Corporate Law Day 2021: Speech by Mr Edwin Tong SC, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Second Minister for Law

Thursday, 7 July 2021

Mr Edwin Tong SC, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Second Minister for Law


The Honourable Judge of Appeal Steven Chong, Supreme Court of Singapore

Mr Adrian Chan and Mr Kelvin Wong, Co-Chairs of the Organising Committee

Mr Low Kah Keong, Chair of the Corporate Practice Committee

Distinguished guests

Ladies and gentlemen

Good morning to all of you.

  1. Introduction

    1. What I will do is to provide a macro view of a couple of issues:

      1. First, what are the key challenges ahead for us.

      1. For lawyers, key challenges will also be key opportunities, and so, secondly, I will share a macro view from MinLaw’s perspective of how we see key opportunities developing around the region and the world. This relates to how the global landscape has evolved and how we have responded, as well as key growth areas in which we will be supporting our lawyers to capture a bigger market share.

I(A).     Singapore’s Current Position as a Legal and Business Hub

    1. First, let me look at Singapore’s current position as a legal and business hub.

    1. Singapore has performed well. Over the last ten years, our position as a business and financial services hub has really grown from strength to strength.

      1. We are home to a large base of companies actively growing in Asia. What this means is that Singapore is home to companies looking to invest in Singapore, and also home to companies looking to invest around the region, but out of Singapore. All these companies will need legal services.

        1. Singapore is now the hub for Asia regional headquarters for multi-national corporations (MNCs). Over 46% of Asia regional headquarters are based in Singapore.

      1. Looking at inward investments - we attracted S$17.2 billion in fixed asset investments in 2020, the most sizeable amount since 2008. And 2008 was already quite a milestone year, the year just before Lehman Brothers collapsed.

    1. Our legal services, which are really an adjunct to the development and growth of businesses, have also grown in tandem.

      1. In the last decade, the nominal value added of the legal sector grew by more than 40%, from S$1.61 billion to S$2.31 billion.

      1. In the same period, legal services exports, i.e. services performed in Singapore and exported to elsewhere in the region or in the world, grew by about 80%, from S$528 million to an estimated S$947 million.

    1. These numbers give us a good sense of the market and where we should be positioning ourselves. At the same time, we should also be mindful of socio- political developments around the region.

I(B).     Socio-political Developments that Will Impact This Position

    1. We have done well so far. But we have always heard this being said - we are a small country and very vulnerable to socio-political shifts.

      1. One key example is the US-China relations. They have recently been somewhat rocky - they have had lots of dialogue, but with acrimonious rhetoric raised by both sides.

      1. The multilateral system, already fragile pre-COVID-19, has increasingly become more fragmented with COVID-19 and with the issues that many other countries around the world still face.

      1. More recently, as seen during the debates in Parliament, there have been concerted efforts to change international tax rules. All of these will add to the challenges that trade- and investment-dependent countries like Singapore face.

    1. Yesterday we had a lengthy debate in Parliament about the value of being connected to the world, i.e. globalisation; and riding on the crests of these waves to ensure that our companies and our exports have networks to plug into, because our domestic market is so small. Any shifts in this globalised commercial climate will have a big impact to Singapore.

I(C).     Cross-border Jurisprudence and Legal Frameworks

    1. Next, let me look at some cross-border issues in terms of jurisprudence and also legal frameworks. The developments that I outlined earlier, and also the growing presence of Singapore law firms and Singapore lawyers in other jurisdictions, have presented cross-border business and commerce with new and greater challenges, but at the same time, with many new opportunities. I think it brings to the fore the importance of having strong legal frameworks.

    1. When we go out and engage counterparts in other jurisdictions, when we talk to the business community in other countries which we want to establish links with, one thing that keeps coming back as to why corporates in those countries want to do business either with Singapore, or in or through Singapore, has been our strong legal framework – whether it's our laws, our first-class judiciary, or the jurisprudence that we have developed.

      1. The very commercial-minded set of laws and approaches that we, as lawmakers and the courts have developed, have become one of our key value propositions.

