20 July 2018
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Pioneer batch of 24 lawyers receive professional certification in building and construction law

Lianhe Zaobao
11 Jul 2018
Poh Lay Hoon

This article was first published on 2 July 2018 in the Singapore Mandarin broadsheet, Lianhe Zaobao.

SLW commissioned a translation to give the legal community a view of legal reports from different Singapore news outlets.

Building and construction law is the first practice area where lawyers can apply to become accredited specialists. It has attracted 75 applicants to date. 

An upcoming area of expertise that will also receive accreditation is maritime and shipping law, which is now open for registration. It is expected that the next batch of specialists in this practice area will be announced early next year.

Looking to file a construction-related lawsuit, but unsure of where to consult lawyers who are familiar with building and construction law?

Fret no longer, as you now have access to a list of lawyers who have been accredited as specialists in building and construction law via Singapore Academy of Law's official website.

Earlier this year in January, 24 lawyers were successful in their applications to become Singapore Academy of Law's first batch of building and construction law specialists under "The Specialist Accreditation Scheme".

Mr. Sriram Chakravarthi, Senior Director, Legal Development Cluster, Singapore Academy of Law, explained that this accreditation scheme is designed to distinguish and recognise lawyers who have specific skills, expertise and experience in his or her area of practice.

 "We hope that this will inspire the junior lawyers to continue to hone their craft to attain accreditation in their chosen area of specialisation.”

Building and construction law is the first practice area where lawyers can apply to become accredited specialists and it has attracted 75 applicants to date. As applicants are judged based on credentials and work experience, the selection process involves them taking a qualifying examination and passing an interview. Out of the 24 successful applicants this year, 13 of them are 'Senior Accredited Specialists' with at least 10 years of post-qualification experience (PQE), while the remaining 11 are 'Accredited Specialists' with at least 5 years of PQE.

Several of them told Lianhe Zaobao that this accreditation scheme not only recognised their professional capabilities, providing an assurance to their clients of the quality of their services, but at the same time has also brought them more complex cases.

Mr. Christopher Chuah Chee Kian, a lawyer and partner at WongPartnership, said this accreditation is a benchmark of excellence and endorsement of specialist skills and ability, which is useful in recognising the expertise of lawyers as well as in strengthening their portfolios. He said that his clientele has increased after being accredited as a Senior Accredited Specialist. With the boom in construction and infrastructure work regionally, the list of Accredited Specialists would also provide a reliable and independent means of selecting local lawyers who are well acquainted with building and construction law to represent foreign clients. 

Ms. Goh Wanjing, a lawyer at law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner, also received more enquiries after becoming an Accredited Specialist early this year. She added that members of the public who require a construction lawyer are now able to approach a group of lawyers who have gone through a rigorous assessment and passed the threshold in order to become an Accredited Specialist. "I believe this gives some security to clients as construction law is a highly specialised area. It requires a good understanding of the technicalities and nuances.”

Mr. Ho Chien Mien, Partner and Head of Construction & Engineering at Allen & Gledhill, said that this accreditation scheme enables law firms to leverage this recognition to promote their practice to clients and potential clients in Singapore and regionally. He added: "This accreditation will further strengthen the reputation of Singapore lawyers by showcasing their expertise and proficiency in different sectors and industries, especially in building and construction. "

Allen & Gledhill have one of the largest building and construction practices in Singapore, comprising 25 lawyers, of which 10 are partners and 15 are associates. Four of them have been accredited as Specialists.

A Senior Accredited Specialist who has been practising law for more than 27 years, Mr. Ho said: "This scheme recognises our specialist skills, knowledge and experience in the field of building and construction law, which gives clients confidence in our services. It enables potential clients to select suitable counsel to handle their legal issues by providing them with the necessary information."

He pointed out that while it is difficult to gauge whether accreditation has directly helped them secure more cases, his firm have been engaged for a substantial number of complex cases after becoming a Senior Accredited Specialist.

His colleague, Ms.Charmelia C. Sugianto, is another lawyer accredited under this scheme. She said that the accreditation is a formal recognition of her specialisation in the practice of building and construction law, which encourages her continued dedication to the pursuit of excellence in this area of practice.

Mr. Raymond Chan, senior partner at law firm Chan Neo LLP noted that there are similar schemes in Australia, the United States and Canada. He cited as an analogy how patients with specific illnesses would seek out specialist doctors for treatment. Similarly, this accreditation scheme assists clients in engaging lawyers who fit their requirements and are experts in their respective fields. Due to the regional boom in construction and infrastructure projects in recent years, local en bloc projects have also flourished, signifying that more new projects will be released into the market in the near future. Mr. Chan foresees that the number of disputes in the construction industry may also increase accordingly. 

Even though accreditation has not resulted in his law firm receiving more cases, he believes that accreditation is useful, although the benefits may not be realised so early.

Separately, a second practice area in which lawyers can be accredited as specialists is maritime and shipping law. Applications are now open and the list of successful candidates is expected to be announced next year.

Spike in construction-related lawsuits in recent years 

For the past few years, there has been an increasing number of building and construction-related lawsuits.

The number of Supreme Court judgments published on the Singapore Academy of Law’s Singapore Law Watch and LawNet was 8 and 10 cases in 2013 and 2014 respectively, and 15 cases each in 2015 and 2016. 

The number of decisions last year surged to 20, and there have already been 9 verdicts as of 19th June this year.

It is notable that these cases were brought up before the High Court or Court of Appeal, meaning that the claims in each case exceed $250,000.

In view of the fact that judges are not required to give written grounds for every case, the actual number of cases is likely to be higher.

Source: Lianhe Zaobao © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.