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The Singapore Law Gazette

Crossing the BARrier

As you cross the milestone of admission to the Singapore Bar, pause to celebrate your hard-earned achievements on the journey so far and assure yourself that you can chart your own path ahead. With this step, you join a college of peers at the Bar that this Society brings together and that you can turn to for guidance and kinship along the way.

You also join a wider community of legal professionals around the world that are members of a time-honoured tradition. In this article, we speak to learned friends that have gained admission to Bars around the region, including Singapore-qualified lawyers who have spread their wings abroad as well as friends from our neighbourhood. They give us an insight into their journeys towards admission in those jurisdictions, life since admission and issues that occupy the minds of young practitioners elsewhere.

Varian Koh

Associate, Clifford Chance (Hong Kong)
Admissions: Singapore (2017), Hong Kong (2020)

Varian Koh

What was the process you went through to be admitted as a lawyer in Hong Kong?

Hong Kong maintains a “split profession” between solicitors and barristers. The process for admission as a solicitor is very different from that of a barrister. In my case, I was admitted in Hong Kong as a solicitor.

To be admitted as a solicitor in Hong Kong, foreign lawyers who are already qualified in common law jurisdictions generally need to pass the “Overseas Lawyers Qualification Examinations” (the OLQE). This is an examination administered by the Law Society of Hong Kong (Law Soc HK), and to qualify for the OLQE, a candidate must have (a) at least two years of post-admission experience in the practice of law (and includes any period of traineeship); and (b) be in good standing in his/her original jurisdiction.

After confirming my standing to take the OLQE, the next step was to determine how many “Heads” (i.e., subjects) of the OLQE I was required to complete. As I had less than five years of work experience, I had to take all five Heads of the OLQE – (i) Conveyancing, (ii) Civil and Criminal Procedure, (iii) Commercial and Company Law, (iv) Accounts and Professional Conduct, (v) Principles of Common Law and (vi) Hong Kong Constitutional Law. The only subject I was exempted from was the “Principles of Common Law’, which is an exemption granted to most qualified lawyers from common law jurisdictions.

Upon passing the OLQE, one can then proceed to apply for admission as a solicitor of Hong Kong. Apart from the examination results, I had to provide a few declarations and provide further documentary evidence (such as the admission certificate issued by the Singapore courts) as well as invite a “mover” to move the application. Unlike the procedure in Singapore, where I was part of the “Mass Call”, the admission in Hong Kong is slightly more personal. The mover invited is typically the qualifying lawyer’s supervisor, work colleague or even a close friend (who is already a qualified solicitor). The mover usually gives a personalised speech in open court. Admission as a solicitor in Hong Kong is seen as a huge milestone by many here, and massive celebrations are typical – think hired photographers, extended family members and friends coming down to congratulate on the actual day, huge lunch functions, flowers, balloons, cakes and more.

The above was of course subject to the prevailing COVID-19 regulations. From 2020 onwards, admissions have gradually become a muted affair as large gatherings were banned, and the movers were not able to give such personalised speeches in court. My personal admission also took place under such restrictions, and I only had a handful of friends and family present on my admission day. That said, it definitely made the admission process intimate and cozy, and it is an indescribable feeling when you realise that you are finally admitted in Hong Kong, one of the most vibrant cities in the world.

What were the most challenging parts of the process and how did it compare with your experience of gaining admission in Singapore?

One challenge that I faced was that there was no “precedent” for me to follow. When I first arrived in Hong Kong, there were only one or two Singapore solicitors that I personally knew who were also qualified in Hong Kong and thus I had very little guidance. In Singapore, everything was done in clockwork fashion as most of my seniors and peers went through the same system – graduating from law school, commencing training contract and getting admitted upon completion of our training contract – every step to admission was clearly spelled out. Those were the days where my peers and I would be able to speak to seniors and update the “templates” provided accordingly. In Hong Kong, the onus was on me to understand the various procedures and prepare the necessary materials and documents to the satisfaction of Law Soc HK. I had to do all of these while balancing the stress of settling down in a foreign country and holding a full-time job. Thankfully, the human resource department in my Hong Kong firm was very helpful in this regard.