    1. There are many global community platforms where we can coordinate and synchronise these frameworks, so that inter-jurisdiction activities can be more efficient. We have remained very active in these efforts, mainly to promote:

      1. Harmonisation of laws – to look at laws, to review them, to ensure that they are updated, and I will touch on what we have done in certain segments later; and

      1. Interoperability of laws and legal processes across different jurisdictions– to look at how we can facilitate businesses to operate seamlessly and easily from Singapore in anywhere else in the world.

    1. These efforts, ultimately, will promote a lot more cross-border investments through building confidence in the system, and removing friction for a spectrum of business processes. Let me give some examples.

      1. We recently acceded to the Apostille Convention in January this year. This allows business documentation to be authenticated for cross-border use. This has made the process a lot more efficient and easier, and removes unnecessary friction in the process.

      1. Second, one of the key drivers of cross-border trade has been the ability to enforce cross-border awards and cross-border judgments.

        1. Singapore is party to the New York Convention, and that provides for enforceability of international arbitral awards.

        1. Singapore was also one of the first two countries to ratify the Singapore Convention on Mediation, which provides for a harmonised uniform framework for the enforcement of international commercial mediated settlement agreements.

          • The value behind this is, is that it gives confidence that if you were to enter into an agreement with someone halfway across the world who is party to the Convention, you would be able to take this agreement and enforce it.

          • Even if you are unfamiliar with the legal system of that country, you know that this framework for mediation allows you to enforce the agreement in the way that you are comfortable with.

          • This promotes trade, because it enables parties to be confident in dealing with counterparties. At the same time, when disputes arise, which is part and parcel of business transactions, parties will have the confidence of having a fuss-free, quick, amicable way of resolving the disputes.

      1. Third, we have worked on international frameworks governing winding up or restructuring of businesses. We introduced this a few years ago, through our adoption of the UNCITRAL Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency. This has worked very well in the courts. We have seen some other jurisdictions having similar arrangements, most recently between Hong Kong and China.

        1. These rules afford foreign companies greater certainty as to the process of recognition of foreign insolvency proceedings in Singapore. Again, familiarity, the ability to enforce and the ease with which this can be recognised, will become a great change, a great boost to the way in which we promote cross-border trade.

I(D).     Competitiveness of our Civil Justice System

    1. Let me turn now to our next competitive advantage, which is our first-class civil justice system. I believe this is a very important pillar to enable Singapore to remain relevant to the global trade and investment ecosystem.

      1. First, the excellent reputation of our justice system underpins our value proposition as a business hub, where we are able to address the needs of businesses across their lifecycle. I will later touch on what are working on for areas such as structuring, and deal-making. But how disputes are resolved is going to be important and not to be underestimated.

      1. To MinLaw, it is imperative that each Singapore lawyer, as you explore new opportunities in new markets, that you can confidently sell Singapore:

        1. Put Singapore law down as the governing law on the negotiating table; and

        1. Explain why Singapore law is commercial-minded, neutral, and easily understood by most mercantile users, and why Singapore as a choice of jurisdiction is likewise neutral and does not seek to impose our laws on parties.

      1. Take for example our judicial attitude to arbitration agreements. Over the many years, in fact decades, when I was in practice, we know that there is no meddling around with an arbitration agreement. If you come to court and you try and set it aside on grounds which are not tenable, or are fanciful, I think you know what the judges will say. This has over the years made it very clear to users that we are very much pro-business, pro-commerce.

    1. Increasingly, we must look at not just common law jurisdictions but civil law options as well.

      1. Why? When I last viewed the statistics on Singapore's trade with our top 10 trading partners – more than half was with civil law jurisdictions. In fact, about 60% of the value of our merchandise trade was with civil law countries.

    1. So, we need to ensure that our civil justice system is not just better than those in common law jurisdictions, but also better than, easier to use and more commercial-minded than the civil law jurisdictions.

    1. I would say we have done well so far. Our system has proven time and again to be reliable, efficient and timely. Let’s just take one metric, speed.

      1. In 2016, the Honourable the Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, highlighted that the Supreme Court had, for more than a decade prior to that, successfully disposed of at least 85% of all writs filed within 18months. In other words, once you file a writ, you can expect that in 85% of these cases, it would just take you 18 months to resolve.

