How Do Corporate Lawyers in Singapore Charge for Work?

Last updated on January 15, 2024

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You may have come to this article hoping to learn, in specific figures, how much it will cost to hire a corporate lawyer in Singapore.

The reality is, however, that there is no straight-forward answer.

For example, if you were to ask 2 lawyers from 2 different firms for a quote for a particular piece of corporate work, they could give 2 dramatically different quotes. It is difficult for even lawyers to know what to expect when asking their own colleagues to quote for work!

Therefore, your objective shouldn’t be to find a corporate lawyer who charges the “market rate” for work (as it doesn’t exist). Instead, you should aim to find a corporate lawyer who is accustomed to dealing with clients of your size and with your budget, understands your needs, and charges accordingly.

What is the Nature and Scope of Your Matter?

Predictably, legal fees tend to correspond with the amount of effort a lawyer will have to expend to get the job done.

There is a huge spectrum of corporate work out there. For example, some matters are straightforward fill-in-the-blanks kind of work. These include drafting non-disclosure agreements and memoranda of understanding.

Conversely, some corporate work is hugely complex, necessarily bespoke work which requires several lawyers to spend months working on little else. These include preparing for initial public offerings or mergers with another company.

However, the good news is that:

  • There is little that has never been done before in the world of business. An experienced corporate lawyer should not need to reinvent the wheel to deliver the solution that your business needs. He or she will have a decent bank of precedents that should, with complete instructions from you, be readily adaptable to the specific features of your matter. This is especially so for standard legal transactions.
  • If your business is a more cost-sensitive small or medium-sized enterprise (SME) or start-up, you are unlikely to require the more labour-intensive legal services typically needed by larger businesses. The cost of hiring a corporate lawyer will likely be lower as a result.

Helping the Lawyer Understand Your Matter

The most important thing is to know as much as possible what it is that you need. That way, you know whether you require something very common and more akin to a contract template and will therefore require less work.

Sharing the details of your matter with a lawyer before he or she has committed to a fee range can be tedious and a little worrying. However, it is worth investing a little time at the beginning of the relationship to help the lawyer better understand the workload that could lie ahead.

This is so that when the lawyer gives you a quote later on, the quote is one that is fully informed by the realities of your specific needs.

To that end, do not just fire off a 3-line email to 5 different lawyers ending with “How much?” This is the equivalent of emailing a car dealer saying “I want a car. How much?”

Without providing more details on your matter, this approach is unhelpful to you or your prospective lawyer. Busy lawyers may even assume that you are not a serious client and ignore your email.

Instead, when you approach any lawyer, both of you should have a frank and honest discussion about:

  • The nature of your matter;
  • How much work it is likely to require; and
  • How much you can reasonably expect to pay for that.

Remember that when a lawyer quotes for a piece of work, he or she is essentially estimating how many hours of his or her time will be required to complete the work, and factoring the overheads for that period of time into the quote.

Therefore, the more detailed you can be in providing the facts of your matter, the more accurate the lawyer can be in estimating the time it will take to do the work, and the less likely you are to receive an unexpectedly high bill from your lawyer after the matter is concluded.

Deciding on a Fee Structure

While the industry has been moving away from charging by the hour for well over a decade now, the billable hour is still an ingrained feature of the legal profession. Lawyers who offer alternative pricing models still refer to the billable hour when coming up with fee estimates that aim to give more certainty on price, without increasing the risk that a deal may end up snowballing unexpectedly and become unprofitable.

Some fee structures include:

  • Hourly rates: The classic arrangement whereby a lawyer will do whatever you need at a certain rate per hour, for as long as it takes to get it done. This is sometimes given together with a fee estimate that provides the range in which the total bill is expected to fall;
  • Fixed fees: The lawyer will do A, B and C (and nothing more) for $X, regardless of the time needed to get the work done;
  • Capped fees: The lawyer will do A, B and C (and nothing more) at a rate of $X per hour for as long as it takes to get A, B and C done. However, the fees are capped at a maximum of $Y, even if the total hours spent on the matter later cause the fees to exceed $Y; and
  • Sweat for equity: This fee structure is most commonly seen with start-up clients. Although there are some rules around sweat for equity arrangements that make this difficult for Singapore law firms, some foreign law firms in Singapore which provide foreign legal services are open to performing legal work in return for a certain percentage of shares in the client.

Tips on Choosing a Reasonably-Priced Corporate Lawyer

  • If you are price-conscious, consider smaller firms. The large firms have larger overheads, which means that their lawyers simply cannot offer their services at less than a certain amount. Smaller firms may have more flexibility in that regard.
  • Don’t sacrifice quality for price. Getting something done badly for less, is a false economy that may cost your business more in the long run. Do a little research on the lawyer’s credentials and reputation and what he or she has done in the past. Are there reviews about him or her online? Ask him or her directly about their experience doing this particular kind of work.
  • Search specifically for lawyers who say they do work for SMEs/start-ups. A lawyer who lists work done for smaller companies is more likely to be geared towards servicing that segment of the market. Thus, he or she is more likely to be sensitive to the needs and concerns of smaller companies and start-ups.

Finally, if you have the time, try shopping around for a corporate lawyer. As mentioned earlier, you will find that different lawyers in different firms charge quite a wide spectrum of fees for the same scope of work. Our Find a Lawyer service provides a convenient method of obtaining up to 5 non-obligatory quotes from corporate lawyers for your matter.

Applying the advice shared in this article, you can make your search for the right corporate lawyer, who meets your needs and is able to work within your budget, a more productive and fruitful one.