This speech was made by the President at the official launch of the Law Society’s new premises at Maxwell Chambers Suites on 10 October 2019.
Guest of Honour Minister for Law, K Shanmugam SC,
Distinguished Members of the Supreme Court Judiciary,
Esteemed Former Presidents of the Law Society,
Honoured Council Members and Members of the Law Society,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for attending this official launch of the Law Society’s new premises @ Maxwell Chambers Suites (MCS).
On this day in history, three events happened. In 1913, the Panama Canal officially joined the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. In 1967, US and the Soviet Union signed the Outer Space Treaty. And in 1999, thousands assembled in London to watch the new London Eye dot the London skyline.
Today, 10 October 2019 marks a milestone moment in our history, the Law Society of Singapore’s history. Like a strategic move to occupy the centre of a chessboard. Although not a purchase of our first premises as was 39 South Bridge Road in 1997, yet it is no less major, significant and practical for our modern day Law Society. We will always cherish, and continue to rely on, the lifeblood of selfless, altruistic contributions of many lawyer volunteers to fulfil our societal mission in this body of lawyers. But combined with that, the modern day Law Society has a vital nerve centre. Our Secretariat. That runs through the entire body of operations, programmes and services of Law Society.
I shall briefly recount the recent background to this move to Maxwell Chambers Suites. We had undertaken major renovations to our 39 South Bridge Road to increase the number of our staff work stations. We subsequently expanded our premises further last year including leasing from neighbouring 37 South Bridge Road to relocate the Legal Research and Development Department and Continuing Professional Development Department and providing complimentary hot desk services for legal research for members. But this was a temporary stop gap measure. We needed a sustainable, long-term solution.
All this while, we had been actively and diligently looking for a suitable premises pursuant to a mandate given by the members at an EGM in 2017; we were approached by MCS last year to consider taking up some units here. After numerous site inspections, the Council, the Premises Committee (under the leadership of VP M Rajaram) and Secretariat Directors were unanimously of the view that MCS was operationally fit for our purposes as a more optimal service centre location. Having weighed all the options carefully, we decided leasing units from MCS, including bigger seminar rooms, was the best decision in the Law Society’s interests. It would meet our immediate and foreseeable needs to serve our members, present and future. We will not let up in seeking premises for purchase as mandated by members. That is still the long-term endgame.
I summarise three reasons to move to our present premises. It is a Helpcentre, a Hub and a Home.
First, Helpcentre. Law Society has grown exponentially in membership size as well as scale and complexity of our operations and functions. A decade ago, the total number of practising lawyers was 3,697. Today, we have around 5,800 practising lawyers. This is a growth of more than one-third of membership in a decade. Even taking into account exodus issues, the overall growth trajectory shows no sign of abating. The rapid net growth and projected new membership requires the core, or nerve centre of this body, the Secretariat to function efficiently and effectively to meet the increased volume and demand of members’ needs. The bigger premises paves the way for our Secretariat to provide sharper and stronger services to our members.
As we all readily appreciate, the legal landscape itself has changed significantly and dramatically. One important area is tech. The legal profession has not been spared the onslaught of technological disruption. The activities undertaken by the Society are set to grow even further in both breadth and depth as we tackle ongoing, and newfound, challenges of practice in our economic environment.
In recent years, pursuant to our public-private private partnership with Law Ministry and Enterprise SG, we started Tech Start for Law in 2017 and launched its sequel Tech-celerate, this year. The aim: to facilitate the adoption of baseline and advanced technology solutions across the board in the profession by reducing one of the biggest pain points i.e. costs. Retooling Is key. The ability to stay nimble and resilient, essential. We have set up a new Legal Productivity and Innovation Department to focus on boosting tech and innovation initiatives among lawyers. Its activities are expected to grow in quality and quantity.
Additionally, schemes such as LSMS, LSAS and LSNEDS have been launched by the Law Society to help the profession in terms of business development and sustainability. That requires space and rooms. Enter MCS. We will continue to help grow new revenue streams for our lawyers while boosting capacity and capability.
A big area in which we will be devoting significant time in the near to middle term is economic reform. We have set up an economic review group to look at root and branch ways to ensure the economic health of our small and medium sized law firms not just during downward cycles but also over the long haul. Not only to survive or revive but thrive in the New Economy. The enlarged space here will enable the Law Society to support the projected membership increase and scale up our services to provide multifaceted assistance to more members.
MCS will also provide a dignified setting befitting our stature as World Class Lawyers for smaller seminars, committee meetings and events (such as hosting dignitaries and overseas Bar leaders) including at our Lounge. Take a tour of MCS after this ceremony for all of us to have a visual appreciation of that.
But help is not only for the profession. It is also to serve public. The Society’s objective includes protecting and assisting members of the public. We continue to provide access to justice for the public (not just via pro bono services) but also through various initiatives. Flashpoints this year have included a public alert on conveyancing scams, the launch of our legal fact check facility and catalysing low bono initiatives in family justice by laying the groundwork for a clearing house model. Through MCS, we hope to enhance access to justice through many more helping hands of our lawyers.
The next theme I touch on is Hub.
When completed, the vicinity around MCS, as envisioned by the Law Ministry, will be a hub of law related activities. This will also allow the Society to work closely and collaboratively with other stakeholders in the legal profession to provide members with a full spectrum of seminars, activities, facilities and services to enhance membership.
For close to two years now, we have had an excellent collaboration with the Law Ministry on Lawyers Go Global. They strategise. Enterprise SG funds. Law Society organises. Members go. The vision: regionalisation and internationalisation for rank and file among our practitioners in the legal profession.
At this juncture, I make a special mention of Min Law’s assistance in our move to MCS. This relocation was made possible only because of strong financial support from the Ministry of Law. They helped us first, secure the space at a lower rental rate from Maxwell Chambers and second, provide a grant on top of it. We are appreciative. This contribution was part of a mutually beneficial public-private partnership between the Law Ministry and Law Society to develop Singapore as a legal and dispute resolution hub. We are committed to that vision.
The last point I make is that H is for Home. For some, the emotional connection is to 39 SBR. That’s understandable. It was after all our first purchased premises courtesy of the visionary leadership and drive of former President Chandra Mohan K Nair and the late Palakrishnan SC.
MCS will enable us to catalyse camaraderie and community among our diverse membership across practice areas and seniority. We envision this to feature a sweet suite of fellowship by including very single member without discriminating on, among other things, gender, creed, race or religion. I pray that MCS will also be a place of healing of fractured relationships in the profession. A centre of healing in law by lawyers as healers.
In the final analysis, home is all about people and a place where you feel valued. Part of the lyrics of a 1961 song “Home is Where The Heart Is” recorded by Elvis Presley goes:
For home is where the heart is
And my heart is anywhere you are
Anywhere you are is home
Look around you. See your brothers and sisters in law. Anywhere they are is home. I hope you will feel that sense of belonging here. Like the theme song of that 1980s sitcom “Cheers”, may you find this a place “where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came“.
Maxwell Chambers Suites. A place of service, professional and relational connection. That’s the vision of our new Helpcentre, Hub and Home.