenced" and can only be handled by Singapore law firms, through lawyers called to the Singapore Bar, said Mr Shanmugam. The local law firm must use its own letterhead and file court papers in its own name for these legal areas.

Mr Shanmugam urged local and foreign law firms in FLAs to exercise restraint in their publicity and refrain from overstating the facts, adding that "clever wordplay" should be avoided. His ministry will also not condone arrangements where the local law firm is acting as a proxy of the foreign firm, he said.