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The Singapore Law Gazette

President’s Message

Maintaining Connection at a Time of Distancing

As members know from Prime Minister’s announcement on 21 April, the Circuit Breaker period will be extended until 1 June. 

In the past two weeks and more, the legal profession en masse had to urgently comply with letter and spirit of the new circuit breaker laws and rules. Lawyers quickly adjusted to an abrupt, disruptive, remote “working from home” reality. Technophobes deftly adopted and adapted various new-fangled technology (some with the help of our volunteer Tech Support Facilitators) with varying degrees of success. All of us try to be as productive/profitable as we reasonably can be despite the unusual surroundings and unprecedented situation we are stuck in. 

Many have adjusted to this new normal. Thanks to tech, essential legal services and urgent court hearings can carry on. But there are unwanted side effects to be aware of:

  • Blurring of lines between work, home and personal space (some of us cannot distinguish between different days of the week too!);
  • Isolation and disconnection due to a lack of real-time dynamics and lack of personal interaction;
  • A sense of displacement and loss of camaraderie and collegiality associated with our relationships with law firm colleagues @ physical workplaces.

At the same time, if we read the media reports, we cannot help our humanness. We are emotionally affected by news of rising morbidity and increased infection rates. We keep our fingers crossed that the Circuit Breaker strategy will have its desired effect and will now count down the days for five more weeks until 1 June. When will all this end? Singapore may not have the massive losses of lives as some other countries. But the mood of the moment is gloomy and depressing for some of us. 

The cumulative effect of the psychosocial effects in my thumbnail sketch above could exact a toll on the mental well-being of even the best of us. 

At this time of national crisis, Law Society is striving to do our part to aid the psychological wellness and resilience of our lawyers carefully. If there are issues weighing you down, be they COVID-19 consequences, your job, career or personal issues, please seek help professionally or personally.

In particular, I highlight two specific avenues where professional help is available:

  • Members’ Assistance & Care Helpline (MACH) 6530 0213: Our members’ helpline is manned by helpful Secretariat staff under the watch of our Membership Director, Ms Goh Wan Cheng. After understanding the issues you face, with consent and respecting confidentiality, we will connect you with our confidential professional counselling service, career counselling and relational mentors (for juniors) (as appropriate). The gratis professional counselling is provided by a counselling centre conducting online confidential counselling sessions. Law Society picks up the tabs in full. Career counselling and mentorship are freely provided by the Law Society and its caring, altruistic members, staff and volunteers. 
  • National CARE Hotline 6202 6868, a 24-hour helpline manned by over 300 volunteer psychologists, counsellors, social workers, psychiatrists and public officers. Newly launched by the Ministry of Social and Family Development, the hotline is a great resource that offers specialised, strong professional psychosocial support to callers.

As self-care, please check out our Practice Well page, a repository of resources to help members featuring, inter alia, appropriate wellness articles. Our CPD department is partnering with the Australasian Legal Practice Management Association on a series of webinars addressing the current COVID-19 situation and well-being, the first of which will be on 14 May. Avail yourself of these resources.

But it is not just about professional help. At a time of social distancing, lawyers can still be relationally (albeit virtually) connected. That sense of connection can be treasured and transformative. We may not be mentally fragile but we are not always as mentally resilient as we imagine ourselves to be. If you need a friend to talk to, please call a friend or our MACH helpline. We will be pragmatic not programmatic about this: via MACH, we will help arrange a peer to call you for a friendly chat.

Finally, for those of us who are overcoming this challenging phase day by day, please look out for, and reach out to, our fellow lawyers. Start with your own firm but don’t end there. Some lawyers are staying alone. But they will never feel alone if you make that call to the Bar. In the free pockets of time that you have, take time out to chat (or text) a fellow lawyer during this period. I have. Walter Winchell said, “A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.”  

You may discover the brother or sister in law that you never knew you had. 

Partner, Dispute Resolution
Rajah & Tann Singapore LLP
Immediate Past President
The Law Society of Singapore