Liberalizing Trade in Legal Services under Asia-Pacific FTAs: The ASEAN Case

33 Pages Posted: 2 Jul 2014 Last revised: 23 Mar 2015

See all articles by Pasha L. Hsieh

Pasha L. Hsieh

Singapore Management University - School of Law

Date Written: July 1, 2014


The article examines the liberalization of trade in legal services in the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its reform prospects to meet the challenges of multi-jurisdictional practice. It argues that while the ten-country bloc pledges to progressively liberalize the legal sector, ASEAN commitments under free trade agreements (FTAs) constitute merely "paper commitments." To achieve the goal of the ASEAN Economic Community to form a single market and production base, a feasible, incremental roadmap is imperative to integrate the legal services market. The article first analyzes the economic impact of foreign law firms on ASEAN’s legal capacity building and the evolution of emerging ASEAN law. By assessing legal services negotiations under the World Trade Organization, the European Union, and Asian FTAs, the article identifies issues of complexity in international arenas. The Singapore experiment further explores the effectiveness of FTAs with Australia and the United States and self-initiated FTA-plus measures such as Joint Law Ventures and Qualifying Foreign Law Practices. These case studies, along with law firms’ operations vis-à-vis regulatory changes, demonstrate the best practices. Finally, the article provides reform proposals that will accelerate the integration of ASEAN’s legal services market and enhance its competiveness under the multilateral trading system.

Keywords: ASEAN, Legal services market, international law firms, foreign lawyers, Singapore-United States FTA

Suggested Citation

Hsieh, Pasha L., Liberalizing Trade in Legal Services under Asia-Pacific FTAs: The ASEAN Case (July 1, 2014). Journal of International Economic Law, Vol. 18:1, pp. 153-85 (2015), Fourth Biennial Global Conference of the Society of International Economic Law (SIEL), pp 2-57, July 2014, Singapore Management University School of Law Research Paper No. 31/2014, Available at SSRN: or

Pasha L. Hsieh (Contact Author)

Singapore Management University - School of Law ( email )

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Singapore, 179943
68280345 (Phone)


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