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The Singapore Law Gazette

The Modern Lawyers

The changes to the duration of training contracts and the two different methods of admission to the Bar announced recently appears positive. The intention of the changes seems to give law graduates an opportunity to choose between law practice or to pursue alternative careers such as in-house legal positions.

Having interacted with many interns and trainees in my firm, I am not certain whether the new changes will eliminate those who are not keen about law practice. Many study law due to parental wishes or because law is a default option. Having spent three to four years in law school, many would want to have a shot at practising law, again due to their parents’ wishes, sheer curiosity or not knowing any better alternative.

It is common knowledge that junior legal associates only remain in practice for a couple of years, whilst others do not stay in a law firm for more than a year.

Law internships give the undergraduates an opportunity to have a taste of law practice and to start thinking about their future law career. The trainees whom I have spoken to have also expressed uncertainty about their future career.

What causes such uncertainties in law graduates and junior lawyers? Has the practice of law lost its lustre? The long hours, unreasonable demands of bosses and clients are often the reasons given by many of them.

If these young men and women had no parental pressure, and were given full freedom in their choice of undergraduate studies and offered career guidance during junior college or before applying to university, would they still have chosen law? My guess would be not many.

I am an advocate for discovering passion in one’s professional life. Many I spoke to have chosen to become lawyers because they do not know of any better alternatives. It takes a lot of time and soul searching to find one’s passion. The hard questions are – why do I want to be a lawyer? What do I want to achieve as a lawyer? Does lawyering fit into my personal values? Having an opportunity to discover one’s true calling would help the individual to devote his life to what he loves to do. At the same time, the profession and the society would benefit from Individuals who are dedicated to the law.

Some young lawyers are very keen about community law and pro bono work where they feel that they can make a difference to people and society. Community law and pro bono work is still law practice fundamentally, and their ideals and views about family and criminal law are usually different in reality. So, they leave law practice still harbouring love for these areas of the law.

What can be done to attract young lawyers to stay in practice? Matching of the expectations of the lawyers and the law firms. Mentoring the young lawyers. Providing intensive training. Offering them freedom and flexibility in their practice are some suggestions.

Young lawyers on the other hand need to give law practice a fair chance by staying the course for a few years at least. Moving from one law firm to another year after year is not the solution. There is not much difference between law firms and honing of legal skills will be disrupted as the manner of practice is different in each firm.

If I am a young lawyer today, I will find the area of law that I am passionate about. I will then research the law firm which I believe will be a good fit for me. I will spend at least five years there to build up my practice. I will then take a break to reflect on what I want to do next in my career. The next stage of my career will be an important one as it will lead to the path of becoming a senior lawyer.

There is more supply than demand for lawyers now. Training contracts are limited. For the foreign lawyers, the Part A exams have become difficult to clear. The standard of Part B exams will also be raised. While the quality of lawyers will be assured, there will be a limit on the number of qualifying lawyers. The current demand for legal associate positions may slowly decline in the next five years. The concern is whether these measures will stabilise the supply and demand or create a shortage of lawyers as seen in the not so distant past. An oversupply is common in many jurisdictions but a shortage will affect the high standard of legal services we aspire to provide.

Rajan Chettiar LLC
E-mail: [email protected]