English law firm Expatriate Law Ltd have announced the formation of their branch office in Singapore, ‘Expatriate Law (Asia) Pte. Ltd’. The branch office is a Foreign Law Practice approved by the Ministry of Law in Singapore and regulated by the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority in England.
Expatriate Law (Asia) Pte. Ltd will provide English divorce and family law advice to British expats and families with links to England who are living in Singapore and across South East Asia.
The Singapore team will be based at Singapore Land Tower in Raffles Place, and will be developed by Sonny Patel who is a partner of the firm. We conducted an e-interview with Sonny to learn about his experience as an international family lawyer and how he decided to set up a foreign practice in Singapore.
Sonny is an English solicitor with 13 years of post-qualification experience in English family law. He trained and practised exclusively in central London law firms prior to joining Expatriate Law in 2014 where he led their Dubai office.
What made you choose to be a lawyer, and what drives you today?
I first studied Law in England at A-level (aged 16-18). From the very beginning I enjoyed the blend of legal philosophy, the human interest factor of studying case law, and the fact that we were learning a subject that helped me understand the real workings of the society in which I lived. It was a natural progression to study Law at degree level, and then proceed to Law school.
It is a privilege and responsibility when a client places their trust in me to guide them through difficulties in their lives. Every new client who instructs us presents a unique set of facts, circumstances, personal histories and character traits. Every day is interesting and challenging and everything that we do matters
We understand that your law firm, Expatriate Law, is a UK law firm and you have opened an office in Singapore. Could you tell us why you decided to set up your practice in Singapore?
Expatriate Law was founded by Alexandra Tribe in 2010. She was living in Dubai at the time and set up the firm to meet the needs of British expats who found themselves needing access to English family law advice.
A divorce is challenging at the best of times, but for an expat family there are many layers of additional complexity: choice of jurisdiction for the divorce and how that can affect the financial outcome, visas and work passes, how to deal with assets in multiple jurisdictions, enforcement of an order from the court of country X in country Y, financial relief in England following an overseas divorce. What if one party wants to return to their home country with the children? What if that parent takes the children back home without the other parent’s permission?
I joined Expatriate Law in 2014 and moved from London to Dubai to develop and then lead the Dubai office. It was a chance to focus entirely on cases with an international dimension. Also, on a personal level I was attracted by the unusual opportunity of being able to practice English law while living abroad.
The new Singapore office is the next phase of the ongoing evolution Expatriate Law. There are at least 35,000 British expats in Singapore and on divorce they face similar issues to those faced by expats in Dubai. Our physical presence in Singapore enables us to develop close working relationships with local lawyers, and provide face to face advice to clients who live in Singapore, and across South East Asia.
How did you begin practising such a niche area?
In 2010, when I was in London, I was instructed by a lady in Canada whose Husband lived in Switzerland. We issued proceedings in England based on the parties’ English domicile, even though they had both lived abroad for many years. The husband contested jurisdiction, the case was fiercely contested – and we won. Securing English jurisdiction unlocked the powers of the English court to make orders against the husband’s worldwide assets. After that case, I began to take on more and more work with an international flavour, which ultimately led to me joining Expatriate Law in 2014.
In your opinion, what are some traits that an efficient and competent international lawyer should have?
I would say that the following traits are important:
- The subject is continuously evolving, so a genuine love of learning and a commitment to ongoing professional development is essential.
- Conscientiousness and the capacity to maintain concentration and intense focus day after day, month after month, year after year.
- The ability to stay organised and manage and assimilate large volumes of information quickly.
- Advanced interpersonal and communication skills.
- The ability to keep a cool head and stay objective but knowing when to be assertive.
Having current operations in London and Dubai and having previously worked in these jurisdictions, what are some interesting experiences you have working in different countries?
It has been interesting to compare and how lawyers in different countries approach their cases, and the legal and cultural framework within which they operate.
On a personal level, Dubai was an interesting place to live as it was truly multi-cultural. I recall going for dinner one evening and counting 10 different nationalities at the table. It was also incredible to be able to spend weekend mornings cycling on the car-free cycle track in the middle of the desert. It was quite a sight to watch the sun rise silently over the sand dunes.
So far, I find Singapore to be a very attractive place to live. The city is surprisingly green, there is outstanding food everywhere, it is so easy to get around the city – and there are such high standards of professionalism in everyone I have encountered so far.
What are the challenges you faced when setting up your practice into another country?
Our application for a foreign law licence took many months to prepare. It was essential to demonstrate, with evidence, that we were a credible law firm with the correct experience and credentials.
Aside from that, setting up in Singapore has been a refreshingly efficient process. The entire city is so well organised and the standard of service of everyone who has assisted us has been exceptional. Singapore is famously business-friendly and we have experienced that as a fact.
The next challenge is to raise awareness that we are in Singapore, and what we can do to help. Beyond that, we must earn and maintain a reputation for excellence in our work.
Moving forward, do you foresee possible collaborations with the local law firms, and if so, how you intend to move forward with the collaborations?
I am already building relationships with the leading family lawyers in Singapore. We are not qualified to advise about Singaporean law so we will always advise clients to take parallel advice from local lawyers. Even where divorce and financial matters can be packaged up and dealt with in England, any unresolved issues about children arrangements or relocation back to England must be addressed in the courts of the jurisdiction where the children are habitually resident.
We will also work closely with local firms when it comes to enforcing English orders in Singapore. It is likely that as we build our reputation, our clients will come to us for recommendations for local lawyers to handle other local legal issues.
Could you share with us a fun fact about yourself?
While I was in the process of setting up the Singapore office I was travelling back and forth from Bali. In Bali my primary mode of transport was a Kawasaki dirt bike. By coincidence, I received an enquiry from a client who was on holiday in Bali at the time. He asked to meet me. It was rather strange showing up to a client meeting on my motorbike, wearing shorts and T-shirt, with my laptop in my backpack. We sat in the sunshine drinking iced coffee as we discussed his case. He hired me the next day.
This article does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any matter discussed and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and practice in this area. If you require any advice or information, please speak to practicing lawyer in your jurisdiction. No individual who is a member, partner, shareholder or consultant of, in or to any constituent part of Interstellar Group Pte. Ltd. accepts or assumes responsibility, or has any liability, to any person in respect of this article.