Singapore Legal Salary Survey 2015

Singapore Legal Salary Survey 2015

almost 4 years ago by Aquis Search

We are pleased to announce the publication of our Singapore Legal Salary Survey 2015.

Please click here to view the PDF version.


Aquis Search is delighted to present its legal salary survey for Singapore 2015. The aim of this survey is to provide guidance to clients and candidates on current compensation levels and examine changing trends in the private practice, in-house financial services and in-house commerce market in Singapore. Our  information has been researched and collated with the help of our clients, candidates and from our knowledge of the marketplace. As with all surveys, the ranges represent the mainstream view and there will be situations that fall outside the ranges published here. Therefore, please use this survey as a guide and do not hesitate to call one of our consultants to discuss individual cases. Coverage Our Singapore legal survey covers the private practice, in-house financial services and in-house commerce community. Information on each can be found below.


Market Update

As Singapore continues to develop as a legal hub, competition remains strong amongst the local, international and US law firms. Four international law firms had their qualifying foreign law practice (QFLP) licence renewed for 5 years. These firms will continue to make an ongoing commitment to hiring Singaporean lawyers into their international setups.

With an additional 4 QFLP law firms operating in Singapore and several joint ventures combining international law and local advocacy, the market has stabilised in terms of new entrants with existing firms competing for the same business and cost pressures becoming a major challenge for everyone. Firms are looking for creative ways to enhance their competitive edge and some have set up regional offices to leverage off their Singapore base as a way of growing their revenues. More recently, a merger announcement to create the world’s largest law firm, emphasised the demand for providing legal services to Chinese companies looking to invest overseas.

The overall growth of the legal industry across South East Asia has increased the demand for lawyers, particularly those with specialised skill sets making the search for talent a challenging one. The demand has tended to be highest for junior to mid-level associates with Singapore admission being increasingly attractive. Despite local law firms raising salaries, they face a continuing battle to retain staff and a recent move by one leading Singaporean Law firm to do away with its variable bonus component towards a more international remuneration style model is an interesting one. Also, the more recent influx of mid-market entrants to Singapore has resulted in stiff competition to retain top legal talent amongst the international firms.

Global MNC’s with operations in Southeast Asia are seeking to take advantage of sustained regional growth with a recent economic survey citing appetite to acquire is at two-year high with one in two corporates saying they are pursuing an acquisition over the next 12 months, and 72% pursuing two or more deals in their pipeline. Encouraging growth rates and attractive manufacturing costs are likely to further stimulate deal flow in the region meaning continued demand for M&A lawyers.

From an IPO perspective, it was a much quieter year here in Singapore with deals hard to come by, suppressed liquidity and a preference for low interest debt over relatively high transactional costs in the equity markets. In Malaysia, overall volume in the IPO Market fell in 2014 but the market remains stable with sustainable growth prospects. Malaysia expects its Islamic capital market assets to double to $1 trillion by 2020. In Indonesia, despite domestic political uncertainties, the stock market faired well with a strong increase in market capitalization for the JCI.

Singapore remains a popular disputes/arbitration hub both geographically and as a neutral, efficient and reliable jurisdiction for the international business community within a strong, regional, emerging market. We saw some midlevel instructions within the more established international arbitration practices. Nevertheless, it is the local players and leading international law firms that continue to dominate this market and with the development of the international commercial court which launched at the beginning of the year complete with a mediation centre, Singapore is now equipped with offering all three types of dispute resolution.

Lawyers with both contentious and non-contentious regulatory/advisory experience remained in demand. We have seen a particular increase in demand for lawyers with experience in compliance, regulatory or investigation work and we are seeing international firms developing their practices in fraud and AML within the life sciences and pharmaceutical industries.

The energy markets have remained notably active as countries in the region have continued to invest particularly in Malaysia and Indonesia and whilst there has been a sustained demand for lawyers with experience in this field, it will be interesting to see how a drop in oil prices affects the market moving forwards. As an oil producer, Malaysia has certainly seen a severe economic impact but for countries like Vietnam which is both producer and consumer, there are mixed effects.

