More law firms set up in S'pore amid pandemic

Industry players are not surprised at the overall increase in Singapore’s number of law firms, saying the rise has been in tandem with the number of new lawyers entering the profession in recent years. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Law firm numbers have inched upwards, crossing the 1,000 mark, amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

There were 1,016 Singapore law practices as at Sept 27, up from 998 as at Dec 31 last year, said a spokesman for the Ministry of Law.

"Based on data from the Legal Services Regulatory Authority, the number of law practices (Singapore law practices and foreign law practices) increased slightly over the years," she added.

About 80 per cent of Singapore law practices comprise small law firms of between one and five lawyers each, with 10 more firms listed in this category as at Sept 27 compared with the 809 last December.

There were 174 mid-sized firms of between six and 30 lawyers in last month's figures, up from 166 last December, while big law firms of more than 30 lawyers saw no change from the 23 previously.

Industry players are not surprised at the overall increase, saying the rise has been in tandem with the number of new lawyers entering the profession in recent years.

According to the Law Society of Singapore's 2021 Annual Report released last month, there were 6,333 practitioners as at Aug 31, crossing the 6,000 mark for the first time in its annual reports.

Mr Chou Sean Yu, head of litigation and dispute resolution at WongPartnership, said: "We have observed that there are now more younger lawyers who have made the bold move of setting up their own boutique practices after a few years of practice.

"The majority appear to be dispute resolution lawyers and they are clearly very confident about their ability to build a sustainable practice, notwithstanding the current Covid-19 pandemic and dampened economic conditions."

Mr Dharmendra Yadav, Melbourne-based Singaporean consultant at Alpha Creates, said: "These numbers don't surprise me... The pandemic has forced lawyers to make choices. High salaries and bonuses are no longer the only motivation. A sense of self-worth, an alignment of values and mental well-being have become important factors too."

Oon & Bazul's managing partner Bazul Ashhab said: "The fact that law firms are forced to conduct business through videoconferencing applications like Zoom eliminates the delays and other logistical difficulties associated with physical meetings and also assists in the setting up of new practices."

He added there has been an increase in litigation cases amid the pandemic and a corresponding demand for lawyers to handle them.

Oon & Bazul mirrored the overall industry growth, having continued to expand in the past year. "The reason we are sought after is partly because we are one of the larger independent conflict-free law firms in Singapore," Mr Bazul said.

Ms Lee Shulin, director at legal recruitment and consultancy ANSA Search, said the law firm numbers are fuelled in part by Singapore's focus on fintech, with companies in fields such as cryptocurrency and artificial intelligence setting up shop here.

"Many of these are venture capital-backed technology companies which require lawyers to advise them throughout their life cycle, and in recent years we've seen partners from the bigger law firms leave to set up their own boutique practices," she said.

Mr Brandon Tee, who started his legal career in 2013, set up his own firm, BTPLaw, last December.

He said: "Since then, I went from having zero lawyers to having five working for and with me, with the headcount expected to grow soon. I have set my firm up to be an enabler of entrepreneurship within the legal industry."

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.