The joint law venture (JLV) announced last week in Singapore by Lovells and Lee & Lee, represents the latest in a string of international and local tie ups since the Singapore government announced the liberalization of the local legal market.

Lovells Lee & Lee - as the JLV is called - will handle most of the work that the existing two firms do in Singapore with the exception of conveyancing and litigation. Lovell’s Senior Partner, Paul Supramanian, describes the new structure as "the best conduit for lawyers from each firm to channel their energies through".

The structure will allow the firm to combine onshore and offshore legal services in one firm. "This is much more efficient for clients as it will cut through layers and layers of lawyers," says Supramanian. "It also creates a bigger pool of talent and a better blend of resources with more specialization in focus practice areas. In sum, clients will get better service, as we will be global yet local and local yet global."

It has also been revealed that the firm has won a major mandate to provide legal services on Sembawang's bid for the fifth Waste to Energy Incineration project in Singapore, which will require exactly the kind of multi-disciplinary approach the JLV hopes to offer. Indeed, Sembawang cited this multi disciplinary approach, including on and offshore advice, as well as the larger combination of practice areas such as technical, environmental and financial advice as the main reason for appointing Lovells Lee & Lee.

The signing of the JLV comes after nine months of courtship between Lovells and Lee & Lee. Lee & Lee is one of the most prestigious law firms in Singapore, founded by Senior Minister Lee Kwan Yew and his brother nearly fifty years ago.

As with other areas of the Singapore economy, the government has been slowly but deliberately liberalizing the legal market over the past few years and set up a Legal Services Committee to oversee the process. It was announced in early 2000 that JLVs could be set up by June 15th of that year. Initially, it was thought there would be five licensed JLVs.

Lovells started talking to Lee & Lee in May 2000 and within six weeks the pair had submitted their plans for a JLV to the Attorney General's Office. It was something of a coup for Lovells, as Lee & Lee had had an informal tie up with Norton Rose for 17 years previously.

The venture's success in large part depends on the further development of a liberalized, internationalized economy in Singapore, as well as its further positioning as the main regional financial and business centre in South East Asia. That this deal is going ahead now is probably a leading indicator that Singpaore fully intends to be just such a place.