In-House Commerce - Singapore Review

Written by James Hickman

Given the ease and cost of setting up business in Singapore, and the proximity to the regional markets, many MNC’s are considering relocating their headquarters here. The introduction of the Fair Consideration Framework in 2016 slowed the recruitment process for junior positions as companies were pushed to source more local talent, but has not significantly affected 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 Singaporean firms where pay levels, although rising, remain within reach of in-house budgets. 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.

Many in-house commercial legal roles still have very broad remits and thus general corporate commercial lawyers continue to be able to traverse across many industries relatively easily. However, more senior mandates often came with specific industry knowledge, and specialised roles are becoming more and more common within in-house legal teams as larger MNCs and regional corporates are becoming more sophisticated and demanding of the legal and compliance functions.

The contract market for legal recruitment in Singapore remains active as it is becoming more common for companies taking on a project based lawyer to work on a 6 or 12-month basis. Law firm secondments remain common practice but due to budget constraints and attempts to reduce legal fees, employers are becoming more willing to seek out external contractors to fill needs.

Skills in Demand

The shortage of local talent with international experience 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, and the demand for regional language skills, such as Mandarin or Bahasa, is becoming more and more prevalent.

The most common specialist positions coming into the market include technology, data privacy, and intellectual property as well as employment law roles. With increased investment in technology, companies must also contend with increased IP risk, as well as increased data and cyber security risk. We have already begun to see a strong demand for expertise in this sector for lawyers with IP protection and data privacy/security expertise. This trend will continue into 2018.

Compliance and regulatory also remains one of the hottest areas with many lawyers being asked to head the function and develop the strategic framework for compliance across the organisation. Regulatory frameworks have historically not been as sophisticated in regional markets as they are in more mature jurisdictions such as the US or EU, however, that has begun to change as local and regional governments have grown more savvy and increased their enforcement capabilities.

PQE / Experience Monthly Salary (SG$) Average Annual Bonus
1 – 3 years 72,000 – 120,000 1 – 2 months
4 – 5 years 96,000 – 120,000 1 – 3 months
6 – 7 years 120,000 – 145,000 2 – 4 months
8 -9 years 140,000 – 190,000 3 – 5+ months
10-11 years 200,000 – 240,000 3 – 5+ months
12-13 years 240,000 – 250,000 3 – 5+ months
14 – 15 years 250,000 – 280,000 3 – 5+ months
15+ General Counsel 300,000 + 3 – 6+ months


Recruitment Challenge

Budget remains the number one challenge when sourcing talent with compensation for associates at law firms increasing at a faster rate than in-house peers creating a gap in the market, particularly at mid-senior levels. Mid-level hiring remains highly competitive thus inflating candidates’ expectations regarding salary increments at this level.

General Counsels with a pan-Asia remit were particularly focused on having at least one member of the team with Mandarin or Bahasa skills and demand for experienced and specialist lawyers based in Singapore with these language skills can be a challenge. 

Conversely, those GCs who choose to hire local lawyers on the ground in regional jurisdictions found hiring regionally far more difficult with lengthy delays in finding quality talent in markets such as Indonesia, Thailand and India.

Planning ahead for a regional search is critical and when factoring in notice periods, clients must often allow for up to six months to bring a regional hire on board.

For more information please contact -

James Hickman
Managing Partner
Singapore, Asia Pacific
+65 3157 9393