        1. We are very competitive on this front and rank well even compared to civil law jurisdictions like France and Germany, who are amongst the top tier of civil law jurisdictions. In terms of case resolution, civil law jurisdictions are usually a little faster. We are comparable there.

      1. In 2019, Singapore was ranked first by the World Bank in terms of the efficiency and quality of the court system in resolving commercial disputes.

    1. I have cited some examples, and there are many others, but these give a flavour of where we are and to emphasize that we start from a good base.

    1. But as with all challenges – and we are in the middle of a big challenge and big disruption with COVID-19 – it is important to start looking at what we can do, even as we are ahead, to do even better and to take advantage of the situation.

    1. The courts have continued to strengthen efforts to be future-ready.

      1. Even before Zoom and technology became buzzwords, almost five years ago, the courts had adopted and embarked on a technology blueprint – way back, when pen and paper were still very much used in court.

      1. The courts have been at the forefront of harnessing technology to enhance the administration of justice, and ultimately to ensure that the courts remain updated, relevant and of course, future-ready.

    1. It is not just the courts that have been doing this, but also our other dispute resolution institutions.

      1. You heard the news recently that we are today the top arbitration seat in the world alongside London. This is really no mean feat because London is the traditional powerhouse. We are now amongst the top four arbitration seats in all regions. If you take the last 10 years as a marker, we were not even within the top three in Asia-Pacific 10 years ago.

      1. The Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) is today the second most preferred institution in the world and also among the top four in all regions.

      1. SIAC’s and the Singapore International Mediation Centre’s (SIMC’s) caseloads have steadily increased over the years.

        1. SIAC had a record year last year, albeit with two sets of related cases. If the related cases are excluded, the numbers do come down somewhat, but they are still higher than the years before, and they do project a healthy upward trend.

        1. SIMC was formed more recently, but over the last few years it has also seen an uptick in number of cases mediated, and last year it had a record year.

      1. I put this in front of you because when you, as a Singapore lawyer, go out there to negotiate with your counterparts, sometimes they say that the dispute clause is the sunset clause or the midnight clause, i.e. the clause that you do at sunset, or at midnight, when you are just about to wrap up the deal. I would strongly encourage you to look at it not as the midnight clause, but as one of the first things you can put on the table, and to negotiate from a position of strength – looking at what I have cited to you, both for costs, as well as for any of the alternative dispute resolution (ADR) options that you have.

  1. Forging Ahead to Create Opportunities for the Singapore Legal Services Industry

  1. Next, let me turn to look at opportunities ahead for the Singapore legal services industry.

  1. There are many young lawyers here in the audience. Some are one or two years in practice, have spent the majority of your practice in a COVID-19 disrupted legal services sector, working from home without seeing your colleagues, not even seeing your counterparts across the negotiating table face-to-face as often as it should be. Those in disputes practice have not seen judges face-to-face and have been doing cases on Zoom and other electronic platforms. So it's a very different environment. But at the same time, in the face of these challenges there are many opportunities.

  1. We at MinLaw have been vigilant. We told ourselves when we emerged from the circuit breaker last year, that we have to look at this as a time to regroup, a time to look at where we want to become stronger the moment the world reopens again.

  1. We see four key areas that we should focus on.

    1. First, support and equip our lawyers to ride the growth of Asia. Asia is going to grow and I will touch on that in a moment;

    1. Second, develop new and emerging practice areas such as private debt and sustainability, alongside efforts to grow more traditional practice areas like restructuring and intellectual property (IP). I call restructuring and IP traditional areas because anything that I studied in school many years ago, would be traditional. But I see new ways of looking at restructuring, new ways of looking at IP, and we can certainly do more to help our lawyers and help our legal industry;

    1. Third, promote the use of Singapore law. I outlined a little of that earlier, on our efforts to promote the use of Singapore law and Singapore as a seat of arbitration;

    1. And finally, enhance the legal sector through technology.

    1. Let me elaborate on these four areas.

II(A). Supporting Lawyers to Ride the Growth of Asia

  1. I start with looking at Asia. As mentioned, I come from the perspective that legal services are an adjunct to the growth of businesses. If businesses want to grow, they will need legal services. If businesses have grown, and they want to move into a new sector, they will need legal services. All of you, I'm sure, will be very attuned to this marketing-wise. But let me share some of the topline numbers for Asia with you, to explain why I have a lot of optimism for Asia. When you look at the recovery rates for COVID-19, it is patchy in Asia. But the fundamentals have been strong. Asian economies are expected to grow beginning from this year, and become a strong driver of demand moving forward. And if we can resolve the COVID-19 issue in Asia in the next two to three years, I think that growth could well be uninhibited, and hit the top quickly. Just consider some of these statistics.

