Mrs Lee, who’s , managing partner of Morgan Lewis Stamford and the wife of Lee Hsien Yang, said that the scheme hasn’t done enough to benefit local lawyers.
Speaking at a Law Society lecture last month, she cited the Qualifying Foreign Law Practice (QFLP) scheme, which allows foreign law firms to practise in permitted areas of local law through Singapore qualified lawyers.
Mrs Lee said that the six original QFLP firms generated S$1.2 billion in revenue between 2009 and 2014.
However, those firms only hired about “100 out of thousands of Singapore-qualified lawyers,” said Mrs Lee, who added that the foreign law firms are giving local law firms a run for their money.
The Law Ministry has refuted Mrs Lee’s comments.
It said that the scheme opened up new opportunities for Singaporean lawyers who were keen to do transnational commercial work
MinLaw also said that opening up the legal sector to foreign law firms also allowed local lawyers to gain exposure to niche areas not previously easily available and gave opportunities to young local lawyers.
The ministry added that for 2014/2015, the nine foreign firms granted QFLP status generated S$340 million in revenue.
Of this, 80 percent came from offshore work, or work that could have been done elsewhere.
Exports of legal services in 2014, it said, were worth S$700 million, and out of this $400 million was contributed by foreign law firms.
In response to this, Mrs Lee said:
“Singapore lawyers need to go regional, with or without QFLPs. And there are many opportunities for Singapore lawyers to tap overseas opportunities, as more local and international firms tie up. This calls for a mindset change. Singapore lawyers need to leave their comfort zone and think regional, think international and venture beyond the shores of Singapore.”
MinLaw also pointed out that Mrs Lee had previously sought to join the scheme in 2014, but her proposal was rejected as the ministry “had specific periods when it invited applications from everyone, then considered the best applicants”.
Mrs Lee’s criticism comes on the back of a family feud involving the Lee family which has gained global attention.
In that feud, PM Lee’s sister, Lee Wei Ling, accused her brother sullying her father Lee Kuan Yew’s name in his attempts to build a dynasty.