The Family Bar has come under an astonishing assault due to an e-petition launched by anonymous keyboard warriors. The originators have refused to engage with the Society on the nature and substance of the general allegations levelled against family lawyers. This is despite overtures by our Conduct Department for the individuals whom we believe are behind this e-petition to lodge a proper complaint. And so, I did not mince my words in a media request for a quote last week on this particular online petition.
This month, I therefore thought it best, timely and expedient to share the succinct Foreword I had penned for The Art of Family Lawyering (published by the Law Society and available in the Members’ Library of our website). This e-book is a living document. I would encourage every family lawyer to read it again and again. The prose will certainly read differently over time but the wisdom will be timeless.
The short tribute to each and every one of our family lawyers encapsulated in this Foreword is a miniscule way to appreciate and celebrate these legal healers and conciliators in our midst. More than merely being other-aware or client-sensitive, you raise the rest of the Bar up with your powerful empathy. Many of you are living exemplars of Atticus Finch’s quote from Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird: “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.” Despite some clients getting under your skin, you have consistently walked around in theirs: to experience the world from their world. This is one of the outstanding attributes needed in the best lawyering. The other is of course, professional objectivity.
And so as you read this living book, may the following words breathe new life into the practice of every family lawyer, whether you are a generalist or specialist:
“I am very pleased to author this foreword for this 2019 edition of The Art of Family Lawyering. The notable difference between this edition and the previous one is the commentary on novel rules 15A and 15B of the Legal Profession (Professional Conduct) Rules 2015. These are game-changers. They buttress constructive problem solving, conciliation and conflicts of interest prevention. Rule 15A(3) turn the spotlight on a child welfare-oriented advice ethically required of practitioners in family proceedings where children are involved.
Alvin Chen’s foreword succinctly outlines the Parts and Chapters of this book. I will not cover the same ground. Suffice to say that the Appendix compendiously compiles the 52 best practice tips distilled from the contents of this book. They cover the gamut from the formation of the lawyer-client relationship, dispute resolution options, children, conflict of interest, termination of the lawyer-client relationship, pre-trial proceedings, court hearings, relationship with other practitioners and relationships with litigants-in-person.
Family lawyering is an art not science. Nothing formulaic, rigid, dogmatic or one-size fit all. It is of course a truism that every client is different and every case is different – family law or otherwise. But there is a bespoke blend of collaborative, mediation, negotiation and advocacy skills that family law practitioners bring to each family law case that is especially applicable to that unique client and family.
Art also speaks of a thing of beauty. I believe there is so much beauty in the work of family lawyers. I have heard and seen powerful anecdotal examples of healing of relationships and family ties. The skills and sensitivity of family law practitioners who are competent, ethically upright, practical, sensible and collaborative have played a significant role in case outcomes. The very best family lawyers do not escalate tensions or increase acrimony with every letter authored, affidavit drafted, court application filed or hearing argued. They have an innate and intuitive sense of their own role as healers (whether directly or indirectly) to hurting families.
In the diversity of relationships that family lawyers have – with court, counterparty, client, community and child – family lawyers are privileged to be healers. For many Singaporean individuals and families, family law is their first encounter with the legal system. It will either make or break them for life. It will also mould their perceptions (rightly or wrongly) of the judiciary, lawyers and the legal profession. Being a healer may well be the highest calling in the Bar. I had touched on that in a few messages including during the Opening of the Legal Year 2018. Then, I had quoted from Justice Lee Seiu Kin’s words that the lawyer as healer “encapsulates the supreme mission of the legal profession”. As Family Bar practitioners turn the leaves of these pages, may these pages leave an intangible healing virtue in and through each of your lives as family healers.
I commend the Family Law Practice Committee and dedicated authors of this book. I am also very grateful to General Editor, Alvin Chen, for his prolific penmanship in curating its contents. This is an indispensable tool in the hands of every family law practitioner. It should be a personal library resource for every member of the Family Bar. The Art of Family Lawyering will sharpen your sketching in artistic workmanship on the life canvas of dysfunctional, distressed and disrupted families in Singapore. May what you leaf through bring out the beauty and the best in your family lawyering.”
The rest of us at the Law Society salute you.