    1. All Asia-Pacific economies are anticipated to record economic growth this year. So, not only a flat or slower decline, but actual economic growth in 2021.

    1. And then consider China, the biggest economy in Asia and amongst the top in the world. The continued growth of China is going to be a big factor behind the optimism about Asia.

      1. In 2020, despite being bedevilled by COVID-19 for almost the whole year, China surpassed the US as the world’s top destination for foreign direct investment (FDI).

      2. FDI inflows were not only positive, in other words a nett plus, but grew at a faster rate than in 2019. So you can look at that as an indicator for what may happen in the next few years.

  1. Our legal services sector therefore has to aggressively capture more opportunities in Asia. Let me outline what I think we can do on this and how we have been supporting the legal industry.

  2. We have been working with many of our counterparts in Asia, the top jurisdictions in Asia, including China, which is our top trading partner. Pre- COVID-19, I spent quite some time on the road travelling. I was in China often, in Japan, and other parts of Asia, to reach out to their legal industry, and to also reach out to their governments, to see what we can do at the Government to Government (G-to-G) level.

  3. First, G-to-G collaborations. At the G-to-G level we have put legal and judicial cooperation at the forefront of many of the high-level discussions at the G-to-G platforms.

    1. Take China for example. The Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation is the highest-level bilateral platform between Singapore and China. We hold that once every year, and alternate the host locations. I have been involved in the last few of them, and we have deliberately put cooperation on legal and judicial platforms on the agenda.

    1. We are also in discussion with the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, more popularly known as CCPIT, to explore the feasibility of co-developing a dispute resolution mechanism that is more suited for Asian needs. Why? For a number of reasons.

      1. First of all, CCPIT oversees the Chinese entities, including Chinese companies getting involved in the Belt and Road Initiatives. We see tremendous potential there.

      1. Second, I think there is a need for a very Asian-centric dispute resolution mechanism, which builds into it and hardcodes not just dispute resolution by ADR like arbitration, but also mediation, conciliation, maybe even non-binding neutral evaluation, as a system. When I speak to my Chinese counterparts, they see a lot of value in doing this. They see not much value for a case between two parties who have a long history and a long relationship to go through a full arbitration. They see mediation, conciliation, neutral evaluation, as key options. And hence, the ability to hardcode this into a system is going to be important.

  1. Second, what are some of the Government-to-Business (G-to-B) initiatives?

    1. For example, the Internationalisation Corridor initiative under the Singapore-Jiangsu Cooperation Council (SJCC). We have cooperation councils with different regions of China, and this initiative under the SJCC seeks to directly connect internationalising Chinese corporates to Singapore-based professional services providers such as accounting firms, bankers, lawyers and so on. This ultimately benefits our legal industry.

    1. Under this initiative, we have worked with the Law Society and Enterprise Singapore to develop a Welcome Pack with key materials to help strengthen the branding and recognition of Singapore law firms amongst such Chinese corporates.

    1. Frankly, there’s no need to hit one of those Chinese unicorns who are expanding rapidly around the world. Their mid-tier corporates already have tremendous business ambition around the world. They will certainly need legal services as they expand and grow into other parts of the world. That is where Singapore and Singapore legal practitioners can really play a big part in this value proposition.

  2. Then, what are some of the skills and capability development initiatives that we have to support lawyers to capture such opportunities?

    1. We have programmes designed to equip lawyers with the skills to navigate overseas markets.

    1. Using the Chinese example, we have the China Ready Programme. We conceived this some years ago, but there has been some stop-start because of COVID-19.

