Donaldson & Burkinshaw

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Donaldson & Burkinshaw LLP
Headquarters Singapore
No. of offices 4
No. of lawyers 25
No. of employees 100
Major practice areas

• Arbitration • Adjudication • Banking & Finance • Building & Construction • Capital Markets • Commercial Contracts • Commercial Litigation • Corporate Finance • Corporate Litigation • Corporate Restructuring • Criminal Defence • Criminal Prosecution • Employment Matters • Equipment Leasing & Hire Purchase • Family & Matrimonial Practice • Funds • General Litigation • Immigration Matters • Information Technology & Media • Insolvency • Insurance Law • Intellectual Property • Landlord & Tenant • Mediation • Medical & Health Law • Mergers & Acquisitions • Motor Accident Claims • Private Equity & Venture Capital • Probate & Administration of Estates • Professional Negligence • Property & Project Financing • Real Estate & Conveyancing • Tax • Vehicle & Industrial Accidents

• Workmen’s Compensation
Key people Ng See Hui Michelle (Managing Partner), Lee Shy Tsong, Gooi Chi Duan, Eric Tin, E-Laine Chiam, Michael S. Kraal, Koay Min Pin
Date founded November 6, 1874 (Conversion to LLP - January 3, 2014)
Founder Alexander Muirhead Aitken, Alexander Leathes Donaldson and John Burkinshaw
Company type Limited Liability Partnership

Donaldson & Burkinshaw LLP is Singapore’s oldest law partnership.[1] On 3 January 2014, Donaldson and Burkinshaw converted to a Limited Liability Partnership and is now known as Donaldson & Burkinshaw LLP. Established on 6 November 1874, it is a heritage law firm with a history of more than 140 years. Today, the firm is a medium-sized full-service law practice.

History of the Firm[edit]

The Founders[edit]

The Firm’s founders, Messrs Alexander Muirhead Aitken, Alexander Leathes Donaldson and John Burkinshaw, were British expatriates who had come to Singapore in the 19th century when the island was a British Crown Colony.

At the time, the development of Singapore Colony’s legal profession, jurisprudence and public life was still in its early stages. The Colony’s population then consisted mainly of native Malays, and Chinese and Indian immigrants, who worked as fishermen, rubber-tappers, merchants, coolies, warehouse and port workers, and laborers.

The Founders would leave their mark as outstanding members of the legal profession, as stated in Roland Braddell et al ‘One Hundred Years of Singapore’:[2]

"Mr. Alexander Muirhead Aitken was admitted as a special law agent in Singapore in 1852, and was called to the English Bar at the Middle Temple in 1864. He took a leading part in public affairs for many years, and his name is to be found on many of the committees appointed at public meetings to carry on local agitations. As has been said, he acted as Registrar of the Court for a short while in 1856; and in 1870 he acted for a month or two as Attorney-General. Otherwise he practised privately, in 1861 with Mr. Abraham Logan, leaving him the next year, and from 1871 to 1873 with Mr. Bernard Rodyk. In 1873, Mr. Alexander Leathes Donaldson joined Mr. Aitken, and the next year they were joined by Mr. John Burkinshaw, the Firm being called in the Directory Aitken, Donaldson & Burkinshaw, though in the Bar records Aitken and Co. Mr. Aitken retired in 1879, and the Firm became Donaldson & Burkinshaw, as it is today. It has already been mentioned that Mr. A. M. Aitken was the founder of the Firm of Donaldson & Burkinshaw. These two latter gentlemen were in leading practice from the ‘Seventies until the Nineties'. Both of them were respected and popular, and did much useful work in the place.

1874 Practising Certificate
John Burkinshaw's Practising Certificate

Alexander Leathes Donaldson was admitted an Attorney at Westminster in 1865, and to the local Bar in 1873; John Burkinshaw was admitted an Attorney at Westminster in 1863, and to the local Bar in 1874. When Mr. Bond retired his place on the Legislative Council was given to Mr. Burkinshaw; in 1893 it went to Mr. Donaldson, in 1896 back to Mr. Burkinshaw, Mr. Donaldson having retired in 1895. Mr. Burkinshaw continued to be on Council until 1902, when he retired….These two gentlemen built up the leading European practice of their day, and their jack-in-the-box possession of a seat on the Legislative Council undoubtedly gave the Firm great influence. Both of them were sound legislators, displaying force and wisdom in their speeches, and being of undoubted assistance to the deliberations of the Council.”

When the first local Bar Committee was formed in 1875 to assist the Attorney-General in looking into matters affecting the local profession and practice etiquette, Alexander Leathes Donaldson was one of only three persons invited to sit on the Committee. Subsequently, in 1907, the Bar Committee was made a statutory body by the Courts Ordinance, providing the genesis for the modern Law Society of Singapore.

