News analysis

Benchmarking Singapore's best law firms

The survey showed that smaller firms focused on a niche area.
The survey showed that smaller firms focused on a niche area.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - When an industry player - who was unaware of The Straits Times' project on Singapore's Best Law Firms - was asked which law firm she thought was the best in town, she named Allen & Gledhill (A&G).

"It's very telling when CEOs of well-known companies, fellow senior lawyers and even managing partners of other law firms send their law graduate kids to Allen & Gledhill for their training contracts and (they) subsequently go on to qualify as associates there."

"This reflects the trust and confidence these industry veterans have in A&G, as a firm, as a starting point for their next generation of lawyers," said Ms Lee Shulin, director of Singapore-based legal recruitment firm Ansa Search.

"In my line of legal executive search, we often encounter clients requesting to hire lawyers who've had experience working in A&G," she said.

Her response validated what the project found: A&G was the sole firm that was placed in all 15 categories of Singapore's Best Law Firms 2021, a project undertaken by The Straits Times and German-based research firm Statista.

The Big Four law firms - Rajah & Tann, WongPartnership, Allen & Gledhill and Drew & Napier - also made their heavyweight presence felt in the different categories.

But others with brand-name lawyers, like Davinder Singh Chambers and Essex Court Chambers Duxton (Singapore Group Practice), also showed up in the category relevant to them - civil dispute resolution (litigation, arbitration and mediation).

Senior Counsel Davinder Singh heads his namesake firm, while Essex Court lists names like former attorney-general V.K. Rajah, Queen's Counsel Toby Landau and Senior Counsel Chan Leng Sun.

Essex Duxton chief executive David Grief clarified that the group is not a law firm and its members are neither partners nor employees of the group practice.

"Rather, Essex Court Chambers Duxton is comprised of individual advocates, each of whom is a self-employed sole practitioner," he said.

The 20 best firms named in that category - topped by Engelin Teh Practice and followed by Rajah & Tann, Drew & Napier, Allen & Gledhill, WongPartnership and Oon & Bazul - also provide a nutshell perspective of the best law firms here.

The survey showed that smaller firms focused on a niche area, like in the restructuring and insolvency category, can hold their own. These include firms like BlackOak, which shares a similar five-star rating as the Big Four firms.

Small firms were also prominent in the criminal law category.

Industry players generally welcomed the project, pointing out that users rely on credible guides.

"It is instructive that the rankings focus on law firms rather than personalities. It signals there has been a shift in the legal services market about how clients consume legal services," said Melbourne-based consultant Dharmendra Yadav, who is with Alpha Creates, a specialist consultancy for law firms and in-house legal teams.

"The rankings recognise that a client goes to a firm not for a particular lawyer, but rather, it is the value proposition of a comprehensive regional professional services firm that attracts. This shows a welcome maturing of the Singapore market in the consumption of legal services."

"There is a good spread of small and large law firms, which underscores the depth and spread of the research undertaken. It also shows how diverse the legal services market in Singapore is."

Oon & Bazul's managing partner Bazul Ashhab lauded The Straits Times for "taking on the mantle of providing a trusted, independent approach to assessing lawyers in Singapore".

"Users of legal services depend greatly on credible assessors. Today's rankings are testament to the best," he said.

The 15 categories named a total of 98 law firms, which possibly makes this the forerunner of a Singapore's Best 100 edition.