      1. Essentially, it helps lawyers build a deeper understanding of not just Chinese laws – that you can do from the textbook – but the Chinese business environment and culture, the way of doing business, the way of communication, the way to negotiate a deal. It is often not just across the negotiating table, across reams and reams of paper that this is done.

      1. So, this programme helps to immerse our lawyers in that system, send our lawyers into Chinese corporates to learn the culture, to be embedded and to imbibe that culture, and come back understanding not just Chinese laws but also the Chinese way of doing business.

  1. I have outlined our initiatives using China as an example. But we have done the same with other markets, pursuing legal cooperation at the highest G-to-G level and also at the G-to-B level, trying to open up new flanks for Singapore lawyers.

II(B). Deepening our Capabilities in Traditional Areas and Growing New Practice Areas

  1. Let me now focus on our capabilities and MinLaw’s emphasis on traditional areas, and new growing practice areas. To develop Singapore as a legal services hub, we will need to drill down into specific practice areas. As a small country, as a small market, we have to be focused on what we want to do, and ensuring that as the market develops, we can find opportunities based on assessing the inflow of FDI and inflow of businesses.

    1. We have put forward several initiatives to ensure that our traditional practice areas can continue to grow; and

    1. We have also undertaken efforts to grow new practice areas. I mentioned sustainability just now, and I will touch on a few more later.

  2. First, let me talk about IP. It is a traditional area – as I said, because I studied it in school so many years ago, so it must therefore be traditional – but there is an important distinction today.

    1. Today, IP is an asset. If you just look at the S&P 500 list of companies, 90% of the market value of S&P 500 companies lie in intangible assets. That's a staggering number. It has been growing, of course, over the past few decades.

    1. If you look at intangible assets – ideas, innovations, developments, technology, AI – you know that the investments and the value proposition for companies are really in these areas, a lot more than in the brick-and- mortar.

  3. I see a tremendous growth opportunity in Asia for this practice area. Asia accounts for more than two-thirds of IP filings. If you just look at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) reports, you will know we recently had a Singaporean take up the top WIPO position. But just taking publisheddata, WIPO tells us that Asia's presence and marketplace for IP filings is high, and growing.

  1. Singapore is well-placed to capitalise on opportunities, as our own IP regime is well-recognised globally.

    1. We were ranked second in the world and top in Asia for the best IP protection in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report in 2019. IP is not just about registration; you need to ensure that it is well protected. As such, to be recognised in this way says a lot about our system.

  2. To further strengthen this position, we have recently evolved the IP Hub Master Plan into the Singapore Intellectual Property Strategy 2030. Some initiatives would be of interest to you and to your clients:

    1. First, we launched the SG IP FAST programme in September last year. What we want to do is to accelerate the processing of patent applications first filed in Singapore and their related trademark and registered design applications. In IP, especially with trademarks and patent applications, speed is a huge value proposition.

    1. Second, we have launched the Global Patent Prosecution Highway and the ASEAN Patent Examination Cooperation programme. With this, companies can very quickly protect their IP in Singapore, and then use Singapore’s connectivity to the rest of the world via these programmes to accelerate patent applications in various countries and beyond.

  3. As mentioned, we, as a country, are plugged into networks around the world. Domestically, we offer businesses these programmes, and businesses on these programmes can take advantage of the networks that have been set up and expand their reach, so they register in Singapore, take this patent and have it registered quickly elsewhere in the world.

    1. This has tremendous advantages. It brings people into Singapore, so that they can do business in Singapore, or through or from Singapore. If you or your client are a business entity that wants to launch an invention in, say, Vietnam, and you are not familiar with the system in Vietnam, you can come into Singapore with confidence and comfort, and file your invention here, which we can do quickly. And through these networks, the invention can be registered and recognised in Vietnam, without having to do so directly in Vietnam.

    1. There are details around this and we will be happy to share them with you, but the nub of these programmes, essentially, is to ensure that you can tell your clients – come into Singapore, we can do this work for you, and you can then have a reach that goes beyond just Singapore.

  1. These are some of the areas that we are looking at for IP. Another area is restructuring.

  2. Most of you know that a few years ago, we amended the Companies Act to enhance our debt restructuring regime. We wanted to incorporate the best features around the world. We have always had the schemes of arrangement, and judicial management. But in 2017, we included concepts from the US Bankruptcy Code. That has been helpful.