The asset/aviation/shipping finance space also remained busy with movement amongst some of the key players here in Singapore. We have also seen a growth in the demand for Technology, IP and TMT lawyers where until recently there has been a shortage of specialized lawyers available. We have seen a few high profile moves in this space and briefs for associates possessing specialised skill sets will continue. Similarly in the insurance sector, firms who entered the market over the last few years have been gaining traction quickly within the sector, and demand for their expertise has increased market share.



UK Firms salaries


US Firms (US Dollars)


Local firms (SG Dollars)



Overall, a shortage of talent remains the greatest challenge within the market and with the growth in specialised areas such as compliance, investigations, TMT as well as the sustained demand for strong


Year In Review

Hiring in financial services picked up in Singapore throughout 2014 with much of the demand for new AVP/VP roles and replacement positions. Employers continued to consider internal candidates first even if that meant looking globally before taking a role to the market. The impact of the fair consideration framework which came into force from 1st August 2014 meant that all employers in Singapore are expected to consider Singaporeans fairly for job vacancies with roles paying less than $12,000.

In this salary review, we review key trends and how they impact lawyers and hiring in the investment banking, asset management, private banking and insurance sectors. We also review the growing compliance and regulatory landscape and access how the market will shape up for lawyers and employers in 2015.

Skills In Demand

Again, unprecedented levels of scrutiny from the regulators led to an uptick in hiring in the regulatory space but less so in the litigation defense space. If anything there was a shift in emphasis from 2013-2014, as banks recognized the need to put in place teams and measures that will mitigate against the recourse to disputes and banking litigation. This has meant that lawyers with local, regional and global regulatory experience have increasingly been in demand and with the implementation of the Data Privacy Act here in Singapore and companies becoming increasingly aware of their overseas exposure to emerging markets, anti – bribery and corruption skill sets have also been in demand.

Although many lawyers have traditionally preferred deal flow work, there is an increasing recognition about where the opportunities are, and this has increased interest in regulatory compliance focused roles for lawyers with cross border financial markets expertise. We have noted a number of lawyers moving into the compliance function and an increasing number of leadership positions taken up by counsels.

Industries In Review

Investment Banking 

From an investment banking perspective, we saw a decrease in IPO’s in Singapore meaning that Capital Markets lawyers were less in demand. 2014 was very much about the growth in M&A activity across South East Asia with a visible surge in the first half of 2014.


Hiring within ISDA negotiation teams stabilised off the back of a busy 2013, although where banks were hiring the preference remained for ISDA negotiators with legal qualifications and some regulatory experience. Given the paucity of talent available in the market, finding legally qualified ISDA Negotiators remained challenging with lateral moves often predicated on an employer agreeing to pay a premium to secure the right candidate.

Private Banking 

Singapore has continued to grow as a regional hub for private banks. According to the World Wealth Report 2014, HNWI growth continues to accelerate and whilst overall financial wealth will continue its upward trend of around 6.9 percent annually through to 2016, the Asia-Pacific region is likely to emerge as a clear leader, with 9.8 percent annual growth rate. Candidates with local qualification tend to be essential with product or regulatory experience and we have seen continued demand for lawyers with funds, derivatives or investment banking experience. Those with experience managing and advising on the regulatory landscape were busy; those in smaller banks often wore two hats – legal and compliance.

Asset Management 

Opportunities within asset management have also increased with new players entering the market and demand for funds lawyers with strong product and regulatory advisory experience. However, teams tend to be lean and in some cases legal counsels reporting into regional GC’s. Whilst this affords greater independence and exposure to a wider range of fund related work, in some instances lawyers looking for further career development considered more commercial roles working closer with the business. Also, some of the larger government backed funds with major operations across Asia with relatively larger legal teams were sought after by candidates.


Singapore’s insurance industry is made up of international, local and government backed insurers and reinsurers servicing the local and regional markets. Growth in the industry in recent years has led to a significant shortage of talent but demand for new hires and replacements roles remains in what has been a fairly fluid year in terms of movement. Poaching remains commonplace within the industry and clients are increasingly open to considering legal candidates with banking or financial services experience in-house or from private practice. In some cases, those with industry expertise are being relocated from international markets to take up opportunities in the city but with last year being dominated by plans to change the regulatory environment for insurance providers, mostly through new standards, local and regional experience will be increasingly sought after.


