5 Ps from the Past 5 Decades
The Law Society has come a long, long way from its inception in 1967. This golden jubilee is a year that we will understandably feel both nostalgic and celebratory. I gave a snapshot of our history in my OLY speech.
A different “snapshot” of history awaits in this final message of the year. Essentially, this is a lighter, brief narrative and pictorial history of some of the best of the past. This is no “Fiat Justitia”! Instead, a summary narrative with visual highlights.
Soren Kierkegaard wrote “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” We need to “Go Back” to “Go Forward” into the future.
And so to understand better, let me touch briefly on 5 Ps that have punctuated our history. Publications, Professional Development, Premises, Pro Bono and last but certainly not least, People.
Particularly poignant for this December 2017 issue. The last printed version of the Singapore Law Gazette before we fully go online. Our monthly publication cover was called “The Law Society’s Journal” in the 1980s.
A silver jubilee ago, in July-August 1992, our journal was christened the Singapore Law Gazette. Those having in your hands a copy of the first SLG cover will remember that the late Joseph Grimberg SC was specially profiled in that edition.
A decade back when I was serving as Chair of the Publications Committee, we celebrated our 40th anniversary. Below is the unique SLG cover featuring pixellated photographs of 40-year old legal practitioners. Many of them hail from the NUS Graduating Class of 1992 that I am a proud part of. The same group celebrated a major milestone birthday this year. Fifty years. Their own golden jubilee!
Publications is not only about the monthly journal or gazette. Older practitioners fondly remember the printed Law Society Directory. A useful resource that contained inter alia, admission dates of practitioners, contact numbers and useful information such as the language proficiency of Commissioners of Oaths. Feedback from members during the AGM impelled us to upload on the Law Society’s website (under “Find a Lawyer”) a virtual listing of lawyers with some salient non-confidential information. E.g. this aide memoire will enable one to quickly know the seniority of lawyer-members of the Society – a question that popped up in this year’s AGM!
To stay alive and be relevant, we need to upgrade, retool and uplift our competencies.
The Biennial Lecture was a keynote event introduced during former President Philip Jeyaretnam SC’s watch. We were treated to the Attorney-General of England, Lord Peter Goldsmith delivering the Biennial Lecture in 2009. It got better – doubly better to precise – during SG50 in 2015. We were privileged to have Singapore’s Ambassador at Large Professor Tommy Koh delivering the Biennial Lecture.
Our CPD Day is well-loved, massively attended, priced very reasonably and offers strong value for money. It remains a practical, value-added way for lawyers of every seniority to earn their CPD points.
The historic official opening of the Law Society Office at 39 South Bridge Road on 18 September 1999 saw the former Law Society Presidents as Guests of Honour. It took the vision and persuasion of Mr Chandra Mohan K Nair, former Law Society President to make our dream a reality.
A lovely night shot of 39, SBR. You can now understand why some older members are sentimentally attached to our present premises!
One of the iconic features of the Law Society premises was the Jus Curio Shop housed in it. Do continue to savour the curiosities and sample its souvenirs found as long as stocks last!
How can any write up of premises be complete without speaking of our Bar Rooms? Our modern day Supreme Court and State Courts Bar Room is part and parcel of our premises.
Much of what is virtuous about our profession is strongly tied in with Pro Bono. This is exemplified by various flagship awareness events.
For instance, two charity walks organised by the Law Society over the years most recently, Just Walk in 2015. Last year’s flagship fundraiser, the Just Sing event was chaired by outgoing Treasurer, Dinesh Dhillon. This year’s Just Jubilee, Law Society Pro Bono Services’ law carnival cum fundraiser, was chaired by incoming Treasurer, Tito Isaac.
A feather in the cap for pro bono outreach is our legal clinics. A linchpin of our outreach, it functions as an invaluable first port of call. Litigants in person often receive a road map on practical legal options as a guide for the way forward in their case. The genesis of the legal clinics is a weekend from 5 to 7 March 1994 at the Raffles City Atrium. Many Law Society volunteers served in that historic legal clinic. Below is a picture of the opening of the Law Awareness Weekend by BG George Yeo. Law Awareness Weekend has since become Law Awareness Week!
In the final analysis, the profession is all about people. If you look closely at the List of Practitioners 50 years ago, you will see the following familiar names:
Nazir Ahmad Mallal and Mohamed Javad Namazie (Mallal & Namazie), Chye Cheng Tan or CC Tan as we know him better (Tan Rajah & Cheah), Ong Tiang Wee (also known as T.W. Ong)(Laycock & Ong), Frederick Bernard Oehlers (Oehlers & Co.), David Saul Marshall, Wee Eng Lock (Wee Swee Teow & Co.), Rodney Stephen Boswell (Boswell, Hsieh & Lim) and Thomas George Dunbar (Murphy & Dunbar).
We took the opportunity this year to honour our pioneers in practice. We tracked five lawyers who practised for 50 years: Andrew Ee Chong Nam, Foo See Juan, May Oh Buong Yu @ May Lau Buong Yu, Micheal Teo Swee Eng and V Ramakrishnan. Two of them (Andrew Ee and V Ramakrishnan) attended the launch of our Golden Jubilee event this year. They were honoured with a certificate. Andrew was interviewed for our special commemorative 50th anniversary issue of the Singapore Law Gazette in May. V Ramakrishnan was acknowledged during our Golden Jubilee Ball. Their examples of perseverance in practice motivate us all to stay the course.
For those called in the old Supreme Court building, an iconic photograph during Mass Call would typically be taken of the cohort en masse at the steps of that majestic building facing the Padang. Here is the 2002 photo of the newly called lawyers:
We cannot downplay the power of sports. Council 2017 inaugurated “The Sports Personality of the Year” Award. The winning of the Judges’ Cup this year was especially sweet in a golden jubilee year.
The Secretariat, as my predecessor Thio Shen Yi SC pithily said, are both institutional memory and nerve centre. It is a continuing privilege and joy to work with staff whose spirit and sinew exemplifies service and stewardship at its best.
It is indeed the people who evoke the emotional memories for us. They made our Society what it is today. Here are some past staff personalities:
Emanuel Albuquerque was the secretary to the predecessor Bar Committee in 1962.
The Society’s first Executive Secretary, Patrick Nathan was appointed in 1983.
And who can forget larger than life Uncle Choo with the tales he would regale us with!
Sadly, we lost one of the pillars of our Law Society Secretariat this year. The late Ambika Rajendram was a font of wisdom and an invaluable guiding hand behind the scenes. Ambika’s sacrificial service is the legacy she has passed on to her Secretariat colleagues and lawyer-leaders of the Society. It is that same spirit that continues to inspire us today.
May we as a legal profession continue to learn from the past, stay grounded and blessed by the relationships we have in the Bar at present and be filled with hope for a brighter future that we share together as a Law Society community.
Have a great year end holiday and fresh new 2018 filled with hope and purpose for what lies ahead after the 50th Anniversary!
(Derived in part from the 2017 Law Society AGM Message)