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The Singapore Law Gazette

President’s Message to Newly Called Lawyers

President recorded a video message to the new lawyers who were called to the Bar on 13 May 2020. Click here to view the video.

First and Foremost, Congratulations!

You are an elite group of individuals admitted to the roll of advocates and solicitors of the Supreme Court of Singapore. This is a badge of honour and distinction. For many others, the dream of being a lawyer in Singapore will remain unfulfilled. For some, for the rest of their lives.

But for you, your being called to the Bar is a prestigious passport. You enter into an

exclusive association with monopolistic rights to practise law. Your admission to the Supreme Court roll is a climatic culmination of your aspirations and perspiration. And yet, as honouring as it is being called to the Bar, this is as much your family’s narrative, as it is your own. This calling is a testament to the sacrifices, hopes, dreams and ideals of your parents and family members. They are beaming with pride for you and with you to celebrate this monumental milestone. And yet the journey of your career has only just begun. The embryonic story of how your reputation will grow, has just been written.

On 13 May this year, 115 of you were called to the Singapore Bar via Zoom conferencing.

In that solemn but surreal Zoom video conference hearing reported in the media,

Justice Choo Han Teck of the Supreme Court, rightly pointed out that “You are the batch of lawyers admitted in the midst of the pandemic” and “present at its birth”.

The Law Society was present at your birth too, to the legal profession as one of the midwives. Perhaps, for some of you, that occasion of your call during COVID-19 appeared more suboptimal rather than significant. Socially distanced rather than seamless.

But I want to leave you as the young infants in the legal profession who have zoomed through your call with an abiding piece of wisdom.

I believe this would be apt and significant for all of you. And perhaps, for those feeling that tinge of something amiss about your call, you will instead remember Justice Choo’s words and view this message about the significance of your call.

I want to speak to you about the power of zoom. By this I do not mean the technology. Instead, two language meanings of “zoom”.

First, zoom used in the sense of the noun meaning. This is a camera shot changing smoothly from a panning long shot to a close up shot. It speaks of the power of a laser focus brought to bear on an object. By this, I mean the practice of law. Zoom into an area of practice in law with greater depth than any other area.

Some of you may have to do a smattering of a variety of areas. There is wisdom in having both breadth and depth. But even now, at this nascent stage of your career, gun for and go for an area of passion or penchant. Put another way, find a niche and specialize. Some of you may not be able to find your forte as soon as others. There is a truism that some need time to experiment. And as you try different things, you may find your cup of tea. But thinking in terms of your discerning and developing your own unique value proposition will keep you motivated. Sometimes despite clocking long hours in the profession and also in the midst of the mundane, it will keep dreams alive in you too.

Of course, go for courses. The Law Soc is providing free webinars for all members from July to December.

This is a strategic special intervention during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Avail yourself of those courses. Go past the primers in Part B and what you caught in the practice traineeship (and I don’t mean the virus!).

A crucial habit to adopt is reading. Be it in practice or in-house – read, read, and read. Books, magazines, newspapers, law reports, law journals and the Singapore Law Gazette. Avail yourself of these resources to your advantage. Read widely on a variety of disciplines too. This is the wide lens that you will need at times before zooming into the narrow lens of your chosen area of expertise.

For some of you, it could be hard to imagine what zooming is like when you are focused on a simple bread and butter question such as finding a job. We understand.

The power of zoom still holds true, however. Although it would be more difficult to find jobs during the economic fallout from the pandemic, this is an invaluable season for you to hone your skills, develop your craft and expand your substratum of knowledge.

You could build capacity in your specialization even before you begin your first day at work. That will also keep your mind alert, meaningfully occupied and in the words of Stephen Covey in his classic work “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, this is called sharpening your saw.

The second meaning of zoom is to move or travel very quickly, accelerate or hurtle along at top speed. By this I mean and I am alluding to, accelerating at high speed in tech. As newly minted lawyers, in the philosophical and pithy words of Justice Choo Han Teck, “you are the first lawyers to have been admitted to the Bar by means of video communication”. That is itself another signifier. It signifies, paradoxically, remoteness as well as connectedness – you are all at home and yet in court.

But this paradox that Justice Choo was referring to only arose because of tech. You are the pioneer generation, being uniquely called by Zoom, to zoom past the previous generations of lawyers

Capitalise on the technology we have and become digital natives. There is no better time to use technology to revolutionize the way we work. The Law Society has schemes which you and your firm could avail yourselves of, such as Tech-celerate. It is now a well-known truism that COVID-19 has done far more for the tech-adoption by the profession that any CTO, CIO or CDO could ever have done. The sky is the limit and the resources available to you through technology would enable you to practise in a virtual world as a parallel to practising in the geographical world.

You could be the significant bridge builders to help a profession adapt and adopt a new normal. And that may mean, in an interesting, ironic twist, becoming mentors even to older groups of lawyers via The Law Society’s Tech Support Facilitator programme. This is a practical reverse mentorship programme in the profession. And so, age is no barrier to expertise.

As future members of the Law Society, as you zoom through your careers, never forget for even one moment that this profession is all about people. Law is of the people, by the people and for the people. And it will be your sacred and solemn duty as newly called members of the Bar to step up and uphold the law and ensure access to justice.

Be an advocate for the profession and be an advocate for the community. This means you should never zoom so fast that people become a meaningless blur that you pass by or you bypass.

Part of the circuit breaker phase that we all went through has deep and profound lessons about the need for pause, to stocktake, and to care for others including our brothers and sisters in law. On that note, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon in a recent speech to the Judicial Integrity Network in Asean, flagged a situation of real concern arising out of the coronavirus pandemic. This is of cash-strapped clients putting a downward pressure on legal fees that would in turn reduce the legal firms’ willingness or ability to do pro bono work. But each of you can turn that tide. There are ample opportunities for pro bono service via the Law Society’s Pro Bono Services, Law Soc’s access to justice arm. And there are tech tools to aid you. I have personally participated in an online Law Soc Pro Bono Services legal counselling session recently. Tech enablement enabled an effective reach during that session to the needy in law despite our trying times. You are never too young to start the pro bono journey.

In the final analysis, law is about doing justice with compassion. I wish all of you well in your fledgling career. May you zoom along your trajectory, moving from height to height, new heights to new heights. And as you do, our hearts as the senior lawyers of the Bar soar with you.

Congratulations once again and do continue to stay calm, healthy, safe and well.

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