Quinn Emanuel sets up shop in Singapore

Office led by partner Duncan Watson KC recognises city-state’s arbitration prowess


Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan (QE) has opened in Singapore, citing the city-state’s importance as an arbitration hub.

The office is led by international arbitration partner Duncan Watson KC, who has relocated from Hong Kong. He will be supported by Asia managing partner John Rhie, who will split his time between Hong Kong and Singapore.  

The firm’s new Singapore operation will adhere to the city-state’s Foreign License Practitioner (FLP) regulations, focusing on international arbitration, multi-jurisdictional litigation, international regulatory advice and investigations.

It will be the firm’s 10th office in QE’s Asia and Australia portfolio. The firm also has offices in Abu Dhabi, Beijing, Doha, Hong Kong, Perth, Riyadh, Shanghai, Sydney and Tokyo.

QE said the decision to open in Singapore – first flagged in November 2023 – reflected a forward-thinking approach and commitment to meeting the needs of its clients. It promised associate hires in due course.

John Quinn, QE’s founder and chairman, emphasised the strategic nature of the decision, stating that “we have had significant Singapore nexus work for many years. With the evolution of South East Asia and India, and the growing importance of Singapore globally, it became increasingly clear we needed to have a physical presence on the ground”. 

The firm’s investment in a Singapore practice is backed up by case statistics released by the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) in April which recorded its second-highest case load last year, with 663 new cases filed. Of these, 93% were internationally focused.

Indian arbitration work makes up a significant proportion of cases heard at both SIAC and other Singapore-seated arbitrations and ancillary work at the Singapore International Commercial Court, while Singapore is increasingly seen as a common law disputes forum of choice following concerns over the rule of law in Hong Kong. 

Watson, a dual-qualified Australian and English solicitor, was appointed King’s Counsel for England and Wales in 2021 at 37. He made partner at QE in Sydney as part of the firm’s 2016 partner round.  

He said: “Singapore plays an increasingly important role in the global economy. Many of our clients are flocking here, and the prevalence of cross-jurisdictional cases continues to grow. Quinn Emanuel has been a leader in helping clients with disputes across the Asia-Pacific region and plans to continue this role.”

Quinn Emanuel is one of the few law firms in Asia offering an in-house arbitration specialist KC. Herbert Smith Freehills is another, thanks to Simon Chapman KC, who is based in Hong Kong and was recently appointed as co-head of the firm’s international arbitration practice 

Sapna Jhangiani, a former partner at law firm Clyde & Co Clasis Singapore, became a silk in 2020, while Fountain Court’s Matthew Gearing KC recently became the first former solicitor called to the Singapore Bar, earlier this year. 

Since 2020, a significant number of US firms have set up shop in Singapore, including Goodwin Proctor, Greenberg Traurig, Baker Botts, Orrick and Cooley.

In April, Australian insurance firm Wotton + Kearney opened its first overseas office in the city-state and in March Singapore’s Legal Services Regulatory Authority granted UK law firm Trowers & Hamlins its Foreign Law Practice licence.

Other firms to follow suit include Australian insurance firm Wotton + Kearney, which officially opened in Singapore in April. Singapore’s Legal Services Regulatory Authority granted UK law firm Trowers & Hamlins its Foreign Law Practice licence in March.

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