Investment Banking

Level/ No. of Years ExperienceMonthly Base Salary (SGD)Bonus
0-2 years8,00011,0001-2 months
3-5 years10,50018,0001-3 months
6-8 years17,00025,0002-4 months
9-11 years20,00030,0002-5 months
12+ years25,00040,0003-6 months

ISDA Negotiators

Level/ No. of Years ExperienceMonthly Base Salary (SGD)Bonus
0-2 years4,0008,0001-3 months
3-5 years7,00012,0002-4 months
6-8 years10,00015,0002-5 months
9-11 years14,00020,0002-6 months
12+ years16,00025,0003-6+ months

Private Banking

Level/ No. of Years ExperienceMonthly Base Salary (SGD)Bonus
0-2 years6,50010,0002-4 months
3-5 years8,00015,0003-6 months
6-8 years12,00020,0003-6 months
9-11 years15,00023,0003-7 months
12+ years20,00035,0005+ months

Funds/ Asset Management/ Investment Management

Level/ No. of Years ExperienceMonthly Base Salary (SGD)Bonus
0-2 years7,00010,0001-3 months
3-5 years9,50014,0003-6 months
6-8 years13,00020,0004-6 months
9-11 years18,00026,0004-8 months
12+ years22,00035,0008+ months



Level/ No. of Years ExperienceMonthly Base Salary (SGD)Bonus
0-2 years5,0007,0000-2 months
3-5 years6,50012,0000-3 months
6-8 years9,00016,0001-3 months
9-11 years14,00025,0002-4 months
12+ years15,00035,0004+ months

Overall, the industry understands that consolidation and slower growth has translated into lower packages and a general downturn in total compensation over the last five years. Salary expectations have also marginally decreased in recent years reflecting the new investment banking environment and a general understanding of what the market can afford so increments of between 20 – 30% have been replaced by employers offering closer to 10 - 15%. That said, in the more specialized areas such as within ISDA/Derivatives and financial services regulatory, legal counsels operating at the top end of the market continue to attract a premium. With the growth of the private banking and asset management industries across the region, we will continue to see demand for lawyers in this space which will in turn increase competition and possibly remuneration packages. In terms of bonus, announcements have been mainly flat and in line with market expectations with the odd exception. Generally its been a tough year for investment banking with deals hard to come by and only the top performers being rewarded.

Forecast For 2015

Personality and cultural fit continue to play a crucial role in determining who is chosen amongst final candidates and remains a subjective element of the recruitment process. As we have outlined above, employers face new challenges in adapting to the new fair consideration framework in a climate where regulatory scrutiny and change are evolving so fast, meaning that the search for talent across the financial services industries will remain a challenging one.


Year In Review

Singapore remains the largest commerce hub for the South East Asia region hosting numerous US, UK and European multinationals across multiple industries. Given the ease and cost of setting up here, the close proximity to regional markets and the strong candidate appetite to live/work here, some of our clients in North Asia have also been reviewing whether to relocate their headquarters to this city. The introduction of the Fair Consideration Framework slowed the recruitment process for junior positions as companies were pushed to source more local talent, but remained relatively unaffected for senior level hiring.

Private practice lawyers from the leading local firms remain in demand from both the in-house market and the international firms. These lawyers typically come from a handful of well known local firms where pay levels remained within reach of in-house budgets. Local law firms are competing with international law firms that can offer strong law firm training, international transactions, along with excellent salaries. As the international law firms have grown in Singapore, more locally admitted lawyers have been taken on and are now producing strong talent for the in-house markets. Associates continue to cite career path and work life balance when considering a switch in-house, however, those coming from the international law firms typically have to assess the full picture in the context of a prospective salary reduction.

Most General Counsels found hiring in Singapore far easier than the rest of the region with lengthy delays in finding talent in markets such as Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. Planning ahead for a regional search is critical and clients often gave us up to six months advanced notice. Typically the average corporate role tends to have a general commercial ‘all round flavour’ to them with the usual requisite mix of both private practice and in-house experience. In contrast, we have also seen some specialist positions coming into the market including employment and data privacy roles. Compliance and regulatory remains one of the hottest markets with many lawyers being asked to head the function and develop the strategic framework for the compliance function in an organisation. Despite the salaries and titles on offer for these roles, finding lawyers who are comfortable moving into these roles has remained a challenge and employers continue to seek such professionals either internally or from overseas.

