Friday 20 November 2015

New authority to regulate all law firms in Singapore

By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 19 Nov 2015

The regulation of all law firms here will now come under a single legal body. The Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) was launched yesterday by the Ministry of Law to license and regulate both foreign and local law firms here.

Previously, the Attorney-General's Chambers dealt with foreign firms while the Law Society handled matters relating to local ones. The ministry hopes the integrated system will make it more convenient for law firms to set up offices here.

The new body will ensure that business criteria, such as the names of law practices, foreign ownership and profit sharing, will be applied consistently across the board. The LSRA will also have a website allowing the public to look up any registered law practice and lawyer here.

Senior Counsel Thio Shen Yi , the president of the Law Society, said the LSRA will take over some of the society's regulatory and administrative functions.

"However, from a larger perspective, the regulatory role of the Law Society remains and is in fact enlarged as we will be empowered to regulate all lawyers practising in Singapore, including registered foreign lawyers," added Mr Thio, who is also joint managing director at TSMP Law Corporation.

The LSRA is part of a suite of amendments to the Legal Profession Act, which were passed in November last year and came into force yesterday.

The new regime also allows employees of law firms who are not lawyers to become partners, directors and shareholders of their firms. They can also share in the profits of their firms.

The ministry said: "This will give law practices greater flexibility to attract and retain non-lawyer talent, for example, those with strong management or finance experience, who can add value to the firm's legal practice."

But such firms will still be allowed to offer only legal services for now, unlike alternative models which allow them to offer other services such as accountancy.

Because of this, Senior Counsel Philip Jeyaretnam said the change is currently "incremental and limited". But the managing partner of Rodyk & Davidson added that it would pave the way for "multi-disciplinary practices".

He said: "This is the future of law, and probably makes business sense for general work that does not require deep specialist skills but for which consistent standards and competitive pricing are necessary."

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