Welcome Address by Second Minister for Law Edwin Tong at 60th International Young Lawyers Congress
23 August 2022 Posted in [Speeches]
Ms Anna Wyrzykowska, President of International Association of Young Lawyers (AIJA)
The tremendous Organising Committee of the 60th International Young Lawyers Congress
1. First of all, good evening to everyone, and welcome.
2. Thank you very much for choosing Singapore as the location for the 60th anniversary of this congress. It is very meaningful for us that you have chosen to be in Singapore, and we look forward to the continued partnership we have with AIJA. And, if you look around the auditorium today, we are very grateful for so many thought leaders here, in Singapore, building these strong networks.
3. First of all, to be back in person like this, physically, seated one next to each other, meeting, greeting in person, instead of being on little zoom screens, makes a world of difference. And I add to what the host said earlier, about being here, enjoying the program, and also building networks. Because beyond just the academic program, what I hope we leave with, is a good network of fellow lawyers from across the globe. And of course, hopefully also strong and good memories of your time here in Singapore. I will say a little bit about Singapore and our wider region in Asia.
AIJA in Asia
4. Compared to 60 years ago, and you know, Singapore is only 57 years old this year, celebrated it a few weeks ago, there is a lot more trade and commerce coming into, or through Asia. If I may cite some numbers to you, that illustrates why I am optimistic about being a lawyer in Asia, in particular, a young lawyer in Asia.
Today, Asia accounts for:
· 60% of global foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows and 50% of global FDI outflows in the world.
· Asia is also responsible for 40% of global exports and takes in 35% of global imports.
· And today, Asia as a continent, contributes to 40% of GDP.
6. In addition to that, close to half of the Fortune 500 companies on the list are headquartered in Asia, and Asia is home to 50% of the world’s fastest-growing companies. All of these are not meant to give you a lesson in commerce or trade, but really to illustrate that there is a lot of business activity in and around Asia, coming into Asia or from Asia. Companies here are growing larger, getting a lot more involved in cross border trade, multi-party partnerships, and having a lot more bargaining power in the contract.
7. All of us here as lawyers, we all know that the legal service is a derived demand, meaning it is adjunct to, or supportive of the growth of business. When economic activity grows, the legal sector will grow. Indeed, according to Law.com’s Asia 50 ranking, the headcount of the 50 largest firms in Asia Pacific, grew by 13.5% in 2020, and 2020 was the start of COVID-19. That was the COVID-19 year.
8. So in my belief, there are lots of opportunities and these opportunities are only growing in Asia.
9. Singapore is fortunate to be in the heart of this region. I must say that we have been fortunate because we have benefited from it. MNCs looking to deepen their presence in Asia leverage Singapore as a whole, to build consumer insights, and develop product strategies for the local market. For instance, Dyson, those of you interested in their fantastic hairdryer, opened a new global headquarters here in Singapore, and will invest $1.5 billion in Singapore operations over the next four years. We have seen a huge rise in technology companies, global chip makers such as GlobalFoundries, Infineon, Micron, Siltronic, Soitec, United Microelectronics Corporation, just to name a few and I am sure many of them are at some stage or other, your clients, maybe even now. All of these companies come to Singapore, boosted by huge global demand for technology, and recently announced plans to increase their capacity here.
10. Some service providers have also set up further capabilities to understand the intricacies, specific to the Asian market, and to the Asian consumer. Most of the new law firm openings and expansion in Asia in 2021, were concentrated in Singapore. For example, Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, McDermott Will & Emery have opened new offices in Singapore in the past one year. At the same time, leading legal and dispute resolution institutions have also been set up here or expanded upon.
11. Maxwell Chambers today, is home to very many international organisations, whom we see as growing the landscape in Singapore, adding to the diversity, the vibrancy, and indeed the thought leadership, and certainly, the networks available in Singapore. The range of the diversity and vibrancy of businesses and firms across a whole spectrum of industries, as well as the global talent as a result of providing a good base for people to network from, makes Singapore unique in that proposition.
12. On that note, I will say makes it hopefully, in the eyes of AIJA, a place in which you can come partner with us, host more events, and connect to the region from or through Singapore.
13. For young lawyers, like many of you out there, there are also tremendous opportunities. First, in terms of choices and options. I came from the bar, I spent many years, in fact close to 25 years in practice, as a litigation counsel in a local law firm in Singapore. When I first started practice, it was a choice of joining a firm to practice law, joining the government, which I did not do at that time, or going in-house.There were not many other options in between.
