This speech was delivered by the President at the Law Society’s Annual Dinner on 15 November 2019.
Distinguished Members of the Judiciary, Justices Chan Seng Onn, Tan Siong Thye, Vinodh Coomaraswamy and Judicial Commissioner Vincent Hoong
International Guests, Chunghwan Choi, President LAWASIA; Brian Speers, President Commonwealth Lawyers Association; Roger Chin, President of the Sabah Law Society
Joan Janssen, Director General, Ministry of Law
Eminent Past Presidents of the Law Society, Giam Chin Toon SC, Peter Low, Arfat Selvam, Lok Vi Ming SC and Thio Shenyi SC
Exco, Council Members and Members of Law Society
Singaporean and International Law Firm representatives
Honoured Award Winners of tonight,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of the Law Society Council and the Social & Welfare Committee (SWC), a warm welcome to the Law Society’s Annual Dinner 2019!
Hot off the press, congratulations to Judicial Commissioner Vincent Hoong on Your Honour’s appointment as Judge of the High Court from 3 January 2020.
I want to specifically welcome the flagbearers of various sister organisations:
- SiARb represented by Honorary Secretary, Francis Goh,
- the SAWL team,
- ISCA represented by Kon Yin Tong,
- Singapore Medical Association represented by 1st Vice President, Dr Tan Yia Swam,
- Institute of Engineers represented by Deputy President, Dr Richard Kwok
- Singapore Institute of Surveyors and Valuers represented by President, Land Surveying Division, Pang Choon Chew
From Intellectual Property of Singapore, we are glad to host Deputy Director and Fellow Counsel, Dixon Soh and Ernest Chow respectively.
And last but not least, our youngest guests filled with ideals and aspirations that I hope will not be lost especially among our more senior members of the Bar, law student Bar President and Vice President, SMU Law Society, Lau Yi Hang and Lee Wei Teng
Our Annual Dinner conspicuously stands out in Law Soc’s annual calendar as the most prestigious social event of the year. We take time out during our annual ball to fete feats and esteem exceptional lawyers and law firms who showcase selflessness and superlative achievements in the legal profession. We bestow our highest award for societal contribution, the C C Tan Award, in this setting (the citation of which will be read by Vice President Adrian Tan later). We also confer our highest sports and pro bono awards for the year – the Sports Personality of the Year and Pro Bono Ambassador of the Year respectively (citations of which will be read out by Treasurer Tito Isaac later) – during this event. We will also treasure our Friends of the Law Society and loudly laud Contributors of the Year, Volunteers of the Year and Appreciation Award winners of the year whom we will honour. While the identity of our awardees will remain confidential until unveiled later this evening, let me in Safari fashion, leave you with clues of the three “big game” awards to hunt for the right answer.
All these clues come from statements from them and about them.
For our C C Tan Award Winner: “Behind my work, there are real lives at stake. In commercial, civil and corporate cases, everything boils down to dollars and cents. But when you’re doing criminal and family law, you know it’s not just dollars and cents. These people have to pick up the pieces.”
For our Sports Personality Award Winner: “…’one of the best corporate lawyers in Singapore’, ‘the advice he gives is unfailingly spot-on, you can get hold of him any time of the day and he will meet the deadlines you set him however inevitably unrealistic they are.”
For our Pro Bono Ambassador Winner from his own pen in a letter to the Forum: “Hate is hate, however you cloak it, and we firmly believe Singaporeans reject the politics of hate.”
On the same theme of a Safari hunt, let me share two brief but serious thoughts with us all.
First, as lawyers, although fiercely individualistic, strong and formidable professionals in our own right, we must learn the secret of hunting as a pack as opposed to being lone wolves. This harnesses the power of teamwork and collaboration. I believe that we can work with coordination and purpose together without compromising the essence of who we are and our identities. In the Lawyers Go Global mission trips (this year to China, Japan, Indonesia), we have relied on that tried and tested formula. Showcasing specialisations and niche expertise of our lawyer delegations to bring out the unique value proposition even while we promote the general Singapore lawyer brand. I venture to add that the idea of hunting as a pack extends to hunting together with talented legal professionals including from the countries we visit. As a member of a global team whether on deals (inbound or outbound) or disputes (cross-border litigation, arbitration or mediation), there are ample opportunities that we can partake in. We must break past an “us” and “them” or divisive mentality and tap into the common wealth of our gifts, talents and resources.
A second reflection on Safaris. African gazelles instinctively form “alert circles” while resting on the savannah. They gather in groups with each animal facing outward in a slightly different direction. This enables them to scan the horizon a full 360 degrees and to alert each other about approaching dangers or opportunities. Instead of looking out only for themselves, the members of the group take care off one another. Why I am I sharing this here? This is more than about survival in a concrete jungle but a genuine care and concern for our brothers and sisters in law. Hence, the pastoral care focus that the Council Team has had for several years now and an economic care focus that we will continue to devote ourselves to more fully in the coming year. If we, as lawyer leaders and lawyers at the Bar, have “alert circles” like the African gazelles, we can sound the alarm for each other on approaching dangers to the legal profession. As an illustration, we have in these two days sounded the alarm of the twin dangers of bullying and harassment. We are very pleased this evening to host Kieran Pender, legal advisor with the International Bar Association’s Legal Policy and Research Unit and author of a groundbreaking, landmark IBA report “US Too? Bullying and Sexual Harassment in the Legal Profession”. This polled close to 7,000 respondents from 135 countries. We hosted a series of Roundtables for Kieran to speak to our Managing Partners as well as our Women in Practice and Junior Bar leaders. Law Soc will build on that momentum for our profession.
My gratitude goes out to the Social and Welfare Team chaired by Ushan Premaratne for reliably, professionally organising our Dinner this evening. Much appreciation also goes the way of our Membership Department headed by our experienced stalwart Shawn Toh and his team of “angels” for their continued commitment to ensure everyone has a good time. A special word of appreciation goes out to our Sponsors too for easing the financial burden of making tonight a special safari for us!
A silent auction will also take place throughout the evening. Please do your part to raise funds for Law Society Pro Bono Services (LSPBS). LSPBS is the Law Society’s subsidiary stewarding the time, talent and treasure of pro bono volunteers, and supporters for access to justice.
I also wish to make a plug for our Biennial lecture 2019 – Law of our Land: Connecting Our Islands of History by leading legal historian Dr Kevin Tan next Monday afternoon (18 November). This will be followed by a wonderful joint bicentennial celebration with SAWL over tea. Lee Wha has told me: “We promise a fantastic show!”
Finally, I would also like to take time out to single out and honour a special group of lawyers who are celebrating their 50th year in practice. This is their major practice milestone and for these remarkable lawyers, their golden jubilee. Could I ask all of you to stand and take a bow.
Ladies and gentlemen and friends, as we rejoice in our special bonds (both new and old) across the legal profession this evening, I wish all of you an exciting event!