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The Singapore Law Gazette

President’s Message

The Power of Passion

There is a power that will sustain you through the darkest hour. Keep you energized and enthused for the long haul. Enable you to overcome the odds, setbacks and adversities that could come your way in your work life. That includes a significant number of you who will start legal practice soon.

Steve Jobs, then CEO of Apple Computer and Pixar Animation Studios, delivered his famous Commencement address on 12 June 2005 to Stanford University graduates with the following (now immortal) words: “Sometimes life hits you on the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love”. Later, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

These words were meant for the listening graduates of Stanford University on 12 June 2005. It will also hold true for you: the newly called lawyers of the Mass Call Ceremony on 27 and 28 August 2019.

Steve Jobs was neither the first nor the last to touch on loving what you do. An anonymous epigram that continues to be cited and recited is to “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”.

There is recent statistical evidence supporting the negative effect of a lack of passion. Alison Robins writing in officevibe.com on 27 March 2017 cites a Deloitte’s comprehensive report that found that 88 per cent of employees do not have passion for their work and so they do not contribute their full potential.

It comes down to passion. To align your calling and your life’s work with passion. So that your work life will see life at work.

There are two dimensions to passion that I will unpack in this message. Curiosity and Compassion.

Curiosity

Stay curious. There is much to learn.

Passion will generate a sense of curiosity. 

Curiosity may have killed the cat but it will enliven the lawyer. Picking him or her up and perking him or her up. Whether it’s the young litigator, taking instructions, asking probing questions on the next event in a narrative leading to the climax or denouement. For corporate lawyers and conveyancers, even a well prepared set of checklists, boiler plate clauses and bibles per se are meaningless and hollow unless …. undergirded with an innate sense of curiosity about the unique facts pertaining to the transaction. A brief no matter how brief has points to be plumbed.

That’s not just for learning in the hallowed halls of the university. It is a truism that as a wanderer through legal practice, you need to be a wonderer.

One of the great modern exemplars who still remains as strong in passion of learning is former Law Society President Michael Hwang, SC. You will see him attending seminars not only as a stellar speaker but also as a proactive participant eager to learn from others. What an example he sets for us of lifelong learning! But the inner driver of that learning is an innate sense of intellectual curiosity.

While you know some areas of law very well by now and supplemented others during your Part A and Part B courses, there are new areas that you will need to learn in the course of practice. 

Part of the new areas include:

  1. a niche specialization in law. The SAL has specialist accreditation to credentialize niche expertise. For instance, in building and construction and maritime; and
  2. industry knowledge and domain expertise. For instance, fintech, cybersecurity, infrastructure projects could give you cutting edge in practice as you would be speaking the language and operate on the same wavelength as the industry practitioners.

This is the deeper expertise. And you can only gain these gems if you drill down. With an insatiable thirst for knowledge that comes to the inquiring mind.

To fuel that fire of passion in learning, you need to read. In James Boswell’s Life of Johnson, Dr Johnson’s view was that “the greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write: a man will turn over half a library to make one book.” For “Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.” An important skill in practice is not only to know what to read but how to find out what to read when you need to read it.

Compassion

A second facet of passion is compassion. Interestingly, the root words of both these words are the same. The Latin word “pati” means “to suffer with”. This can only come about when we develop empathy.

Atticus Finch, the famed apocryphal lawyer from literature’s To Kill A Mockingbird gives us this quote: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view …. until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Walk where your clients walk. This means living their lives and seeing through their lens. I constantly get reminded of this every time I analyse a problem in legal practice in detached, objective, clinical professionalism. While that’s critically important (so don’t get me wrong on this point), the heartware is just as important. In communicating our answer, offering our analysis, giving our advice to the client, we need to master the art, skill or (perhaps more precisely), the value of compassion.

Unless we can feel the client’s pain of injustice, we will never experience true compassion. The “pati” that distinguishes the best lawyers from the good ones.

With compassion in your heart, you will also be perfectly poised and positively proactive to do pro bono. There is no better time to start that pro bono journey than now as a fledgling lawyer. Immerse yourself into the world of the indigent who is clueless about his rights and wrongs. Opportunities abound courtesy of our Law Society Pro Bono Services (LSPBS) for law awareness, assistance and advocacy. We reach out to touch the least, the last and the lost requiring criminal legal aid as well as civil legal aid complementary to the Legal Aid Bureau’s fine work.

Let me leave you with a final observation on passion. In an article published on biospace.com on 28 March 2018 headed “How Important Is It To Be Passionate About Your Job?”, the author writes: “A large body of evidence-based career advice says, yes, employees who are passionate about what they do will be both happier and more productive at work. Their passion stems from caring deeply about what they do or where they work and being personally invested in and motivated by its mission.”

Passion inside you, that you carefully cultivate, will enable you to overcome professional burnout and navigate extraordinary stresses and strains in practice. Being happier and more productive at work? That’s the winning proposition for both you and your employers.

May the passion burn brightly within you.

President
The Law Society of Singapore