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Asia Round-up: Singapore in focus for Minter Ellison, Sidley Austin and Taylor Wessing

The decline in Singapore M&A has seemingly done little to dampen the enthusiasm of international firms to launch or build their practices in the region.

Sidley Austin – which despite having been in Singapore since 1982, has just 10 lawyers in the region and to date has not had the same impact as top-tier banking & finance and corporate Magic Circle rivals Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance and Linklaters Singapore – has benefited from Vinson & Elkins recent decision to close its office in Shanghai, by hiring energy partner Tju Liang Chua.

Chua, who is from Singapore and qualified to advise on both local and US law, is set to join the top 15 Global 100 firm’s energy practice in the coming weeks.

Sidley Austin has been building its presence in the region with hires including Clifford Chance local funds partner Han Ming Ho and its longevity and commitment to the region reaped significant rewards in February, as the firm was one of only a handful to gain a qualifying foreign law practice (QFLP) license, allowing them to practice certain types of Singaporean law, with Chua an obvious person to drive this initiative.

‘Tju Liang’s arrival follows closely that of energy partner Tom Deegan in Hong Kong. He joins an expanding energy team in the region, which is able to offer clients in Asia a full array of energy-related legal services, particularly because it is fully integrated with our Houston colleagues and elsewhere in the U.S’ said Thomas Albrecht, managing partner of Sidley Austin in the Asia Pacific region.

Meanwhile, Taylor Wessing’s Singapore office, known locally as RHTLaw Taylor Wessing, has secured the hire of Morgan Stanley’s former head of compliance, Nizam Ismail, as partner to head up the firm’s regional compliance solutions practice. RHTLaw Compliance Solutions is a dedicated financial services compliance consultancy and solutions provider.

Ismail has 20 years of experience working in the financial services industry, including working with some of the world’s leading investment banks such as the now defunct Lehman Brothers and Citigroup. He was also at the Monetary Authority of Singapore and worked on capital markets reform, including the enactment of the Securities and Futures Act and the Financial Advisers Act.

Taylor Wessing has three offices in Asia and is known to be considering its options in relation to a further office opening in Hong Kong.

Elsewhere, one of the last of Australia’s big six firms not to have merged, Minter Ellison is closely considering opening a Singapore office, giving the firm added strength in Asia on top of its existing offices in Hong Kong, Beijing and Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, as the firm seeks to compensate for declining revenues in the depressed Australian market.

‘We’re considering establishing a foreign law office in Singapore to serve our clients across Southeast Asia – we already do a significant amount of work in Southeast Asia for Singapore-based and other regional clients – but no decision has been made yet regarding this,’ a spokesperson for the firm told Legal Business.

Other firms to have ramped up in Singapore this year include Stephenson Harwood, after agreeing a formal association with local firm Virtus Law.