Dear Amicus Agony,
I am a junior associate who is currently in a boutique corporate firm specialising in capital markets. I have been trained to do corporate work since I was a trainee, and to be honest, I am still not sure why I decided to go into corporate work. Recently, I have been considering a switch to a firm that specialises in community law. However, I have been advised by my peers around me that this is not a wise career move since most law firms that primarily deal with family law and/or criminal law generally do not pay as well as firms that largely handle corporate and commercial law matters. I know that since my university days, I have always had the passion and interest in community law, but I never had the opportunity to expand that interest. Yet, I also recognise my desire to have a well-paying job that settles the bills and allows me to save up for a home.
Do I follow my heart, or do I follow the buck?
Dear Corporate Guy,
Career switches can be daunting and stressful especially when you have become familiar and accustomed to a particular field since you were a trainee. The question you should be asking yourself here is what is more important for you? A fulfilling job in a firm that allows you to practise the areas of law that you like, or a firm that seems to pay you well, but where you do not seem to enjoy the work given?
Perhaps the distinctions here are artificial. It might be inaccurate to assume that firms that deal primarily with community law are poor-paying and do not offer good career prospects for their lawyers.
What, at the end of the day, is a well-paying job with decent prospects remains subjective. Sure, you do need financial stability to pay your bills, and to save for a home. But we say that it is also just as important to work in a firm that provides you with ample opportunities to learn and grow, within an area of law that you have a passion for.
Dear Amicus Agony,
I have been in practice for three years, but I still feel inadequate when I am in court. Maybe I blame this on my bosses and senior lawyers in the firm who do not seem to trust me with their matters and to advocate their files in court. My bosses also tell me that sometimes clients are the one who may not have faith in the more junior members of the bar to do the advocating in court.
What do I do? How do I gain the trust and confidence of my bosses and/or clients to allow me to build up my advocacy skills? On one hand, I am eager to be given the opportunities to have my moment to shine in court, but on the other, I would be extremely uneasy and scared to stand on my feet in court before the judge to argue my client’s case.
A Confused Third-Yearer
Dear Confused Third-Yearer,
We suggest for you to first start learning by watching and observing. Your bosses and senior lawyers have been practising for many years and have likely been involved in advocacy in various levels of the court system. It would be helpful for you to volunteer to sit in or to watch a trial either by assisting or as an “audience” so that you can see how the lawyers present themselves in court and how they canvass their arguments.
You can also talk to your bosses about letting you try advocating matters on a smaller scale such as summons hearings or trials that are not too complex. This will help you to build up your confidence and allow you to go through the entire process to familiarise yourself with the requisite court procedures. Having a colleague or a senior come along to watch you can be useful too, so that they can provide you with honest and constructive feedback on how to improve.
We should also stress the importance of written advocacy and not just the “performance” side of advocacy. More often than not, experienced litigators will tell you that your written work such as pleadings, affidavits and submissions (and even summons!) are essential platforms for you to orally present your arguments to win your case.