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The Singapore Law Gazette

Law-Accountancy Connection and Collaboration

On 29 June 2018, we co-organised together with ACCA an inaugural Legal and Accounting Connect Seminar. It marked a new high-water mark in connection and collaboration between the lawyers and accountants. The half-day seminar that drew about 240 speakers and participants was the combined contribution of the legal and accountancy professions to the progression of thought leadership by the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) on Legal and Accounting Services. That Working Group was co-chaired by Ms Indranee Rajah SC, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Law, Finance and Education (who graced the occasion and delivered the keynote address) and Mr Chaly Mah, Chairman, Singapore Accountancy Commission (who was a panellist in the last session). The CFE had identified finance, projects and infrastructure, corporations, restructuring, risk management and corporate governance as high growth practice areas that present convergent opportunities for both the legal and accounting sectors.

Nine high growth practice areas identified by the Committee on the Future Economyin its Report of the Working Group on Legal & Accounting Services (April 2017) at para 2.2.1 (page 3).

The seminar featured a pioneering, cross-sectoral collaboration on cutting edge thought leadership by lawyers and accountants. Through the exceptional bi-disciplinary “partnership”, top legal and accountancy industry practitioners swopped notes, cross-trained and shared complementary learning points in the different spheres. And so, apart from Minister Indranee’s keynote address that deserves prominent profiling, we featured:

  1. a case study on financing an infrastructure project with both David Ng (Principal, KPMG Infrastructure Advisory) and Alex Wong (Co-Chairperson, Continuing Professional Development Committee, Law Society and Partner, Hogan Lovells Lee & Lee);
  2. a joint sharing and learning points on restructuring helmed by Angela Ee (Partner, Transaction Advisory Services, Ernst & Young Solutions LLP) and Patrick Ang (Deputy Managing Partner, Rajah & Tann Singapore);
  3. a presentation on risk management and case studies by Dennis Lee (Partner, RSM Singapore) and Luo Ling Ling (Partner, RHTLaw Taylor Wessing);
  4. a clarion call to market – one stop solution without borders by Ravi Arumugam (Managing Partner and CEO, RT LLP Companies and Executive Chairman, RT ASEAN Network) and Peter Doraisamy (Managing Director, Peter Doraisamy LLC); and
  5. a panel discussion – facilitating and operationalizing cross-sectoral collaboration that touched on among other things challenges to address, digital transformations and alternative business structures. Moderated by Joseph Alfred (Head of Policy, ACCA), the rest of the panelists were Keith McGuire (Partner, PwC Legal International Pte Ltd), Vincent Ng (Executive Director, Sompo Regional HQ), Thio Shen Yi SC (Joint Managing Partner, TSMP Law Corporation), Chaly Mah and myself.

Even if multi-disciplinary partnerships are not visible in the near horizon, the aim of Legal and Accounting Connect 2018 was to showcase best practices and set new precedents for co-ventures between lawyers and accountants for the five high growth joint practice areas for our future economy: (1) finance (2) projects and infrastructure (3) corporations (4) restructuring and (5) risk management and corporate governance.

This event was not the first time that lawyers and accountants have converged together in a single setting. Last year, we helped facilitate a joint Law Society-ISCA networking evening for small law firms and small and medium-sized accounting practices. These lawyers and accountants mixed and mingled together after a light sharing by a lawyer on the accountant’s role in litigation support and an accountant shed light on the red flags to look for in financial statements. My hope from that event was that in the course of networking during the event or even thereafter, our small law firms would be able to find a like-minded small- and medium-sized accounting practice that they could be “best friends” with and link up with to do cross referrals. We will continue to set up similar platforms.

Another outstanding example of collaboration is the Insolvency Practitioners Association of Singapore. This is a continuing joint venture incepted in April 2005 with Board nominees drawn from both ISCA and the Law Society. For more than a decade now, insolvency practitioners comprising accountants and lawyers have been co-working superbly on insolvency and restructuring deals and disputes. IPAS leads the charge on insolvency-practice.

But this seminar was about entirely different facets altogether: thought leadership and professional development. This was what I said in my welcome address: “The strategic joint venture you will witness today between the Law Society and ACCA has been in the pipeline for more than a year now of meaningful dialogue together. I am heartened that today we see the end product of those trust-building and forward-looking talks. But in many ways, this is also the first product. Why? Because we will put ink to paper later in this morning’s proceedings with the signing of a three-year MOU.”

And so … we signed an MOU at the seminar to build jointly. Our hope is that we can keep enhancing our annual joint conference after yesterday’s beachhead. The gold standard must be to collate all the joint practice perspectives, pain points, issues, challenges, opportunities and recommendations in the presentations shared and compile the same for submission to the Government and other stakeholders.

We need to think out of the box to stay nimble and progressive in the future economy. In the words of Chaly Mah, at the CFO Connect Symposium 2016, 15 July 2016: “There is also a recognition that both accounting and law firms will need to continue to innovate to stay relevant”.

The MOU memorializes the Law Society’s and ACCA’s intention to enter into a mutually beneficial partnership; namely the promotion of thought leadership and professional development.

The areas of collaboration will include initiatives generally to enable lawyers and accountants to remain relevant and leverage on regional growth opportunities. We have identified a number of main activities to do together:

  1. To undertake research and studies in certain areas including the transformation of Legal and Accounting Entities in Singapore and the region such as digital transformation of legal and accounting entities, business model innovations (subject to any statutory or regulatory restrictions), skills training and talent mobility against the backdrop of FTAs (Free Trade Agreements) and related agreements. The research and studies will consider the recommendations and high growth practice areas identified in the CFE (Committee on the Future Economy) report (2017), and the Government’s Sectoral Industry Transformation Plans (2017/18).
  2. To explore collaborative service lines between lawyers and accountants; and inform the relevant sectors of any potential opportunities through events that may include conferences, seminars or networking events.
  3. To explore mutual professional development activities that may include workshops and clinics to inform lawyers and accountants on identified collaborative service lines and equip them with relevant skills to be future-ready.
  4. To explore regional and international networks to deepen the international connections of lawyers and accountants who deliver on collaborative service lines and projects.

In summary, there are four pillars of mutual cooperation that we will construct jointly: Education (via research and studies into digital transformation, business model innovations, skills training and talent mobility and building on the recommendations and high growth practice areas referred to earlier), Exploration (of collaborative service lines between lawyers and accountants), Equipping (with relevant skills imparted during workshops and seminars) and Expanding (regionally and internationally).

I am grateful to ACCA for agreeing to be our strategic partner in the accountancy sector in Singapore for thought leadership and professional development.

May the epochal connection at the seminar between lawyers and accountants lead to an epic collaboration.

Legal and Accounting Connect is an idea whose time has come.

Partner, Dispute Resolution
Rajah & Tann Singapore LLP
Immediate Past President
The Law Society of Singapore