Caymans-based offshore law firm Maples and Calder will use its new office in Singapore to increase its focus on clients in the Lion City and Southeast Asia, including hedge and mutual funds, private equity firms and trusts for high-net-worth individuals.

“The focus for the Singapore office is to give clients there and in Southeast Asia access to lawyers they can deal with locally, as well as to act as a springboard for new clients in that region,” says Hong Kong-based partner Spencer Privett.

Privett is head of the Hong Kong investment funds and trusts teams and has been practising in Asia for over 20 years.

“We’re seeing the continued development of the hedge fund industry in Singapore – although growth slowed following the global financial crisis probably due to regulatory uncertainty,” he tells AsianInvestor. “Now they have replaced the exempt fund manager regime, which should remove the uncertainty.”

The Lion City is also attractive as a location because it is the main financial centre for Southeast Asia, adds Privett. “The perception among clients in Southeast Asia is that Hong Kong is increasingly focused on Greater China; they feel a little left out and would prefer to be serviced by people dedicated to their region.”

Maples expects to see more activity out of Malaysia, given the market reforms that are under way and which should mean more outbound and inbound investment. There’s also likely to be more inbound investment into Indonesia into natural resources, he notes.

Privett also forecasts more flows into India via Singapore. The city-state has a double-taxation treaty with India, as does Mauritius, but the latter is under pressure due to concerns over economic “substance”. Given its standing as a regional financial centre, Singapore is more likely to pass the “substance” test, says Privett.

In addition to servicing investment firms across Singapore and Southeast Asia, Maples has a strong focus on the wealth management and family office space.

"We’re one of the only offshore law firms with a private client dedicated lawyer in Asia,” says Privett. Singapore will be a growing focus for Richard Grasby, who is based in Hong Kong, but Maples doesn’t rule out putting a dedicated private client lawyer in Singapore in the future.

Grasby has been in Maples’ Hong Kong office for around two years, and also has Jersey and Cayman experience, as well as fund management expertise.

Across Asia, Maples’ funds group has four partners (of whom Harrold has moved to Singapore), nine associates and five paralegals. Maples and Calder has over 100 staff across Asia and advises on the laws of the Cayman Islands, Ireland and the British Virgin Islands.

Some of Maples’ offshore law firm peers already have a presence in the Lion City. Conyers has had an office there since 2001, while Walkers opened one in February 2009, but Ogier does not as yet.

Singapore has also been attracting international onshore law firms in recent years, following deregulation of the legal industry there, starting in 2008. A first batch of licences was granted to international onshore law firms at the start of 2009, and another will be up for grabs in the next few months, says Privett, with several large firms having indicated they are seeking licences.