How to Start Your Own Law Firm in Singapore
With the rise in a nationwide conversation of sustainability in the legal profession, many individuals interested in pursuing a long-term legal career may opt to start their own legal practice in Singapore instead of pursuing the traditional path of joining a partnership.
While the idea of being your own boss may be appealing at first glance, you will have to consider many other factors when choosing to start your own law firm in Singapore.
This article is targeted at Singaporeans and foreigners who wish to set up a law firm in Singapore, and want to know the steps to go about it. It will cover:
- The benefits of setting up a law firm in Singapore
- The criteria and threshold requirements that must be satisfied before setting up a law firm in Singapore
- How to start your own law firm in Singapore
Why Set Up a Law Firm in Singapore?
If you are interested in setting up your very own law firm in Singapore, you might be wondering about the benefits of doing so. To help with your decision-making, you can consider the following advantages of setting up your law firm in Singapore.
Ease of process
The process of setting up your law firm in Singapore is a simple one as the entire application process is online and streamlined. You may follow the guide below to learn the steps in setting up a law firm in Singapore.
Increased flexibility and control
Setting up your own law firm allows for a great deal of autonomous decision-making and authority over your business. You may decide on a preferred organisational structure ranging from the number of work hours, fee rates and management systems that your law firm will operate on.
Ply your trade in a well-developed legal industry
Singapore remains to be one of the most economically competitive countries in the world with a well-developed legal industry. It also hosts one of the most prestigious legal education systems. Should you set up a law firm here, you may find a high number of highly trained and skilled lawyers to work alongside with.
Before Setting Up a Law Firm in Singapore
Obtaining a Practising Certificate
A Practising Certificate (PC) is a licence that lawyers require to practise law in Singapore. Hence, before setting up your law firm, you will have to obtain a PC. The following steps cover the process of obtaining a PC after you have been called to the Singapore Bar:
- Apply for professional indemnity insurance from the Lockton Singapore Scheme Portal. When rendering advisory services, lawyers require indemnity insurance to protect themselves against liability such as legal defence costs and claims from clients.
- Wait for a confirmation email from Lockton Singapore.
- After 24 hours from receipt of the confirmation email, submit your PC application via eLitigation or LawNet Service Bureau.
The fees for a PC application may differ depending on your Post-Qualification Experience (PQE). The table below sets out the relevant fees corresponding to the three different PQE categories.
|Category||No. of Years (PQE)||PC Fees payable per year|
|Junior||< 5 years||$750|
|Middle||5 – 15 years||$900|
|Senior||> 15 years||$1,050|
Note: If you belong to the Junior or Middle category, you are required to vote for the election of the members of the Council of the Law Society of Singapore before applying for a PC. A default in doing so may result in a penalty of $500 payable to the Law Society of Singapore.
Do also note that a practising certificate is different from a law firm licence. A law firm licence allows you to set up a law practice in Singapore, whereas a PC allows you to practise law in Singapore. You will have to obtain a law firm licence separately. You may refer to the process of obtaining a law firm licence below for more information.
Threshold requirements for every Singapore law practice
Before setting up your law firm in Singapore, do be aware of the non-exhaustive list of requirements that you will have to satisfy:
- The number of solicitors (i.e. a lawyer who does mainly advisory, corporate and conveyancing work) in the law firm has to be at least twice the number of foreign lawyers (who are acting as a director, partner or shareholder) in the law firm;
- The total number of solicitors acting as partners or directors in the law firm has to be at least twice the number of foreign lawyers (who are acting as a partner or director);
- The managing partner, director or manager of the law firm has to be a solicitor.
You may refer to the full list of requirements under Rule 3 of the Legal Profession (Law Practices Entities) Rules 2015.
In addition, you will need to have at least 3 years of PQE before being able to start your own law firm. You will also be required to complete a Legal Practice Management Course unless you have been in practice since before 9 March 2007.
Registration of foreign lawyers in Singapore
Foreign lawyers may also set up law firms in Singapore. However, they will need to register to practise law in Singapore first, in addition to satisfying the following criteria:
- Attained the age of 21 years old;
- Possesses good character;
- Passed or be exempted from taking the Foreign Practitioner Examinations;
- Is not the subject of any disciplinary, criminal or civil proceedings as a lawyer held in Singapore or overseas;
- Have more than 3 years’ experience in legal practice in Singapore or overseas; and
- The Director of Legal Services has approved their registration to practise in Singapore.
Once you have satisfied the above criteria, you may proceed to register yourself to practise law in Singapore by following the steps below:
- Login to the Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) e-Services portal.
- Select and complete the LSRA application form that is relevant to the type of law practice you seek to set up. Afterwards, pay the online application fee. The application process will take about 3-6 weeks.
- Once your application has been approved, pay the online registration fee.