    1. We also introduced the Insolvency, Restructuring and Dissolution Act which is an omnibus insolvency legislation. It was a long time in the making.

      1. It ensures that Singapore’s insolvency and restructuring laws remain progressive, remain modern, and also remain applicable to changing norms, changing ways of doing businesses, and balance the interests of debtors, creditors and other stakeholders.

      1. To cite a recent example, the restructuring of the world’s 12th largest liner company and Southeast Asia’s (SEA’s) largest carrier, Pacific International Lines, was completed swiftly and with what I understand to be very minimal hitches through a pre- negotiated restructuring process under this regime. Of course, you need professionals, lawyers, accountants, bankers to come up. You also need a judiciary that is able to understand and be very practical minded, to be an effective partner in this process, ensuring that there is fairness and transparency in the process, but at the same time, achieving the end outcome. I think that was one very good recent illustration.

    1. To support lawyers in building their skillsets in this area, we have the SkillsFuture Study Awards (Legal) for lawyers who sign up for INSOL’s Foundation Course on Insolvency. Younger lawyers who are keen to look at this area as an option can leverage the support of the SkillsFuture Study Awards to pursue this course.

    1. About two and a half years ago, we negotiated with INSOL to have their office in Singapore. Singapore is the first and so far, only other office outside of INSOL’s HQ in London, located at Maxwell Chambers Suites. We do this because we want to establish Singapore as the hotbed for all thought leaders. Whether it is the American Arbitration Association International Centre for Dispute Resolution (AAA-ICDR), or ]INSOL, we want them to be located here, because we see tremendous value, and we see the potential for partnership. One such partnership was the INSOL Foundation Course on Insolvency.

  1. Related to restructuring is the emerging area of private debt. Again, I am quite sure many of you will be involved in some aspect of this area of practice.

    1. This is an emerging area that will see very strong growth moving forward.

      1. If you look at global assets under management for private debt, it is expected to grow by 11.4% over the next five years from 2020 to 2025.

      1. Within Asia Pacific (APAC) alone, the private debt under assets under management has steadily increased at a compounded annual growth rate of 14.4% over the last decade from 2010 to 2020. Again, these are numbers, but they tell a couple of things – that the market share is large in Asia, and second, which is important, the rate of growth has been escalating over the past decade.

    1. I think we can quite confidently predict from this that there will be an increase in private debt activity, at least in the APAC region in the next decade, and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the rest of Government have been looking to ramp up efforts to grow this space.

  2. MinLaw has been working with MAS to identify ways in which our lawyers can be plugged into other emerging growth areas. Let me elaborate further.

    1. Many of you have been increasingly involved in the domain of sustainable finance. This comes on the back of growing corporate demand.

    1. MAS is actively promoting this through the Green Finance Action Plan. I hope that everyone has heard about that. It seeks to support a sustainable Singapore and to facilitate Asia’s transition to a sustainable future. Initiatives outlined under this plan include:

      1. Environmental risk management guidelines requiring financial institutions to estimate environmental risks;

      1. Grant schemes to support corporates in Singapore and in Asia to issue green, sustainability and sustainability-linked bonds and loans. Again, it is not just in today's context, I think this has been done for some years now;

      1. Third, we want to anchor centres of excellence, think tanks, sustainability professionals. People who can talk about climate change not just in the abstract, but really apply it to business – what it means for commerce, for financing, applying it to financial institutions, making sustainability assessments, and ratings. Eventually, we want to build a deep pool of Asia-centric green finance expertise in Singapore;

      1. Finally, Project GreenPrint, which seeks to promote ESG [environmental, social and governance] innovation and also develop technology proofs-of-concept and pilots for green finance.

  1. These efforts by MAS, I must say, have not been from scratch, and have not been recent. We have already seen very strong activity in the green finance space for several years now.

    1. If you look at Singapore's market in ASEAN, Singapore accounted for about 40% of all of ASEAN’s green finance market in 2020. Our players, our professionals, have already been doing this for some time now and have been out there in the markets.