19th century portraits of A.L. Donaldson and John Burkinshaw
Two of the Firm's Founders

The Jeddah, 1881[edit]

The Jeddah[3] was a high-profile admiralty suit involving the abandonment of a steamship, the S.S. Jeddah, by her captain and crew. The S.S. Jeddah was carrying about 778 men, 147 women and 67 children on board, in addition to considerable cargoes, at the time of her abandonment. Alexander Leathes Donaldson and John Burkinshaw both acted for the salvor, the S.S. Antenor.

The abandonment, salvage of and subsequent litigation surrounding the S.S. Jeddah would later inspire Joseph Conrad to pen his epic novel, “Lord Jim”, first published as a serial in Blackwood's Magazine from October 1899 to November 1900. The novel has since been made twice into films bearing the same title, ‘Lord Jim’, in 1925 (Paramount Pictures, directed by Victor Fleming), and 1965 (Columbia Pictures, directed by Richard Brooks).

The Second World War[edit]

By the time of the Second World War, the Firm boasted an impressive list of banks, companies and merchants in Singapore as its clientele. However, this flourishing practice was interrupted by the outbreak of hostilities, at which time the Firm’s documents and deeds were fortuitously preserved at the Singapore Supreme Court, thanks to the timely efforts of some senior staff members.

An account of the dramatic events can be found in a memoir, ‘Fifty Years with Donaldson & Burkinshaw’,[4] by Mr. Norman Sylvester Hogan, an administrator who served the Firm for 50 years and retired in 1970.

Mercantile Bank Building, Raffles Place, Singapore
Mercantile Bank Building, where Donaldson & Burkinshaw was situated from 1937 to 1978

The Post-War Years, to the 1970s[edit]

After the War, the Firm continued to dominate the local legal arena as one of Singapore's top law firms.[5] Its leaders continued to wield considerable influence in the early politico-legal developments of modern Singapore. When the 1954 Constitutional Commission of Singapore (better known as the Rendel Commission) was appointed by Governor Sir John Nicoll in July 1953 to undertake a comprehensive review of the constitution of the Colony, Mr. C F Smith, a senior partner of the Firm, was one of the Commission’s non-official members.

Following the independence of Singapore from British Rule, the Firm maintained offices in Malaysia at Johor and Kuala Lumpur, and in Sabah at Jesselton (now known as Kota Kinabalu) and Sandakan until the Promulgation of the Emergency (Essential Powers) Ordinance No. 30 of 1970. During this time, lawyers who were neither citizens nor permanent residents were barred from practising in West Malaysia.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Firm continued to attract and retain significant legal talent. Its senior partners Antony Purdon Godwin and Wu Chang-Sheng[6] became prominent figures at the Singapore Litigation Bar. Wu Chang-Sheng, son of renowned plague-fighter Dr. Wu Lien-teh (himself credited with modernising China's medical services and medical education), was particularly renowned for his expertise in construction arbitration. Godwin and Wu were also founding members of the Council of the Singapore Advocates and Solicitors Society (which subsequently became the Law Society of Singapore) in 1967.[7] The late Henry Mosley Dyne,[8] a former senior partner, was regarded as a giant in the Chancery Bar until his retirement in 2000. The late Joshua Benjamin Jeyaratnam, a well known local politician, was also briefly a partner of the firm in the early 1970s.

From the 1980s to The Present[edit]

The Firm has steadily grown and expanded its areas of practice over the years in step with the development of Singapore from a Crown Colony, to a part of the Federation of Malaysia, and later a sovereign nation.

Today, it carries on the practice of Advocates and Solicitors, Notaries Public, Commissioners for Oaths and Agents for Trade Marks, Patents & Designs. As a full-service law practice, the Firm undertakes a wide range of legal work across the spectrum

On 3 January 2014, the firm converted to a limited liability partnership and celebrated its 140th anniversary.

Intellectual Property Practice[edit]

The Firm’s Intellectual Property Practice is one of the oldest such practices in Singapore, with a history stretching back over more than seven decades. When Singapore’s Trade Mark Registry (as it then was) was first set up in the late 1930s, the Firm handled Singapore’s earliest trade mark applications.