The OLQE papers themselves were also no walk in the park. Perhaps it was because a few years has passed since my last major examination, but I personally found the OLQE papers challenging. Unlike Singapore where the SILE oversees the Bar examinations and the associated courses, there is no equivalent institution in Hong Kong. Rather, the Law Soc HK administers the OLQE and its syllabus. The Law Soc HK does not conduct any courses or provide study materials to prepare candidates for the OLQE. As such, candidates have to approach external course providers (think tuition centres), and the fees charged are not cheap. While such course providers are entirely optional, I did find the course materials to be very helpful, especially when I had to balance work and study at the same time. One tip is to see if your firm will be willing to sponsor the course fees!

While the OLQE may be challenging, I have not yet met a Singaporean lawyer who has not passed on his/her first attempt. Our rigorous academic training definitely puts us in good stead here.

Can you share what you think are some concerns or anxieties that younger lawyers in Hong Kong currently face?

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in Hong Kong, some of us feared that legal jobs would be cut and/or salaries reduced. That fear has resurfaced again with the looming recession, and most of my peers are keeping an eye on it and how it will impact the legal industry in Hong Kong. For now, it is mostly business as usual but law firms in general have taken a cautious tone on their outlook. I believe this is a global phenomenon and is not just restricted to Hong Kong.

Another hot topic in Hong Kong is one that is familiar to Singaporeans – building a sustainable practice. Work-life balance, remote working, mental health and talent retention are some of the topics that are coming to the forefront in the industry and which most law firms are actively engaging in. In recognition of this, Law Soc HK has increased its efforts to encourage market participants to increase its digitalisation and be more holistic in its compensation packages.

How (if at all) have you found legal practice in Hong Kong different from your experience in Singapore?

Owing to the nature of my work as a finance lawyer, my work in Hong Kong has been quite similar to my time in Singapore – the basic principles behind legal finance work are generally similar after all. However, I would say that the deals that I am staffed on are generally more international and cross-border (and usually with a focus on the Chinese market) in nature. Hong Kong is also a giant melting pot of culture and my colleagues and clients come from a diverse range of backgrounds. My legal career in Hong Kong has been nothing short of exciting so far and I have learnt so much during my time here, both on the personal and professional fronts. 

If you could go back to the time when you were first admitted to the Bar in Singapore, what advice would you give to your younger self?

To not limit myself and explore various practice areas to see if there is any other area of law that would be a good fit for me. Being a practising lawyer is entirely different from being a law student and it is only through training and work experience you do get a feel of what the work actually entails. I would also tell myself to be open minded and take the initiative, especially when rare opportunities come along – you never know where it will take you and you may never get such opportunities again. I personally would never have thought that I would work and live in Hong Kong but it has been a positive and life changing experience.

Angela Ray T. Abala

Research Associate, Singapore International Dispute Resolution Academy (SIDRA) (Singapore)
Admissions: Philippines (2015), New York (2021)

Angela Ray T. Abala

What was the process you went through to be admitted as a lawyer?

I am admitted to practise law in the Philippines and in the State of New York.

To be able to practise law in the Philippines, you would have to be a Filipino citizen, hold a professional degree in law and pass the Bar exam. The Philippine Bar exam consists of eight subjects. It is conducted over the course of four consecutive Sundays, with two subjects taken each Sunday.

After completing my undergraduate coursework, I went to law school for four years and obtained a Juris Doctor degree. Afterwards, I took the Bar exam back in October 2014 and was sworn in to the Philippine Bar in April 2015. I took the Oath of Office, along with the other individuals who passed the test, during a ceremony attended by the Justices of the Supreme Court and signed the Roll of Attorneys at the Supreme Court.

In 2019, I went to Georgetown University in the US to pursue my LL.M. degree. As I was already in the U.S. and I knew that it would further my career, I decided to take the New York Bar Exam. I took the Bar Exam in New York as a foreign-educated applicant. Normally, foreign-educated applicants would need an LL.M. Degree from a U.S. law school to be eligible to take the exam. However, the New York Bar recognizes Philippine law degrees as a sufficient requirement (subject to a formal evaluation process), since U.S. and Philippine legal education are substantially equivalent in duration and coverage.

