Every Singaporean parent wants a lawyer in the family, but strangely, few people are ever that happy when they have to consult one themselves.
You too might one day find yourself looking for law firms in Singapore. Hopefully, it has nothing to do with defending yourself in a terrible lawsuit or being accused of committing a heinous crime. You might simply be buying a home, looking for the best way to store your wealth or selling your start-up for a billion dollars (one can always dream).
Whatever the reason, here’s how to find a lawyer in Singapore, and what to expect.
When and why would you need a lawyer?
Here are some reasons you might need to engage a lawyer.
Buying property – If you are buying private property, or are purchasing HDB property and are not using an HDB lawyer, you will need a lawyer to handle the transaction for you.
Getting a divorce – While it is possible to file for divorce without the help of a lawyer, it is not a good idea if you and your ex-to-be don’t agree on certain things.
You own a business – As your business grows, you will probably need to seek legal advice at some point, whether you’re drawing up contracts, growing the business, trying to protect your intellectual property rights, etc.
You’re changing your name – Sick of everyone making fun of you for that ill-chosen name your parents gave you? A lawyer can draft a deed poll so you can legally change your name.
You’re writing a will – While you don’t need a lawyer to create a valid will, it’s safer to use one if you want to be absolutely sure you’re doing things right.
You’re involved in a lawsuit or want to sue someone – You’ll need lawyers to run the case for you so you get the compensation you’re looking for, stop the other side from doing so or help you come to a settlement.
You’ve committed an offence – Whether you’ve been caught drunk at a roadblock or you’re involved in a City Harvest-type scandal, a good lawyer can defend you.
Which law firms in Singapore should you use?
Before engaging a law firm, it is important to know that legal fees and the quality of work can vary wildly. As a general rule of thumb, the bigger the firm, the more they charge.
If you don’t have much cash, you’re better off looking for a community lawyer in a small firm.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for representation for a huge corporation with a giant amount of paperwork, a larger firm will have the resources (and an unlimited supply of trainees and interns) to plough through all of it.
What’s more, except in huge matters, the individual lawyer you’re working with can be more important that the firm you’re picking. Some very good lawyers leave big firms to start smaller practices, while many teams in big firms run on the backs of neophytes who are fresh out of law school. For this reason, many people pick their lawyers through word of mouth.
You should also know that many lawyers, especially in bigger firms, specialise only in one or two areas of law. If you approach a corporate lawyer about that new divorce you’re going through, he’s going to refer your case to some other lawyer in the firm who does matrimonial law.
That being said, here are some well known law firms in Singapore.
PKWA Law Practice LLC – They’re well-known for their big conveyancing department and relatively affordable prices, and so are worth checking out if you’re buying property.
Eversheds Harry Elias – Have things gone south with your spouse? They have one of the most reputable matrimonial departments in Singapore.
Allen & Gledhill – One of the “big 4” local firms, they have, well, a lot of lawyers and some of the biggest deals. So if you’ve got a huge or high-value matter and are wiling to pay, they should have the manpower and expertise you need.
Baker Mackenzie Wong & Leow – They’re one of the bigger names in intellectual property law.
How much do law firms in Singapore charge?
While there is no standard fee structure, in general lawyers charge either a fixed fee or by the hour.
Fixed fee: This is when they charge you a lump sum for the entire matter. Matters that are charged in this manner tend to be non-contentious and predictable/routine, such as real estate purchases, drafting of wills and deed polls, and drafting of business/loan contracts. Make sure you ask the lawyer if the quotation includes disbursements (e.g. printing charges, lodgment of documents with government registries) or not.
Hourly: Matters in which you are in dispute with another party tend to be charged by the hour. The lawyers have to charge an hourly fee as they do not know how much work will be involved and to what extent the case might blow up. You will pay a higher hourly rate for a more senior/experienced lawyer. So if a fee quote is too high, try asking if there is a cheaper junior lawyer you could use instead. Your bill can also be capped at a maximum. So if you have a maximum sum that you can afford to spend, you can ask lawyer if it would be possible to cap his fees at that sum.
For larger or contentious matters, you might be asked to pay a deposit before the lawyer will commence work.
Always ask the lawyer for a fee quote before you agree to engage him. If you are visiting the lawyer’s office for the first time so he can assess your case, ask if the first consultation will be free.
And here’s a final tip: if you’re a regular customer or have some kind of personal connection with the lawyer, ask if you can get a discount on the fees. Lawyers are often happy to dish out discounts if it means that you’ll keep coming back.
While legal fees can vary wildly from firm to firm depending on how complicated a matter is, here are some sample prices for common types of matters:
Property purchase – $1,500 to $5,000, depending on whether you’re buying HDB/private, completed/uncompleted property, and the value of your property.
Will – $100 to $500 for simple wills
Deed poll – $100 to $300
Uncontested divorce – $1,500 to $5,000
How do you find and engage a lawyer in Singapore?
Engaging a lawyer is as easy as picking up the phone, asking for a fee quote and making that first appointment.
For contentious matters, the lawyer may not be willing to provide a fee quote until you make a first appointment, so ask if that first meeting will be free.
Before you show up at the lawyer’s office for the first time, ask for a list of documents and information you’ll need to provide so that you can avoid wasting the lawyer’s time, which you might be paying for.
Also ask when you’re expected to foot the bill and whether you will need to furnish a deposit before the lawyer starts work.
For matters in which your lawyer will need to collect multiple payments from you for various things (e.g. a property purchase in which you will need to pay stamp duty and downpayment through the lawyer), ask for a timeline so you can prepare your all payments in advance.
Can you get free legal advice in Singapore?
Yes! Here are some places to get free legal advice:
Community legal clinics by Law Society of Singapore – See a volunteer lawyer for 20 minutes at the Law Society’s legal clinics run in four locations four days a week. You can only go for this once, so do your research and make sure you really can’t find the answer before you show up.
SMU Pro Bono Centre – If you earn less than $3,500 per month or have a combined income of less than $5,550/$5,660 (without/with kids) as a couple, you can seek advice for personal matters on Friday evenings at the SMU Pro Bono Centre.
Family Court Legal Clinic – Free 20 minute consultations for family-related matters.
AWARE Legal Clinic – Ladies only! This bi-monthly, 20-30 minute legal clinic is for women with an income of under $3,000 a month who are not currently represented by a lawyer.
Criminal Legal Aid Scheme – Many lawyers take on criminal cases on a pro bono basis in their spare time, meaning they charge their customers nothing. In order to qualify for pro bono legal services, you need to go through means testing, as they’re meant only for the underprivileged.
Legal Help website – This website is a free legal forum where members of the public can ask questions and get answers from volunteer lawyers and other members of the community.
Know the Law booklet – This is a free booklet published by the Law Society and targeted at educating the general public on areas of the law they’re likely to encounter. It can be downloaded online.
Have you ever used a lawyer’s services in Singapore? Share your experiences in the comments.