Challenges for legal community
Singapore lawyers believe the chance for growth in 2021 is there for those who are brave enough to seize it.
Even as a vaccine year follows the pandemic year that passed, Covid-19 will continue to shape the legal landscape and bring both opportunities and challenges, say lawyers.
While certain practice areas like contractual disputes could see a rise in volume of work, others like cross-border deals may turn south.
"No doubt 2021 will bring more challenges but the lessons learnt in 2020 will be of great help," said Senior Counsel Cavinder Bull, Drew & Napier's chief executive officer.
Helmsman LLC's managing director Ian Teo expects the general slowdown in legal work in Singapore, especially in transactional and non-disputes work, to continue this year.
"Many companies have been affected by Covid-19. Even those that were not significantly affected are adopting a conservative outlook for 2021. Many companies have postponed or cancelled expansion plans and large-scale projects. This means a slowdown in terms of work for the financing and corporate law sector," said Mr Teo, who is also a senior accredited shipping and maritime law specialist.
He noted a rise in work on disputes, which he expects to continue this year. "Due to the market conditions, contractual defaults are increasing. This means more disputes," he said.
"At Helmsman LLC, being a disputes-oriented firm, our work volume remains healthy... in part due to the recent upheavals in the commodity trading and shipping market both in and out of Singapore.
"For example, the closures of ports worldwide caused many disputes in shipping and commodities contracts... we managed to capture a fair amount of disputes work in these difficult times. However, as our clients are tightening their belts, we as lawyers are expected to work with them to reduce unnecessary legal expenditure."
Law Society president Gregory Vijayendran believes the growth areas for legal practice would include restructuring, insolvency and regulatory compliance, as well as a possible continuing spurt in conveyancing practice.
He said: "As for the downsides, lawyers are service providers. If corporate deals, a function of market activity, are not picking up or not picking up rapidly due to economic conditions, there is less work to go around.
"Likewise, until travel restrictions are fully lifted, there will continue to be a detrimental impact on cross-border transactions being consummated. In Asia, a lot depends on relationships and trust between business persons on both sides of the transactions. There is a world of difference having business meetings in person as against doing online meetings."
SC Bull said "the opportunity for growth in 2021 is there for those who are brave enough to seize it". He added that "the key is to understand that our clients' needs have evolved with the pandemic, and adapting quickly to continue to deliver quality legal services in a changed environment".
He said Drew & Napier increased its lawyer numbers and launched its regional Drew Network Asia last year despite the firm adjusting to a higher level of telecommuting then. "So growth is possible even in this challenging environment. Embracing change and utilising technology have been key," he added.
NUS law faculty dean Simon Chesterman underlined the value of lawyers during the pandemic, hailing the differences they made during such trying times, saying: "Lawyers ensured that the economic pain is distributed fairly, that health services and the coming vaccine will be shared equitably, and that emergency surveillance powers rolled out around the world are limited to the extent and for the duration truly necessary.
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