- When payment has been verified, the LSRA will issue you a Certificate of Registration to indicate that you have successfully registered as a qualified individual to practise law in Singapore.
- Apply for a valid work pass with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). This will allow you to work in Singapore as a foreigner.
How to Start Your Own Law Firm in Singapore
Once you have satisfied the above requirements to start your law firm in Singapore, you may have to further consider several key factors when establishing your law practice.
Determining your practice areas
There are many different areas of the law that you may choose to specialise in. You may select and focus on practising specific areas of the law depending on your strength and familiarity in them.
Deciding on the business structure of your law firm
The structure of your business will play a key role in determining the organisational framework the law firm would operate on. Therefore, you may have to evaluate the features of each type of business structure to best suit the needs of your law practice. The list below sets out the various types of business structures and their corresponding features.
- Sole Proprietorship
- A sole proprietor of a law firm will have absolute say and control in the business operations. The business owner will hold unlimited liability for the debts and expenses of the business.
- For an easy process of setting up your law firm, a sole proprietorship may be ideal as it has lower start-up costs and has fewer formal setup requirements.
- A partnership would be a suitable choice of business structure if you are considering having more than one partner in your law firm.
- However, as there may be more than one partner in a partnership, each partner will be jointly and severally liable to the debts and expenses of the business (i.e. If one partner is liable for a debt, then the other partners will also be liable for the full extent of the debt).
- Limited Liability Partnership (LLP)
- An LLP has a separate legal identity between the law firm and its partners. This would mean the LLP is seen as its own body corporate and can sue or be sued on its own behalf.
- You may also choose to set up an LLP if you wish for your law firm to have perpetual succession. This would mean that any changes to the partners in the law firm will not affect the LLP’s existence, rights or liabilities.
- Limited Liability Company (LLC)
- Similarly, LLCs also have a separate legal identity from their shareholders. You may opt for the LLC option if you wish for the ownership of your law firm to be based on the extent of shares each shareholder holds in the company.
- The liability of shareholders is limited to their contribution to the share capital (i.e. the total amount of money put into the company in return for shares) in the company.
Naming your law firm
You may want to choose a name for your law firm that will leave a lasting first impression on your clients. Traditionally, law firms include the names of their founding partners. However, the Director of Legal Services will approve a law firm name only if it is:
- Not misleading or does not diminish the dignity of the legal profession; and
- Not similar to the name of another law practice in Singapore.
You will need to submit the proposed name for your law firm together with your application for a law firm licence on the Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) e-Services portal.
Applying for the relevant law firm licence/registration
Before applying for your law firm licence/registration, you will have to decide which is the appropriate licence/registration to apply for. The table below describes the different areas and services of legal practice that you may practise through each licence and registration in Singapore.
|Type of Law Firm Licence/Registration||Area of Legal Practice|
|Singapore Law Practice||
|Foreign Law Practice||
|Qualifying Foreign Law Practice||
|Joint Law Venture|
|Formal Law Alliance|
While Singapore generally allows foreign lawyers to register to practise locally, foreign lawyers cannot represent clients in any criminal and civil proceedings taking place in Singapore. Additionally, they are not allowed to practise certain areas of Singapore law such as:
- Constitutional and administrative law
- Family law
- Succession law
- Trust law
The flowchart below explains the steps to follow when applying for your law firm licence:
Looking for office space and staff
While waiting for the outcome of your application, you may start finding an office space and potential staff for your business operations. You may want to consider factors such as location, convenience, size of premise, office design, and costs when deciding on an office space.
After obtaining your law firm licence
After your application has been approved, you will be issued your law firm licence. Your law firm licence will be valid for 5 years, after which you may choose to renew your licence.
You must begin operations within 6 months from the “Valid from” date stated in your law firm licence. You will also have to follow the threshold requirements for every law firm (mentioned above) after receiving your law firm licence.
If you wish to terminate your law firm licence, you may complete and submit the termination form found in the LSRA e-Services portal. Your application for termination may take 3 to 16 weeks to be processed.
You will also need to notify the stakeholders of your law firm, such as your employees and clients, the Registrar of the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court and the Law Society of Singapore, of the closure of your law firm before ceasing business operations. The notification to the Registrar of the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court and the Law Society of Singapore is to be made within one week from cessation of practice.
The process of setting up a law firm in Singapore is largely similar for both Singaporeans and foreigners. However, foreigners will have to go through a few additional steps, such as registering to the LSRA to practise in Singapore and passing the Foreign Practitioner Examinations (unless you’re exempted from taking these examinations).
It can be useful to engage a corporate services firm when setting out to start your own law firm in Singapore. A corporate services firm may assist with the application procedure and set up a preferred business structure for your law firm. This would be especially relevant to foreigners who are interested in setting up a law firm in Singapore but don’t have a SingPass account for doing so, as a corporate services firm may apply on your behalf.
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