I was slated to take the test in July 2020. But the pandemic changed that. The test was rescheduled to October 2020, and it was a completely online format. Before COVID-19, examinees would travel to New York to take the exam in person. But travel was ill-advised during the early days of the pandemic. And so, the New York State Board of Law Examiners decided that examinees would take the test remotely and have it proctored virtually. That was the first ever virtual and remote administration of the New York Bar Exam. The Board of Law Examiners required examinees to download a specific software and to turn on both the camera and mic of their laptops during the entire duration of the test. Examinees were required to stay within full view of their camera at all times except during the breaks between sessions. I took the New York Bar Exam in the comfort of my own bedroom … in California. I have friends who took the test from Japan, Thailand, and the Philippines. I took the Attorney’s Oath in June 2021, also remotely from California.

What were the most challenging parts of the process? How did the Bar admission process prepare you for your subsequent career path?

I think taking the Bar exam in any jurisdiction is a gruelling process. I remember my anxiety being at an all-time high when I took both Bar exams! Taking the Bar exam is both mentally and physically exhausting. And I obviously wanted to pass it in one try. I distinctly remember the third Sunday of my Philippine Bar Exam. I had finished taking the Criminal Law test. I remember standing outside the test center with my friend, waiting for my ride to go home. It was raining and my friend held up an umbrella for the both of us. He asked me how the test went and I suddenly started bawling, telling him it was the hardest test I had to take. It was like straight out of a movie – crying in the rain!

For the New York Bar Exam, the most challenging part of that process were the changes to the Bar Exam format and schedule that were being announced every few weeks or so. The early days of the pandemic necessitated so many changes for public health and safety reasons. The Bar was initially scheduled in July 2020. It was cancelled and rescheduled to September 2020, thinking that the public health situation would be better by then. Yet, the test was cancelled again in September 2020 and we were told that the New York State Board of Law Examiners was studying the possibility of conducting an online and remote test. It was then announced that the test would be online and held in October 2020. Due to several postponements, my friends and I were unsure whether the test would even push through. It was hard trying to prepare for a test that kept getting rescheduled, without knowing if it was really going to happen. I had to adjust my study schedule repeatedly and I also had to give myself time to process what was happening around us in 2020.

Both my Bar admission processes reminded me to always put in the work. Do what you can, do it well. I’m a Type A person who has contingency plans for my contingency plans. But the Bar admission process also helped me realise that there are a lot of things that are beyond my control, no matter how hard I prepare or plan for it. This was especially true during the entire process of getting admitted to the New York Bar. The pandemic threw a wrench in my plans. I had to keep adjusting to changes that were being announced – the lockdown, travel bans, the date of the test, the format of the test. Being flexible and able to deal with unexpected challenges was something that I took away from my experiences which helped me prepare for my subsequent career path. That and not to plan too much – or to keep planning but not to take it so hard when things don’t go my way.

Can you share what you think are some concerns or anxieties that younger lawyers in The Philippines currently face?

The main concern young practitioners face is finding their footing in their chosen path. Young practitioners need to figure out what field of law they want to specialise in. Young practitioners might be thinking about seeking a mentor. These were also the things I was thinking about when I was first admitted to practise law.

When I first started practising law in The Philippines, I had several conversations with friends in the field about burnout and how to avoid it while working at a law firm. We were trying to figure out how to best advance our careers but also have time for ourselves. We would also hear about high attrition rates in the legal sector. So, we were also trying to find the best place, whether it was at a law firm or in government service, to grow and make the most of our careers.

If you could go back to the time when you were first admitted to the Bar in The Philippines, what advice would you give to your younger self?

I’d tell myself to not worry too much. Starting out in the field is daunting. But things have a way of working out. Legal practice has allowed me to meet wonderful people and to travel to so many places. I figured out the type of law I wanted to practise. It has also allowed me to teach the law in different countries!

I would tell myself to just keep trying new things – even those that I said I would never do (I once said I wouldn’t take another Bar exam after passing the Philippine one, and yet I did). I would tell myself to keep trying anyway even though there is a good chance of failing or a getting a “no”. Because that is not the worst thing in life anyway. Worry less, keep trying, be patient, and have tons of fun.