    1. Our green finance market tripled in size from S$3.8 billion in 2018 to S$14 billion in 2020, so the trajectory is strong.

    1. These bonds and loans have been issued in Singapore across a broad range of sectors, and they cover agriculture, commodities, energy and of course financial services and probably technology as well.

    1. Let me just cite a few notable issuances. Maybe some of you have been involved in these transactions:

      1. National University of Singapore’s inaugural S$300 million green bond issuance in 2020 to power green projects and buildings.

      1. M+S Pte Ltd’s S$1.95 billion green loan, the largest green loan secured by a real estate company in APAC in Singapore.

    1. On the back of this success, financial institutions have also ramped up the issuance of sustainability-linked loans:

      1. PSA Marine’s 30 million euro sustainability-linked loan in 2020, the first, as I understand it, in Singapore’s maritime industry.

      1. Surbana Jurong introduced a S$250m sustainability-linked bond in 2021, the first public issuance from a SEA-based company.

  1. I cite these examples together with the trends and the numbers to tell you that there is a growing emerging market. There are opportunities. As a government, what we have done is to plant the flag, almost literally, in these areas, and I encourage lawyers to look at these as growth areas, and to seize those opportunities.

II(C). Promotion of Singapore Law

  1. The third prong that I wanted to briefly touch on, is the promotion of Singapore law. It is something that you probably already know, but let me outline two key planks to enhance our efforts here:

    1. One, constantly review and enhance our laws and frameworks to align with international best practices.

    1. Two, develop new products based on Singapore law.

  1. An example of this effort is the VCC, Variable Capital Company, introduced in January 2020:

    1. The VCC offers a new corporate structure tailor-made for investment funds.

    1. It provides flexibility in the issuance and redemption of shares, and complements the existing suite of fund structures that we already have in Singapore, to encourage more fund managers to co-locate the domicile of their investment funds with their fund management activities in Singapore.

  1. We have two recent products, from the last two years or so, developed based on Singapore law.

    1. First, the Venture Capital Investment Model Agreements (VIMA), by the Singapore Academy of Law and the Singapore Venture Capital & Private Equity Association.

      1. The VIMA documents are designed to facilitate a faster and more cost-efficient process of structuring a deal between investors and founders.

      1. It is a very user-friendly framework. All the Agreements entered into under this framework will be governed by Singapore law, and disputes will be resolved in Singapore.

    1. Second, the Standardised Core Project Finance Loan Documents, jointly developed by Allen & Gledhill and Clifford Chance, and with support from the Asia Pacific Loan Market Association.

      1. It is also denoted in Singapore law, containing a core suite of standard project finance loan documents, from mandate letter to term sheet and of course, the common terms agreement.

      1. 50% of the loan documentation, covering common clauses, has been standardised, and the remainder can be customised depending on the specific project needs, project type and so on.

      1. What I am told is that this has helped to significantly reduce the time spent on contract negotiation. If you come into a contractual negotiation and you have 50% of what is generally market- standard clauses already there, you can first focus your mind only on those clauses that really need your attention and second, customise it to make it relevant for your own business needs. And this will help reduce your costs and time spent. It ultimately paves the way for a secondary market in infrastructure debt, creating a more homogenous market for project finance loans.

II(D). Enhancing the Legal Sector through Technology

  1. Finally, let me touch on the fourth plank, which is legal technology.

  2. I know that there has been a lot of focus and mention on this area, with new platforms being introduced recently. So, some months ago, we decided to kickstart a Legal Technology Platform initiative.

  3. We have been talking about technology for a long time. We have had plans and programmes.

    1. Those of you in practice and with Law Society will know that some six years ago, we talked about and eventually launched Tech Start for Law and later Tech-celerate for Law. We tried to get lawyers to adopt technology - we gave them a suite of tools, and put some funding on the table. But success was not uniform across the industry.

    1. Part of the problem was lawyers and technology. If you give them a choice, they don't quite mix so well. Of course, now, with COVID-19, it is less of a choice.

    1. Second problem, which is a serious one, is how do you help someone remain plugged in? To remain plugged in, you will need to look at simple bread-and-butter things like, how do you do upgrades of a system, how do you maintain, how do you troubleshoot. The last thing that you want is that you don’t know who to call for help when you encounter log-in issues or can’t work the system. That’s troublesome.

