Becoming a lawyer in Singapore, with Latham & Watkins

Singapore

Singapore: “a place for the adventurer, self-starter, explorer, and entrepreneur.” Lawyers from Latham & Watkins tell us what makes the city such an attractive destination to set up a career.

Chambers Careers: Can you give us a brief overview of the Singapore market? What issues are currently affecting legal work in the region?

Tommy Tan, corporate associate: Singapore operates as a business hub in the region, so we do tend to feel the ripple effect of the economic challenges faced by countries in the region. Political instability in any neighbouring country, such as India or Malaysia, would therefore tend to impact the transactions we work on. One of the legal challenges with doing transactions in the region is the diversity of legal systems that coexist in Southeast Asia, and part of the challenge (and excitement) of the job at Latham Singapore is to help clients navigate this landscape.

“The Singapore legal market is mature, with many of the same market-leading international firms that you would find in cities such as London and New York.”

Ashley Robson, finance associate: Two issues affecting my clients at the moment are the current downtrend in oil prices and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In both cases, these issues directly impact our clients’ businesses and existing deals – as a firm, we are well placed to advise on the risks posed and how these can be managed from a practical perspective.

Chambers Careers: What interested you in the Singapore market?

“The market is a place for the adventurer, self-starter, explorer, and entrepreneur.”

Charles Anderson, finance associate: As a project finance associate, Singapore is a really exciting place to work as there is high demand for infrastructure projects where you can act on lender and sponsor side. In the first couple of years I was in Asia, I worked on some significant deals including the Tanjung Jati B Coal Fired Power Plant (where I was seconded to the Latham & Watkins Tokyo office), the Cirebon 2 Expansion Project, the Muara Laboh Geothermal Power Plant, the Rantau Dedap Geothermal Power Plant and a solar power project in Myanmar. The opportunity to travel for business was also a major draw for me. I often travel to Jakarta and Tokyo for various deals. It can get tiring but the buzz of working on a significant power, LNG or renewables deal in another major hub hasn’t worn off yet!

Chambers Careers: How did you end up working in the Singapore office for Latham Watkins?

Kong Chuan Wei, finance associate: I read law in university, trained with an English firm in the UK and Singapore and moved laterally to Latham & Watkins in Singapore.

TT: I signed on for a training contract with Latham & Watkins in our London office. During my LPC year, I applied to do my training contract from the Singapore office as Latham was then just launching its English law training contract based out of Singapore. I was part of trainee batch number two for Latham’s English law training contract based out of Singapore.

AR: During my training contract [in London], I completed six-month seats with our UK debt capital markets, banking, and project finance teams, before completing my final six-month seat in the finance team in the Latham & Watkins Singapore office. I qualified into our project finance team in London, where I spent two years before transferring to the project finance team in our Singapore office.

Learn about the Singapore vacation scheme at Latham>>

 

CA: I trained with a UK law firm in London. On qualification I joined the projects and infrastructure team and focussed on domestic and European deals. I knew I wanted to move and work abroad, and I was lucky enough that a great opportunity came about at Latham & Watkins in Singapore where I would work on high profile global energy deals as an associate in the project finance team – right opportunity at the right time!

Chambers Careers: Is the work always international or do you do work on a lot of domestic matters?

AR: The deals that we advise on in the project finance team are invariably multi-jurisdictional, with sponsors and lenders from across the globe. I am currently working on deals based in the US, Indonesia, Thailand, Southeast Africa, Australia, Cyprus, Sweden and the UK. On those same deals, we additionally have clients and counsel in Singapore, the UAE, the Ukraine, Japan and the BVI.

Chambers Careers: Can you tell us about a matter you’ve worked on recently? What were your responsibilities?

AR: One of our recent high-profile matters that I assisted on was the $1.74 billion financing of the Cirebon coal-fired power plant expansion project in Indonesia, for which we represented the project sponsors. Despite being a junior on the deal, I was able to get involved on a wide range of matters, from drafting the shareholders’ agreement and financing deliverables such as legal opinions, to reviewing security documents and coordinating the ‘conditions precedent’ or ‘CP’ process, which involves managing the review and sign-off of hundreds of project deliverables by the lenders before funds are released for a project. 

