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The Singapore Law Gazette

Finding Clarity Through Different Lenses

Late last week, I had some contemplative thoughts as I went to my optometrist for my usual eye checkup. As I was asked to recite the alphabets in front of me, I was thinking – 20/20 vision is often an optometrist’s medal conferred on the eye that has normal visual clarity. However, for most humans on planet earth, the year 2020 has felt more jostling than ever. It has been one of those years where anyone participating in a survey, would most likely tick “YES” to the question, “Do you feel like this year has felt like someone gave you glasses with the wrong prescription?” Indeed it has felt this way for many, but on a more substantial level, many of us have actually attained greater clarity on life, the law and our inherent purpose in our legal careers.

I recently launched two podcasts, one with the former Chief Justice of the Australian Family Court, Diana Bryant AO QC and one with lawyer Candice Tan, founder of Legal Brew. Together with Diana and Candice, I explored the question of clarity in legal careers and how one can be successful in their own unique and individual ways.

The conversation with Diana was inspiring. As a female legal professional in post-war Australia, Diana was able to make changes to the legal industry, paving the way for future female lawyers. In this episode, Diana shared how her teenage ambition of being a doctor quickly changed as doors opened up for her to be a lawyer. She went on to become a family law barrister and eventually, the Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia where she served for 13 years.

We explored how Diana found herself gaining clarity in various points of her career alongside women who were strong role models in the law. Diana’s mum even ran her own all-female law firm. It had been quite a change in terms of gender disparity and her path as a young lawyer oversaw the induction of the first female justice of the High Court of Australia, Mary Gaudron.

Diana also shared that she married and moved to Perth end of 1976 as a young solicitor at a historical time in Australia. She realised that family law was her calling at a time when it was an equal playing field in Australia, as the new legislation had just come into place.

Diana dialogued how the roles of judges in family proceedings are completely different from other areas of law. She felt that judges should intervene in divorce proceedings, with the appropriate parameters. Her passion on ensuring that children’s voices are being heard by the Judge in family proceedings were evident – “a voice not a choice”.

I was most inspired when Diana shared about how she took on a watershed case in the High Court of Australia with an all-female team. It was a high stakes case with different state attorney generals and solicitor generals present as part of the hearing. I was impressed to hear that despite the fact that she had never appeared in the High Court and went in nervous, she stepped up to the task and went on to win the case! This story has inspired me to step up to unique and challenging cases, despite the odds.

In homage to all the Singapore lawyers called to the Bar last month, I launched a special episode, “Finding Spark in Your Legal Career”. I interviewed my childhood friend Candice Tan, founder and blogger of Legal Brew. Candice is a lawyer with a passion for learning, an educator and a could-have-been astrophysicist.

Are you a young lawyer getting ready to embark on your legal career? Have you taken inventory of why you embarked on this career pathway? Perhaps you have been in the law field for years but feel jaded by legal practice? These are just some questions you may or may not have asked yourself from time to time. The fact is all of us at some point in our lives have begun to question ourselves if the road we have chosen to embark on is even the right one.

Candice and I took different paths towards becoming lawyers and rediscovered love for the law. We talked about our experiences from our international exchanges in Hong Kong, Italy, West Africa, Australia, Malaysia and Switzerland.

There will always be continuous learning along the way. Time is not wasted even if you took a longer route to get to a place where you are doing something that is true to you. In this case, Candice shared more about her courageous decision to unplug herself completely from the science world and instead, launched her legal career. To forgo a part of you that much time and effort has been given into is not easy. The inner struggle to question one’s decision making comes into play. Have I failed? Did I miss my breakthrough moment?

Working in a big firm does not have to equate to conquering the highest mountain top. You can and are allowed to take the path less travelled. The wealth of experience gained from a smaller firm may even be richer and more satisfying. Have you even considered the possibility of having a work-life balance? You can empower yourself to take ownership of your time and prioritise it between work and personal/leisure. Let’s face it. Burnout is a real issue that many lawyers go through but few have acknowledged it. What’s the point of working long hours, public holidays and weekends if you forgo an abundant life? Take time to simplify and perhaps introduce a fixed schedule and even a healthy diet in your life. We need to recognise crisis moments and take positive actions towards it.

In the cases that Candice takes on, she sheds light on the reality of mental health battles that clients go through as well as advocates for those who may fall through the cracks in the system. One person who is willing to stretch a helping hand is all it takes to bring a positive change. It is good to step outside of the circle and realise that beyond law books and lectures, there are real people with real experiences who truly need our help and expertise.

As lawyers, we only provide one solution to the situation. As Candice shared, “You empower your practice when you realise that you actually need a team and you cannot do it all by yourself.”

By acknowledging a crisis moment in her life, Candice goes on her new journey of finding her life’s purpose again. We also talk about the importance of mentorship and how we navigate and balance our fulfilling careers.

COVID-19 has certainly blindsided most of us. Despite the major disruptions, have you considered that this moment in time has caused us to take our lives more slowly and perhaps take notice of nature and appreciate the people around us? What has been your personal silver lining through this?

Perhaps after the fog on your lens settles, you might in fact discover that a beautiful rainbow awaits you.


The Legal Eagle is the first legal podcast in Singapore hosted by a lawyer. The podcast can be found on iTunes, Spotify, Google podcasts and most other podcast platforms. Some episodes are available on Youtube. Listeners are tuning in from Israel, US, UK, India, Mexico, Australia, Europe and all around Asia. If you are interested in appearing as a guest or wish to contact her, you can e-mail Sarah-Mae at [email protected].

Click here to explore the podcast.

Director
Sarah-Mae Thomas LLC
E-mail: [email protected]

Sarah-Mae Thomas is a dual qualified lawyer in Singapore and Australia. She has recently started The Legal Eagle, a podcast which examines law from a big-picture perspective. She interviews guests from around the world who have either been in a legal battle or are involved in the business or practice of law.

Business Development
Sarah-Mae Thomas LLC
E-mail: [email protected]

Daphne Tay graduated with a dual degree in business administration and marketing from Dallas Baptist University in Dallas, Texas. She is one of the producers of The Legal Eagle, a podcast which examines law from a big-picture perspective.