    1. So, we wanted to build something that was functional, meant for lawyers to use, low barrier to entry in terms of cost and also in terms of training, and more importantly, sustainable to the lifetime of the use of that platform.

  1. The key objective of what MinLaw has announced and which we want to develop further, is to help the law firms adopt this technology more easily and conveniently. Of course, the larger firms in Singapore by and large have their own systems, but I believe that if you can put the small- to medium-sized firms on a common platform, it could become quite a game-changer.

  1. The platform will contain matters management tools designed around legal workflows. We adopted a ground-up approach and consulted lawyers – we still are - on what you do, how you need to open a file, how you take instructions, how you do finance billing, timekeeping and so on; and building this into a legal workflow with templates and linkages to other solutions.

    1. We also want to enable easy collaboration within the firm and with clients. Some firms will have ten, twenty lawyers, with staff.

      1. How do you collaborate closely, and nowadays, collaborate on the move, on a mobile device? You must collaborate from home as well.

      1. How do we do that, and how do we link it to the solutions you use everyday, like Zoom calls, MS Teams, Slack, emails and so on, WhatsApp – all in one place, so that it’s a one-stop portal for you to be connected to your staff, to your internal teams. It also connects you to the external industry: your counterparties, your opposing counsel and your clients.

      1. Eventually, we also want this to be able to connect to Government agencies. So for example, if you need to do an ACRA search, if you need to check someone's credit standing on the credit bureau, or if you want to go and check whether somebody is insolvent from the IPTO records. This will take some time, but the idea is to make it a one-stop shop, such that you work on a single platform that allows you to access these services.

  1. We have been engaging the industry widely because we recognise that people use technology differently. Everyone uses different hardware, and not everyone's technology appetite is the same. Although I must say that COVID- 19 has made everybody a lot more hungry for technology. So we are looking at this as an opportunity, to build on this momentum to get the legal industry involved, and at the same time, get ideas and feedback to develop this platform so that it is really customised for lawyers’ use.

  1. Some of you may have participated in these engagements or seen publicity related to these sessions. I encourage everyone to get involved, as this initiative is a co-development effort with the industry.

  1. Hopefully, we can launch this sometime in early 2022.

  1. Conclusion

  1. So those are the four broad areas, macro areas, which MinLaw has been working on very closely and which are opportunities for many lawyers out there.

  1. Let me conclude by reiterating that the shift of economic gravity to Asia had already started pre-COVID-19, and if the numbers that I showed you earlier, and others that I have seen, are anything to go by, this trend will just carry on, COVID-19 or otherwise. If we can suppress COVID-19 in the next two to three years, I think that this growth will be even sharper.

  1. I believe technology will be a key enabler for lawyers to be a lot more productive, a lot more equipped and ready to take on such opportunities.

    1. You can cut down on what is more time-intensive but less front-facing work. We want our lawyers to be out there marketing, talking to clients, winning business and persuading people to use Singapore law, to use Singapore as a forum, and to win deals, bring companies into Singapore. So, the more we can free you from day-to-day mundane things with technology, the better.

  1. I'll leave it at that. It was a pleasure to be here! I hope that what I've said will spark some discussion as we go through today's sessions, and I also hope that it gives you some food for thought as to the legal landscape today.

  1. I will leave you with one parting shot - which is, don't look at legal practice as a domestic Singapore practice; look at it as an option to grow out of Singapore. The world is your oyster.

    1. Because if Singapore can retain its position, where our legal frameworks are, where our laws are, how well we are recognised, our socio-political stability, and our neutrality as a jurisdiction – all of these are the foundations of a really successful jurisdiction.

    1. You, as a young Singaporean lawyer, can use these opportunities as leverage to grow, coming out from Singapore, using Singapore as a base, attracting work into Singapore.

    1. And for your clients, the value proposition for them is that you can do it in Singapore, through Singapore or from Singapore, in many ways, which I've outlined.

  1. Thank you very much. I hope you have a pleasant day. Thank you once again to the team for inviting me here today.