KCW: I am primarily focussed on acquisition finance, special situations lending, margin loans and general banking with recent experience in project finance. Latham recently acted for a bulge-bracket private equity sponsor in connection with its joint acquisition of a hospital chain with operations in multiple Southeast Asian countries. I was responsible for drafting the facility agreement and working on the conditions precedent for the acquisition financing for that transaction. 

“As a trainee and newly qualified associate, you can add a lot of value in the relatively smaller offices of an international law firm in Singapore.”

Chambers Careers: What does a typical day in the office look like for you?

TT: I typically start off by catching up on my emails that have come in overnight given the various jurisdictions and time zones we work across. After getting through the emails and prioritising my work for the day, I have calls and emails with clients looking for advice on their matters. After the initial flurry of discussions (which hopefully ends by lunch), I get into drafting documents or managing the various transactions I am working on. This goes on for the rest of the afternoon and (on the good days) ends sometime during the early evening for dinner or a workout. On busy days, works goes later into the night of course, but we do get the flexibility to pick up work from home rather than the office if preferred!

CA: I’m writing this during COVID-19, so at the moment there is no typical day! Although the same could be said to be the case pre-COVID-19. Every day is different – that’s what makes this job interesting. If I’m in the middle of a deal I would typically participate in a lot of conference calls with our client and the counterparty’s lawyers discussing and negotiating various contracts, following which I would then draft the relevant contract.

“Singapore combines the seamless efficacy of a metropolitan city with tropical surroundings and superb food.”

Chambers Careers: What’s it like to live and work in Singapore?

AR: Singapore is by far my favourite city to live and work in – it combines the seamless efficacy of a metropolitan city with tropical surroundings and superb food. As an international hub, Singapore attracts people from around the world, which makes for a wonderfully diverse work and social life.  One of my favourite haunts is Lau Pa Sat, arguably Singapore’s most famous ‘hawker’ food centre built in the 1800s, where you can sit down for satay and a cold beer with friends while the city continues to bustle around you.

TT: I am biased having grown up in Singapore, but it is a great city to live in. The one thing I love is that Singapore gives access to so many interesting travel destinations around the region. 

CA: The “red dot” [Singapore’s nickname] is very well connected and there are endless opportunities to travel. In the last year I went to Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Tokyo, New Zealand, Bali, Jakarta, and Komodo (to see the Komodo Dragons!). The list goes on! I am so pleased that my wife and I moved here. I’ll never tire of it being 32 degrees every day; it makes playing sport so much better. I have joined a rowing club and row before going into work – even though training is still early in the morning at least it isn’t cold! 

Chambers Careers: What opportunities have you had in Singapore?

CA: I have been lucky enough to work on some ground-breaking deals with some really exceptional clients – some of whom have become my friends! The great thing about working in a smaller office in a foreign jurisdiction is that you are not constrained by your department. On any given day I could be working on project development documents, finance documents, corporate documents, or helping out on litigation matters! The variety and opportunities available in Singapore are fantastic.

“In five years’ time, I would very much hope to be at the negotiating table for some of the big power project deals currently in the pipeline for the Asia-Pacific region.”

KCW: Working in my home jurisdiction has made it easier to build client relationships especially with friends and peers from my schooling days in Singapore.

AR: Working in our Singapore office has been fantastic – I have had the opportunity to work closely with associates and partners from our Singapore and Tokyo offices on a variety of deals. Our project finance team in Singapore is smaller than that in our London office, which has the benefit of additional opportunities for trainees and juniors to step up to the challenge of taking on more responsibility from an early stage. In five years’ time, I would very much hope to be at the negotiating table for some of the big power project deals currently in the pipeline for the Asia-Pacific region.

“My first business trip overseas was in my third week of my training contract.”

TT: Starting out in Singapore has also allowed me to take on more responsibility than I ever would have imagined at another firm. My first business trip overseas was in my third week of my training contract and involved flying solo, which involved a lot of nerves but it’s definitely an experience I will never forget!

Chambers Careers: What advice would you give a trainee looking to qualify in Singapore?

AR: The Singapore legal market is mature, with many of the same market-leading international firms that you would find in cities such as London and New York. As a trainee and newly qualified associate, you can add a lot of value in the relatively smaller offices of an international law firm in Singapore, and really get to know your team members and clients in an exceptional work/life environment. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.

TT: The market is a place for the adventurer, self-starter, explorer, and entrepreneur. Do your research and have an idea of what you hope to get from being in Singapore but go in with an open mind!

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