Umika Sharma

PhD Candidate, National University of Singapore (Singapore)
Admissions: India (2017)

Umika Sharma

What was the process you went through to be admitted as a lawyer in India?

Law school in India can be either five or three years long. To do the three-year course, one must have an undergraduate degree. The five-year degrees are usually integrated with an undergraduate specialisation (like Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Business Administration, Bachelor of Science and so on). The latter was the route that I opted for, i.e., a five-year long Bachelor of Business Administration and Bachelor of Law (Hons.) degree.

After I completed my law degree, I registered with the Bar Council of Delhi. Every law graduate in India must first register with a state bar council. After enrolling as an advocate in Delhi, I had a two-year timeline to complete the All India Bar Exam (AIBE), which is the national bar qualification exam. This exam is simultaneously conducted across 50 plus cities in India in multiple languages. The AIBE is an open book exam with objective questions on a range of legal theory and practice areas and no negative marking (i.e., marks are awarded based on the merits of answers, but no deductions are made for incorrect responses). I believe there are proposals pending before the Bar Council of India to make this exam closed book and to introduce negative marking. There are no formal training requirements before you take the AIBE; however, you must have completed a five-year or three-year LLB degree to sit for the exam and complete the exam within two years of enrollment as an advocate with your state bar council.

After I cleared the AIBE exam, I received a Certificate of Practice (COP) to practise law in a court of India. As India is divided into multiple states and I am registered with the Bar Council of Delhi, I can appear before the courts in Delhi, which includes the High Court of Delhi and other lower courts and tribunals. If I want to appear before the courts in a different state, then I need to transfer my enrollment to the Bar Council in that state. I cannot register with more than one bar council and the requirements for registration vary from state to state. I believe there are pending changes to this requirement that are intended to allow advocates to practise all over India, but there is a lack of a consistent application by different High Courts under their respective rules of procedure. Thus, there are still no clear answers to whether or not I can practise across different states. Moreover, to act as well as plead before the Supreme Court of India, which is the highest court in the country, there are additional experience and examination requirements to qualify as an Advocate on Record (AOR).

There are no formal admissions ceremonies (which is a bit sad!) in India when you receive your COP. I only needed to complete administrative steps like submit my degree qualifications and the AIBE score. As I was doing my master’s degree in London and my two-year time limit was running out, I had to fly back to India to do the AIBE in 2018. I cleared the exam a few months later and then received my COP.

How well has legal education (law school and/or Bar admission) prepared you for the demands and realities of legal practice and work?

While law school for me was the perfect time to explore my interests in different areas of law, I feel that there was a wide gap between legal pedagogy in India and the realities of being a legal professional. It might be because of the evolving nature of the legal industry and how lawyers today are expected to be both good at the law as well as being business-minded. I think the disconnect is primarily with respect to soft skills like networking and business development.

However, I believe that my legal education across three countries gave me the opportunity to further develop myself as a lawyer. It was only during my time in different law schools that I discovered my strengths and weaknesses because of my participation in extracurricular activities like parliamentary debating and moot courts. I further learnt more about my interests and motivations as a lawyer by gaining a wide variety of professional experiences working for legal aid societies, the Supreme Court of India, international arbitration institutions, barrister’s chambers, and international firms. I also cultivated my deep interest in research and academic writing because brilliant lawyers who also balanced their research interests with thriving legal practices trained me. Overall, I do believe that my legal education in India, the U.K. and Singapore has provided me with the requisite skills and the mindset to adapt to an evolving industry across multiple jurisdictions.

Can you share what you think are some concerns or anxieties that younger lawyers in India currently face?

I think one of the biggest issues that young practitioners face in India is the lack of formalised training. Even though we go through mandatory internships during law school, there are no specific yardsticks on which output or learning during these internships can be measured. As I am in the middle of retraining as a solicitor in England & Wales where there were mandatory training contracts and now pre-qualification work experience requirements, I see the utility of bringing in training requirements and a minimum threshold at which a newly qualified lawyer’s skills can be assessed. Systematic training can also help in ensuring that young lawyers do not feel overwhelmed with the disconnect between what is taught in law schools and how legal practice functions in reality (a disconnect that I certainly felt when I started my legal career).

