We are living in paradoxical times.
We are called to solidarity while staying in solitude. We show love for others by keeping a wide berth. We fight for our freedom by forgoing it temporarily.
The term “slowdown” peppers news reports on Covid-19 while thoughts are racing through our minds faster than ever before. Scratching our heads to find a workable BCP solution, reassuring clients that we are pulling out all stops to ensure that the deal will be completed on time, scrambling to reschedule travel plans, figuring out our eligibility for the myriad of rescue measures the government is rolling out … or even just busy forwarding jokes on Covid-19.
I read with fascination the science of virology: Viruses are continuously changing as a result of genetic selection. Subtle genetic changes occur through mutation while major genetic changes occur through recombination, creating a novel virus. Mutations can be deleterious, neutral, or occasionally favourable.
Thankfully, humans adapt to our ever-changing environment in a less randomised fashion. Yet, some of our bodies are more apt at building up resistance to or fighting diseases than others. Some of us are more mentally equipped to deal with changes than others. While some entertain themselves by laughing over jokes on panic buying, the anxiety and fear that seize others is very real. Even before the advent of Covid-19, the legal profession has had to deal with seismic changes in the form of new practice areas, new legislation, new court procedures, new technology and even non-traditional competitors. Some have coped with, or even embrace, these challenges better than others. Nevertheless, the Law Society is not prepared to leave this to chance and Providence.
Taking baby steps, we have partnered Workforce Singapore (WSG) and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) to launch the Professional Conversion Programme (PCP) for legal support executives wishing to moving into the legal industry from another industry. Law firms who meet the eligibility criteria can receive up to 90 per cent funding for the salaries of new paralegals and legal secretaries for a limited period. The scheme could ameliorate the problem of talent shortage for Singapore law firms and reduce the cost that has to be borne by the firms during the learning curve period for the new staff.
Tech-celerate for Law is another of the Law Society’s schemes designed to reduce the pain of adapting to new technology. Apart from initial monetary savings from adoption costs and first year subscription fees, firms can save time and effort by choosing from a carefully curated menu of tech solutions that have been proven to be effective in minimising errors and/or improving client experience. Many of such solutions also work seamlessly with the implementation of a BCP to enable remote working while ensuring cybersecurity. If none of the curated solutions sounds delectable, firms have the further option of joining our SmartLaw Guild to avail themselves of free trials of other solutions before jumping on the tech bandwagon.
For junior lawyers who are at the crossroads of their career, the Covid-19 situation may present an opportunity for you to move into certain practice areas that have consequently seen an uptick in demand. Jobs agility may seem contradictory to the conventional wisdom of specialisation or even attracts unwelcomed stigmatisation but lawyering of the future really requires hybrid skills and systems thinking capacity as increasingly, client-organisations can ill afford to view things with one-dimensional lenses. Hybrid skills are those that integrate diverse concepts in both broad and deep ways. Those who “mutate favourably” will, needless to say, stay ahead of the game. For members bent on lifelong learning, that is no slowing down whatever the colour of DORSCON – our Continuing Professional Department continues to deliver top-rated contents via webinars and e-learning platforms. If members need advice on how to move the dial for your career, the Law Society’s Career Path is just a phone call or -email away while dear Amicus Agony doles out practical career advice each month in our Singapore Law Gazette. If you are moving into a new practice area, don’t forget to affiliate yourself to new networks that can provide the professional and social support that you need (even if it’s just remote support for now).
For management teams who are keen to encourage their junior lawyers to move into new practice areas to meet increased clients’ demands or have just adopted new technology and systems for their firms, do afford your staff room to get on the learning curve. In the short term, this could mean setting realistic expectations to accommodate some initial trial-and-error, slower turnaround time, closer supervision and possibly no small amount of hair-tearing on both sides. Communication is key to getting everyone in the firm sold on the necessity of the change. It may be more challenging in the current climate if most or all staff are working from home or on split team arrangements but such issues can be overcome by keeping feedback channels open and expending extra effort to craft a communication strategy targeted to win both hearts and minds. Empty words which fail to address substantive concerns are certain to lose supporters faster than viruses can find a new host to infect.
So, the current wartime situation has also pushed us at the Secretariat into a “mutate to survive” mentality. Suddenly we are all tech experts in setting up video calls and webinars. YouTube video tutorials have been a great help for lessening the pain of change which we are having to juggle along with our regular work duties. Fully aware that failing to prepare is preparing to fail, we have upgraded and stress-tested our technical and operational capabilities for remote working and virtual meetings just in case the option for face-to-face gathering is one day taken away from us with little warning. Temperature checks, visitor records and safe distancing measures have been put in place to safeguard the health and well-being of both members and staff. Members’ eagerness to tap on tech for virtual meetings and remote working has certainly inspired us to keep pressing on.
Economists and psychologists explain the panic-buying phenomena as a human instinct to stay in control of a crisis situation by being proactive about something, presumably through acts of sweeping things off supermarket shelves into our shopping baskets. If we now have enough toilet paper, canned food and instant noodles at home to last us for quite a while, why not adjust our focus to consider how we can take control of our professional development so that no “empty shelves” can ever take us by surprise?