A Lawyer’s Mission
Treasurer Paul Tan delivered this speech at the Mass Call on 24 August 2022.
Your Honour, may it please the Court.
My name is Paul Tan and I am from the Law Society of Singapore.
Your Honour may recall that some 15 years ago, I had the privilege of being your pupil for a brief period after my stint as a JLC. So not only is it my distinct honour to be addressing this mass call, but to be doing so before Your Honour.
For the new lawyers in attendance today, their friends, family and loved ones who are witnesses to this momentous occasion, I wish to extend the congratulations of the Law Society of Singapore to each of you.
Not every one who desires to be called to the Bar, may be called to the Bar. The recent controversy surrounding 11 trainees underscores this point. One must not only have proven requisite academic intelligence and knowledge, one must also be a fit and proper person to be admitted to the Bar.
Why? Because for as long as you are admitted as an advocate and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Singapore, you have a right to dispense advice under Singapore law, and a right of audience before the courts on behalf of your clients.
That right makes lawyers an integral – if not indispensable – part of the justice system of Singapore.
In this context, a lawyer’s mission – should you choose to accept it – entails a number of responsibilities.
First, a responsibility to your clients – to be diligent, conscientious, determined, and to always act in their best interests. Lawyers are not fungible and they can make a difference. So, be the difference in your client’s cases.
Second, a responsibility to the Courts. The Courts do not simply choose sides. Their responsibility is to ensure justice. But they cannot discharge this public function if they do not have the facts before them, if they are misled. So while as lawyers we owe our clients the responsibility to put forward their perspective, that cannot be done in a way that would subvert the course of justice.
If anything, educating one’s client as to what can reasonably be argued and what is impermissible under the law, is also part of a lawyer’s duty to act in the client’s best interest. No client is served by a lawyer willing to do or say anything – even if the client may think so!
Third, I believe that we also owe fellow members of the Bar a responsibility to deal honestly and fairly, and indeed, courteously, with each other. Lawyers who poison professional relationships by unnecessary allegations, toxic language and tactical uncooperativeness do not advance their client’s cause and are doing a disservice to the profession.
Fourth, we owe a responsibility to ourselves. To be the best lawyers we can be. That means investing in ourselves – learning, being part of industry groups, writing articles, doing pro bono work as a means of gaining more experience – whether they are billable or not.
It also means taking care of ourselves. The journey to be a good lawyer is a long one. There will be good days, there will be bad days. At the same time, we are no good to anyone if we are overworked, stressed, irritable.
The pandemic of the last two years has taught us that life is short, it is transient. Some of us have suffered the pain of helplessness when we were unable to take care of loved ones or lost loved ones without being able to see them one last time.
Some of us missed out on opportunities to go to school or to train in person.
Many of us are probably still feeling the long term psychological effects of the pandemic – even if we may not know it.
Your courage in overcoming what was truly a global, traumatic catastrophe and in being called today is laudatory.
But as you progress in your journey, please also take care of yourselves. Catch the breaks. Treat yourself. Have cheat days.
Last but not least, I urge the law firms and senior members of the Bar to treat our fledging lawyers with respect and kindness. Mentor them, be proud of them, give them credit and let them shine.
At the risk of some personal embarrassment, let me share this story. I remember an occasion once when I was a young junior associate – I was walking back to the office from an SAL committee meeting with my partner. He was chatting with a world renowned arbitration lawyer who was then based in Singapore in a global law firm. That lawyer said, “oh do you know this Singapore associate so-and-so; I am working with him and he’s wonderful.” To which my partner turned around and said – “this one’s better” and pointed at me. I didn’t believe a word of it but it certainly made my day.
Those were the days before LinkedIn when humble brags were less common, so I never told anyone this story – but I wanted to share this because we are now clearly in an employee’s market. Law firms all around the world are fighting for talent. And that includes all of you. What is often forgotten in all the strategy meetings is that meaningful, heartfelt validation of our younger lawyers goes a long way.
On that note, and on behalf of all the members of the Law Society I welcome each of you to the Bar. I hope you find meaning in your careers, and fellowship in the profession.
Photo credit: SG Courts