As a diversity and inclusion researcher, it would be amiss of me not to bring up the point of lack of gender diversity within the legal profession in India. It is the first time in India’s history that there are four female judges in the Supreme Court of India. Till date, we have never had a female Chief Justice and there are less than 10% female litigation lawyers in India. Although a lack of gender diversity in law is not unique to India, there is certainly a lack of focus and dialogue on the issue and its long-term consequences for the profession.

How (if at all) have you found legal practice in India different from your experiences in the legal industry in Singapore?

The biggest difference is the presence of international law firms in Singapore. In India, that is not the case as the market is protected and only has Indian firms. I think a protectionist legal market has several disadvantages. First, there is a dearth of international work within Indian firms. Only a few elite Indian firms do most of the cross-border work and therefore gaining international experience while working as a lawyer in India is a rare opportunity. Whereas in Singapore, a young lawyer has opportunities to work for national and international firms that have a good volume of cross-border work. Second, international firms have offices in multiple countries that also provide opportunities to expand one’s potential network beyond Singapore.

As a disputes lawyer, I have worked on cases related to multiple jurisdictions in Europe and Asia, while being based in Singapore and that has helped me gain legal skills that develop my cultural and professional capabilities beyond one jurisdiction. I have also worked with teams of lawyers in London, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, and Paris, and that has really helped me expand my professional network beyond Singapore and India.

If you could go back to the time when you were first admitted to the Bar in India, what advice would you give to your younger self?

I would tell my younger self that a career in the legal profession is not a sprint, but a marathon. I think it will help my younger self to adopt a slower pace and make her better at dealing with rejection! In my journey as a lawyer, it took me some time to accept that the legal job market is extremely competitive, and it takes a long time to find a role that interests and motivates you.

Han Wool Kim

Legal Counsel, LG Energy Solution (Seoul)
Admissions: South Korea (2018)1In 2021, Han Wool completed a year-long internship at the Singapore office of an international firm.

Han Wool Kim

What was the process you went through to be admitted as a lawyer in South Korea?

You are required to hold a college-level degree (e.g., B.A. or B.S.) if you want to apply to any of the 25 law schools, which are government-approved professional master’s degree programmes. You must also take a standardised law school entrance examination called the LEET (Legal Education Eligibility Test), for which 14,620 college graduates registered in 2022 alone. Out of these applicants, only 2,000 students may enter law schools every year. Law school students are trained for three years with rigorous education on seven basic laws: Constitutional Law, Civil Law, Criminal Law, Civil Procedural Law, Criminal Procedural Law, Administrative Law, and Commercial Law. On top of these, students are advised to choose one specialisation, such as International Law, International Transaction Law, Labour Law, Tax Law, Intellectual Property Law, Economic Law, or Environment Law. After three years of training, you must pass the Bar Examination in order to qualify as a lawyer. After you successfully pass the Bar exam, you have to go through a training period of six months in legal offices – such as the judiciary, prosecution service, governmental ministries, or private law firms – before being fully sworn into the Korean Bar Association as a lawyer.

In 2018, when I took the Bar exam, the passing rate was 49.35%. Hence, there was a high chance that a fresh law school graduate may not pass the exam in his or her first attempt. A candidate may take the Bar exam for only five times within five years from graduation. After this allowance, a candidate is prohibited from further taking the exam. Currently, the law school system is the only way to qualify as a lawyer in South Korea, and there is no alternative pathway to gain admission to the Bar.

What were the most challenging parts of the process? How did the Bar admission process prepare you for your subsequent career path?

The Bar exam is taken over five days – Public Law for the first day, Criminal Law for the second day, a resting (or cramming) day for the third day, Private Law for the fourth day, and Private Law and specialisation law for the fifth day. This is an extremely lengthy and exhausting process. Some of our classmates (including me) were assigned to take the exam at a university other than our own. Hence, we gathered at our university at 8am and took a one-hour bus ride to another university across Seoul. But, on the last day of the exam, our bus driver suddenly took the wrong turn and wandered around for 20 minutes before getting back on track. Students in the bus were horrified – their three years of hard work and previous four days of grueling examinations were at risk of going to waste! Most fortunately, it was Saturday morning and the traffic in Seoul was not as bad as it sometimes gets, so we still managed to arrive at the examination venue on time.

