Lion City

By | 31st August 2010

Situated at the foot of the Malay peninsula with a population of 5 million people from many different countries, Singapore (known as Lion City, although it is thought to be unlikely that lions ever lived there and the beast which gave the city its name was in all probability a tiger!) is an intriguing place, credited with being the fourth richest country in the world in terms of GDP per capita and despite its small size is in the top 10 of countries with the highest reserves.

The country of Thomas Raffles and site of what Winston Churchill described as “the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history” (the surrender to the Japanese in 1942) has undergone a remarkable resurgence since independence from Britain in the 1960s. Even more impressive is the current growth rate of the economy of the island/city state which reached an incredible 17.9% in the first half of 2010. What would Messrs Obama, Cameron and Merkel give for a growth rate a fraction of that?

Not surprisingly, many commentators’ thoughts have turned to Asia in the light of the economic woes in the West and it was no wonder that I found myself engaged in conversation a few days a go with an ambitious law firm partner who was extolling the virtues of Singapore and in particular its International Arbitration Centre.

Geography has always been of assistance to Singapore, situated as it is between India and China and it is in Singapore that many arbitrations now take place – see, for example, my notes on Deutsche Bank AG v Chang Tse Wen in the Resources/Case notes section of this blog.

In January this year the country opened the new international dispute resolution centre, Maxwell Chambers to deal with the increasing number of Asian disputes and the Government is now set on liberalisation of the professional services sector with six foreign law firms recently granted licence to practice. It seems likely that others will follow. [See: Singapore’s Swing, The Lawyer, 9th August, 2010]

In past recessions it was always the litigators who bailed out their corporate colleagues twiddling their thumbs waiting for the markets to turn and this time it is no different with many firms reporting a substantial upswing in litigation instructions. Another recent article [The fight for good fights, The Lawyer, 2nd August, 2010]  identifies the 15 firms with the highest litigation turnover and demonstrates some impressive increases over the past 12 months.

In the context not just of Singapore but in many other developed markets as well, the article expressed the view that while the current market provides litigators with an opportunity to “beef up” their client portfolios, they must be prepared to come up with a range of innovative schemes to differentiate them from their competitors.

Now everyone is talking about LPOs, what price the next big move? Perhaps there will be an acceptance after all that technology has a part to play in delivering Smart solutions to litigators and their clients, particularly if they recognise that discussing these problems early on in the life of a case can save thousands of pounds in wasted collections and processing.

There is no doubt that the litigators in Singapore are addressing this problem. After all, the Government introduced electronic filing of documents almost 10 years ago. Given the strength and sophistication of their economy, it would be surprising if they had not. If they are successful in understanding how to attract business and deliver services to their clients profitably and at a reasonable price, may be other jurisdictions should look at what they are doing and learn from it.

What have you got to lose?

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