Most teams are made up of a mix of local and foreign admitted lawyers and hiring managers often look for complementary skill sets to balance out capabilities including knowledge of a particular country, language or core legal skills. Those with a pan-Asia remit were particularly focused on having at least one member of the team with Mandarin or Bahasa skills. Like with most managers, personality fit and CV stability were also key determinants of any hiring decision.

In addition to law firm secondments, the contract market for legal recruitment in Singapore remains active with some of our clients taking on a project based lawyer to work on a 6 or 12 month basis. Law firm secondments remain common practice but where law firms themselves were stretched for talent, employers sought out external contractors to fill the need.

Most general corporate commercial lawyers traversed across different industries relatively easily, however, more senior mandates often came with specific industry knowledge. The IT and the Internet industry stand out as some of the larger employers in the market and typically demand lawyers from the industry complete with strong drafting and contract management experience, data privacy knowledge to the ability to negotiate complex customer agreements. The chemical industry also remains vibrant in Singapore and lawyers with strong industry knowledge who can support the business on sales, procurement and distribution agreements are in demand.

The IP market in Singapore is healthy and growing with Singapore receiving the top ranks in Asia for its comprehensive laws in patent, enforcement and trademark protection. The country is striving to further develop itself in the next decade as an IP hub making it an attractive platform for investors and technology companies. Much of the IP growth is occurring in the technology sector with companies looking for qualified patent attorneys who have strong patent and general IP legal skills to support their work in research and development.

Skills in Demand

Singapore admitted lawyers with relevant corporate commercial experience gained from private practice and in-house remain in demand. With Singapore being the hub for many MNCs, those with regional or South Asia Pacific experience are looked upon favourably. The shortage of local talent with international experience and commercial skills has meant Singapore continues to provide opportunities for foreign lawyers. However, expat packages are limited and only on offer for senior level hires at the GC or equivalent level.

With the broader portfolio that most Singapore corporate lawyers are expected to cover, we found employers have become flexible on bar qualifications but not at the expense of core skills. Given that Singapore based lawyers often have the unique challenge of providing legal services to their clients across a variety of countries; senior lawyers are expected to travel. With the legal and regulatory risk in many of the countries typically under the remit of Singapore based counsels, expectations about how to handle in-country issues has risen.

Recruitment Challenges

With changing government regulations, hiring managers will continue to place an emphasis on bringing in local talent as they seek to hire the most suitable candidates available in the market. The in-house budget remains the number one challenge when sourcing talent with compensation from the law firms moving at a faster rate than in-house peers creating a gap in the market. Mid level hiring remains the most popular compounding candidate expectations on salary increments. In contrast, senior hires are far less common and more manageable as candidates look for other factors in considering a move.


In recent years, many of our clients have moved up compensation given the limited talent pool of strong mid level local candidates and offer increments of 15 to 20% to attract top talent.

Candidates with high in demand skills such as IP or a regulatory background can expect to command an increment of 15 to 25%. In addition to compensation, companies are focusing on other ways to retain or attract top talent in the market by offering career progression opportunities within the organisation that may include a regional portfolio or team leading responsibilities.

PQE/ ExperienceMonthly Salary Range (SGD)Average Annual Bonus
1-3 years5,000- 85,0001- 2 months
4-7 years8,000 - 14,0001-3 months
8-10 years12,000 - 18,0002-4 months
11-14 years17,000 - 28,0002-5+ months
15+ General Counsel25,000 - 35,000+3-5+ months


The Singapore legal market will continue to grow and develop in line with the city’s importance as a regional hub. The market will remain most buoyant for mid-level corporate lawyers and for those with specialist expertise in areas such as employment, data privacy and TMT will increasingly be favoured as legal teams further develop their in-house expertise. Counsels with strong cross jurisdictional knowledge will also be wellregarded and those with deep knowledge of countries such as Indonesia will be particularly marketable. Local qualifications are often preferred but local experience is crucial and most inhouse moves with few exceptions have come from the local or regional markets.