I have never set a foot in the court or prosecution service since I have been admitted to the Bar, because I have been practising international arbitration instead of domestic litigation. This might be an unusual development for a lawyer who was trained in domestic civil and criminal procedures for three years in law school. Nevertheless, I still believe that the rigorous legal training on Civil Law and Criminal Law helped me cultivate legal research and drafting skills. After all, a legal qualification does not mean that you are aware of everything in the statute, but it means that you know how and where to find the information. These skills have enabled me to navigate through diverse legal systems across the world, such as Switzerland, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States, since I had to conduct research on diverse jurisdictions outside of my own when I dealt with complex cross-border disputes.

Can you share what you think are some concerns or anxieties that younger lawyers in South Korea currently face?

The “hot potato” in the Korean legal society is whether an online legal platform will open up a new legal market or it will subjugate lawyers to a few internet companies. For example, LawTalk, a start-up launched in 2014, has rapidly grown to become a major online client-lawyer matching service and legal counselling provider for tech-savvy South Koreans, matching some 22,770 legal consultations as of March 2021. The firm was dealt a blow, however, as the Korean Bar Association revised the lawyers’ code of conduct in May 2021 to prohibit lawyers from working for such online platforms, arguing they serve as a paid broker between lawyers and clients – an act prohibited under the country’s Attorney-at-Law Act. As a response, the LawTalk operator and the 60 lawyers filed a petition against the revision with the Constitutional Court, saying it violates lawyers’ freedom of expression and occupation and the firm’s property rights. In May 2022, the Constitutional Court ruled that the lawyers’ code of conduct banning them from joining online legal counselling platforms, such as LawTalk, is “partially” unconstitutional.

The Korean Bar Association maintains that their code of conduct is still “partially” constitutional, thereby enabling them to take disciplinary action against lawyers who join LawTalk and other online platforms. Furthermore, the Association has recently launched its own public online platform called “My Lawyer” which provides free matching service between clients and specialist lawyers. This issue of online platform is a subject of constant debate, especially among young lawyers. Some of them see the bright side of making legal services more accessible and creating a new legal market. On the contrary, others are concerned about the “race to the bottom” amongst lawyers as well as exploitation of service providers by internet giants, which allegedly happened in the case of food delivery apps.

How (if at all) have you found legal practice in South Korea different from your experiences in the legal industry in Singapore?

Of course, the most obvious difference is that South Korea is a civil law jurisdiction whereas Singapore remains a faithful upholder of the common law tradition. I have studied both civil law in Korea (with a bit of exposure to other continental European jurisdictions such as Switzerland, Germany and France) and common law in Singapore (with reference to other common law jurisdictions such as the United Kingdom and the United States). In addition, I have work experience in both civil law jurisdiction (Korea) and common law jurisdiction (Singapore). Based on this experience, surprisingly, I found that civil law and common law are not strikingly different, contrary to what many believe. Instead, they have more similarities than differences in fundamental structure such as the three pillars of Constitutional Law (albeit it may not always be in “written” form), Civil Law and Criminal Law, and some basic concepts such as fiduciary duties in corporate law. For sure, the details may vary between common law and civil law, and even within each legal tradition subject to each jurisdiction. But lawyers from both traditions should not be afraid of collaborating with lawyers from the other legal tradition or delving into another jurisdiction’s law whenever it is practically necessary.

If you could go back to the time when you were first admitted to the Bar in South Korea, what advice would you give to your younger self?

Don’t be afraid of asking too many questions and requesting advice from your predecessors. You can reach out to anyone in the legal field, because you are a fresh rookie. Collect perspectives and opinions from lawyers working in diverse legal sectors such as civil law, criminal law, corporate law, international arbitration, cross-border transaction, competition, compliance, investigation, mergers and acquisition, real estate and labour law. Ask them to be as realistic as possible, even to the point that it might feel a bit harsh. You need to realise what it is like to become a real lawyer in the real world, and understand what you want, like and hate, in order to choose the right path. Above all, congratulations on making your dream come true and the best of luck with your career!