14. But today, the options are multi-faceted and really varied. You can join a local firm and we develop the local firms here tremendously. You can join any one of the international firms who have a license to practice in Singapore, whether a US firm, a European firm, or a UK firm. You can join legal tech players and you know that they are in huge demand. In-house lawyers, dispute resolution institutions, organisations like International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), INSOL, International Bar Association (IBA), American Arbitration Association (AAA), and so on. All of these are options now for a young lawyer coming out into practice.
15. Second, in terms of practice areas, again, we used to be pigeon-holed into - are you a corporate lawyer, a transactional lawyer, or a disputes lawyer. But today, I think it is really a lot more varied. If truth be told, the way in which business is conducted, where business lines do not quite follow the way in which we used to traditionally structure our law firms, we now look at it no longer as a silo industry. You look at it as a multi-discipline and across a range of different expertise and disciplines.
16. In addition, new areas like FinTech, cryptocurrency, blockchain, climate change, sustainability, these are all areas, topical areas that did not come to light when I first came out into practice, and a lot more options are now presenting themselves for young lawyers.
17. At the same time, there are greater challenges that lawyers do face. Increasing client demands as practice becomes a globalised practice. clients have also become a lot more sophisticated, more knowledgeable, making their demands a lot more complex. There is competition that arises from AI, technology, and alternative legal service providers. Therefore, keeping up with technology, to better support our own practices, is going to be key.
18. This situation, no doubt exacerbated by COVID-19, or at least accelerated. The line between local and overseas firms become blurred, blurred in the sense that we used to have fairly clear geographical domains. But today, you can be sitting in the middle of one country, serving clients from a second country, operating, litigating, maybe doing your counsel work from a third country. All of this can happen while sitting in the same place at the same time. The clients can also technically choose any lawyer they want in the world to service them, because of technology. So with the world becoming a lot more borderless, technology-driven, where transactions are a lot more multi-party and cross jurisdictions, it is important for all lawyers to build strong networks. Strong networks are what will see the lawyer of tomorrow through the demands of practice.
19. On that note, when I glanced at the programme, I think this week’s programme for you, allows you to achieve a lot of that. It has a good balance of both academic content and also tremendous opportunities for participants to interact, to bond, to get to know one another. The signature home hospitality program where local lawyers will have the opportunity and the privilege to host fellow participants over dinner is tremendous. We say in Singapore, good food, good company, transcends all language and cultural differences.
20. I hope that some of you will also be staying on longer in Singapore, after we have our football match on Friday. I am looking forward to that by the way; please do not be too hard on me. I hope that some of you will also make a note, if you have the time, to stay on for the Singapore Convention Week, next week. This will be a further opportunity for you to connect with fellow practitioners from Singapore and also around the world.
21. As you know, in 2019, we signed the Singapore Convention on Mediation here in Singapore. We have made it a point to host the Convention Week, every year around August, September, to commemorate the occasion. Of course, COVID interrupted those plans tremendously. But this year, we are able to come back like you have here, in full force, and we hope that some of you will make yourselves available.
22. Before I end, I want to go back to my original point of thanking and commending the Organising Committee for the tremendous job that has been done. I know it must have been very challenging – the anxious wait over whether we can do this or do that, whether we can sit together, whether we can host the event, whether we can have a drink at the reception. All of these small minute details must have been looked at by the Organising Committee in great detail. AIJA continues to organise many of the events and activities, being very proactive, front footing on a broad range of topics, precisely because they want to support the young lawyers community.
23. I think it is really important for us to take the opportunity to grow those efforts, to get to know one another, and to leave Singapore, as I said, with a whole network, with a whole Rolodex of names and contacts. Because if there is one thing I found very useful when I was in practice, was the ability to have a friend in a different jurisdiction, in a different time zone, in a different country, with a different set of laws, in a different legal system, to run suggestions past them, to just pick up the phone and have a chat. This benefits all of us mutually, and benefits our clients. I think, in that way, it makes the world a smaller place. I hope that AIJA can achieve that.
24. Thank you very much once again for inviting me here this evening to share this occasion with you, all the best this week, and see you all on Friday. Thank you.
Last updated on 23 August 2022