Over the years, the Firm has consistently been lauded as a leading IP specialist in Asia.[citation needed] It has also maintained its market position as one of the five top-filing practices in Singapore, cementing its status as local market leaders in the field of Intellectual Property.[citation needed]

The members of the Firm’s IP Practice are also active participants in a number of professional organisations within the IP field, such as the Asian Patent Attorneys Association (APAA), the Association of Singapore Patent Agents (ASPA), the International Association for the Protection of Intellectual Property (AIPPI), the International Trademark Association (INTA), the Licensing Executives Society (LES) and the Pharmaceutical Trade Marks Group (PTMG). Through the firm’s professional associations, physical presence in South East Asia and membership with international legal networks such as Multilaw[9][better source needed], it is able to provide a “one-stop” solution for all its clients’ IP needs.[citation needed]

Today, the Firm’s services include its own patent agents who are engineers and scientists, doctorate degree holders and other professionals with prior experience at the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS).[10]

Litigation and Dispute Resolution Practice[edit]

The Firm offers an extensive range of litigation and alternative dispute resolution advisory and representation services. Its Litigation and Dispute Resolution Practice is led by two equity partners, each with almost two decades of experience within the legal fraternity.[citation needed] They are complemented by two consultants who have had long-standing experience as senior state prosecutors[citation needed], as well as a team of dedicated salaried partners and associates.[citation needed]

The Medico-Legal Practice Group (MLPG) is a highly specialised group within the Litigation and Dispute Resolution Practice, which provides a range of advisory and representation services for doctors indemnified by the Medical Protection Society Ltd. Members of the firm’s MLPG have the unique depth and breadth of experience in undertaking medical negligence claims and lawsuits, Singapore Medical Council complaints and disciplinary inquiries, Coroner’s inquests, criminal defence representation, and medico-legal advice relating to Singapore’s health legislations and regulations.[citation needed]

The MLPG also handles claims and disputes involving healthcare establishments and clinic groups, pharmaceutical corporations, manufacturers and suppliers of medical products and devices, as well as provide advisory services on regulatory compliance issues.

Real Estate and Conveyancing Practice[edit]

The Firm’s Real Estate and Conveyancing Practice is managed by a dynamic[citation needed] team of senior lawyers, associates and support staff with considerable experience and expertise in a broad spectrum of real estate and real-estate financing transactions.[citation needed]

Members of the Firm’s Real Estate and Conveyancing Practice have the requisite expertise to provide legal services for matters relating to estate planning, probate and the administration of estates, dealings involving land parcels, and residential, commercial and industrial properties.[citation needed] Their goal is to provide prompt, responsive and quality service, practical and commercially focused legal advice.[citation needed]

The Firm represents a wide array of clients, including local and foreign individuals and corporations, property developers, public listed companies, statutory boards, recreation clubs, banks and financial institutions in transactions, including those of a high value, complex and innovative nature. Notable transactions include advising two statutory boards on the integrated resort developments at Marina Bay and Sentosa, where the first two casinos in Singapore are situated. In addition to the Firm’s appointment to the panel of lawyers for all major local banks, it is also on the Central Provident Fund Board’s conveyancing panel of lawyers.

Corporate and Commercial Practice[edit]

The Firm offers an extensive range of corporate advisory services with the depth of its practice built on the strength, expertise and experience of its lawyers.[citation needed]

Leveraging on the international platform offered by the firm’s membership with the MULTILAW global network, the Firm’s Mergers & Acquisitions Practice largely involves cross-border transactions, drawing participation or support from esteemed, international law firms all across the globe. The Capital Markets Practice provides timely advice to SGX-listed companies on their disclosure obligations under the SGX-ST Listing Manual and assists with preparation of shareholders circulars for various major corporate actions. The Private Equity & Venture Capital Practice is also actively engaged in all aspects of private equity and venture capital fund transactions, including initial fund establishment, transaction structuring, regulatory advice and exit strategies. The Tax Practice Group also complements the above Corporate & Commercial Practices by providing practical and optimal solutions for various tax issues arising from underlying transactions such as joint ventures, bond/debt financing, asset or share acquisitions, corporate amalgamations, restructurings and securitisation transactions. The firm assists its clients with making submissions to the Singapore tax authorities and the Singapore Ministry of Finance, and also with the application for tax incentives from relevant governmental bodies.

Members of the Firm’s Corporate and Commercial Practice work closely with well-known venture capitalists, private equity funds, angel investors and start-up funds. They regularly advise international MNCs, especially those with regional headquarters in Singapore, on employment and immigration issues, data protection, corporate governance and other regulatory and licensing requirements in Singapore, and is well supported by the firm’s very experienced and efficient Corporate Secretarial arm.


  1. ^ See point 11 at
  2. ^ 'One Hundred Years of Singapore', Braddell, Roland St. John; Brooke, Gilbert Edward; Makepeace, Walter (London: Murray), at pages 204, 225 - 226. Available online at
  3. ^ [1881] KY 24 - The Jeddah
  4. ^ 'Fifty Years with Donaldson & Burkinshaw', Norman Sylvester Hogan, 1971
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Multilaw
  10. ^