Natalie Soh

Associate, Allens (Sydney)
Admissions: Singapore (2016), New South Wales, Australia (2022)

What was the process you went through to be admitted as a lawyer in Australia?

In New South Wales (NSW), foreign qualified practitioners are required to (a) submit Form 16 (assessment of qualifications) detailing their academic history, university qualifications and foreign qualification to the NSW Legal Professional Academic Board (LPAB); and (b) submit Form 17 (Practical Legal Training (PLT) exemption application) to the LPAB.

After considering the application materials, the LPAB decides and notifies the applicant of the number of modules required. Most applicants are required to complete at least four modules – constitutional law, administrative law, ethics and civil procedure. In addition, I was also required to complete the evidence module.

I enrolled for the programme (run by with the LPAB in conjunction with University of Sydney) over two terms and pursued the course and examinations while working full-time. The assessment for each module comprised a take-home essay and timed examinations. These assessments are not onerous but they still demand a fair bit of effort.

As for the PLT component, I obtained a full PLT exemption. If you are not granted a full PLT exemption, the applicant will generally be required to register with one of the four accredited PLT providers in NSW for a programme over either three months (full-time) or eight months (part-time).

Once you complete the various modules and obtain your PLT exemption or complete your PLT, you can then apply for admission. The whole process took around one and a half years or slightly more for me. The PLT application probably also took a couple of months to complete over weekends. You could possibly complete the whole process in less than a year if you are focussed and research the requirements thoroughly or seek guidance from someone who has gone through the process recently.

What were the most challenging parts of the process and how did it compare with your experience of gaining admission in Singapore?

The most challenging aspect of the process is having to juggle the courses/assessments with working full-time. In Singapore, those with law degrees from scheduled overseas universities would have completed the Part A, then trained at a law firm for six months, followed by the Part B and then finally undertaken practical legal training at a law firm for another six months.

In contrast, juggling both the bar course requirements and work in practice is challenging. It is tough meeting billables and dealing with the demands/stresses of work while also attending up to nine hours of after-hours lectures every week. That said, I think the assessments themselves are, arguably, not as demanding as the Singapore Bar examinations.

Can you share what you think are some concerns or anxieties that younger lawyers in South Australia currently face?

I think a major issue is finding a sustainable balance with work and life as well as adjusting to the reality that so much of the practice can only be learnt “on the job” and not off of textbooks and case notes from law school. The first few years of a law career are usually fraught with so much anxiety over not being good enough, not knowing what you don’t know and grappling with the long hours and expectations.

It took me years to be confident about being upfront with my partners/seniors about my capacity and to prioritise my mental health over the job. I eventually became comfortable with the perspective that the world is not going to collapse if I did not turn a facility agreement around at 4am. I think for the sake of career longevity, especially in private practice, we need to learn to consciously guard our own lives outside of work and to adjust our mindsets to accept that mistakes happen, they are part of the learning journey and can be fixed.

One issue I will point out is that for young lawyers, it is sometimes important to be “seen” (i.e., to make a deliberate effort to be “visible”) to get opportunities at work. That was an issue that I faced when I moved to Sydney right before the pandemic. As I did not get a lot of ‘face time” with partners in my office, that had an initial impact on work allocation – since people generally won’t entrust responsibilities to juniors that they have not met or don’t know/see. This was eventually bridged as the firm implemented regular small group catch up calls to create more opportunities for interaction and sharing, and to build and sustain team culture.

If you could go back to the time when you were first admitted to the Bar in Singapore, what advice would you give to your younger self?

As a junior lawyer learning the ropes, give your best effort but know that mistakes can happen, and they can be fixed; they are not the end of the world. You should not compromise your own mental health or “lose sleep” over a desire for perfection.

The views expressed in this article are the personal views of the persons interviewed, and do not reflect the views of their respective firms or organisations.


1 In 2021, Han Wool completed a year-long internship at the Singapore office of an international firm.

Advocate and Solicitor
Supreme Court of Singapore