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The Singapore Law Gazette

The Golden Jubilee Opportunity for the Junior Category

We celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the profession this year. Yet for some of us junior members of the profession sitting in our rooms and cubicles, facing a deluge of deadlines day after day, it can be difficult to see what is so “golden” about this year and the profession. After all, we have only felt a tiny fraction of the years making up these 50 years, despite the Junior Category (comprising members of the Bar with less than five years’ standing) numbering a whopping 1,825 as of 30 August 2017. This is more than a third of the total number of current members of the Bar – which, incidentally, broke the 5,000 watermark this year.

The landscape of the legal profession has been changing rapidly for lawyers at every level, and the 0-3 PQE lawyers in particular are facing markedly unique challenges. No other generation of young lawyers has been more synonymous or associated with terms such as “glut” and “employers’ market”. More of them also appear to be starting their careers in various smaller firms (not necessarily out of necessity).

Much has been said about how technology, disruption etc. is and will be affecting the legal profession – all undoubtedly true. Yet when the President of the Law Society initiated a Young Lawyers Lunch Forum in July this year, it was telling how the young lawyers who attended ventilated a rather different range of issues. For instance:

  • the cost of CPD events – with some young lawyers from smaller firms being made to pay for CPD events out of their own pockets;
  • the lack of vacancies for the more practical and useful CPD events – not forgetting that in the Junior Category alone, we have more than 1,800 people vying for any one space!;
  • a desire for more relational mentoring, which young lawyers in smaller firms may be unable to get in-house due to the small number of lawyers – imagine, for instance, trying to seek advice from your own boss on how to cope with his/her foibles!;
  • workplace bullying. While larger firms may have an ombudsman or anonymous whistleblowing procedure, one can imagine the difficulties in raising such issues in a small firm where anonymity is virtually non-existent;
  • concerns about how to prepare future entrants to the Bar in light of the glut.

Young Lawyers Lunch Forum on 19 July 2017

When it comes down to it, our concerns range from personal (e.g. relational mentorship) and bread-and-butter issues (e.g. having to pay for 16 CPD points!), to concerns for potential young lawyers coming after us.

What is exciting for us is that in this Golden Jubilee, many of these very concerns seem to have come into the spotlight, with the landscape either already in the midst of change, or poised for it.

Personal Well-being

Ultimately, our personal well-being in the profession is always an important point that should not be overlooked. The Law Society has been on a campaign this year to consolidate its pastoral initiatives. Most of us are often unaware of our membership privileges as members of the Law Society, despite the fact that we (bluntly put) pay membership fees. A friend recently analogised this state of affairs to an unwanted gym membership for a person uninterested in exercise – if he had his way, he would rather cancel the membership and save on the membership fees.

Yet, various schemes run by the Law Society have been helpfully put in place for lawyers, some particularly helpful to junior lawyers in recognition of some of the specific challenges we face. For instance, while peers can often be a helpful resource when we require practice guidance or guidance on ethical issues, there is a limit to our experience. This is where the PracMentor scheme comes in, under which young lawyers may seek guidance and advice from a senior volunteer practitioner in various practice areas.

Similarly, the new Relational Mentorship scheme which has only just been rolled out (complementing the PracMentor scheme) will be an excellent opportunity to have one who has journeyed farther in practice to walk alongside us in our respective journeys and to offer a listening ear, career guidance, or ethical advice. As it has been said, the way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.

Finally (and in line with Pastoral Care for the profession being the main focus of the Law Society this year), one cannot neglect to mention the new one-stop Members’ Assistance and Care Helpline (“MACH”), helmed by the indefatigable Membership, Communications and International Relations Department of the Law Society Secretariat. While confidentiality obligations constrain the sharing of anecdotes, one can say that many an issue can be mitigated or resolved with a plea for assistance or advice from the Law Society. The information shared in MACH is confidential and retained only for the purposes of liaising with the caller, and is another potentially great resource for young lawyers to have in mind.

Professional Change

Apart from the much-welcomed focus on helpful pastoral initiatives, what is also exciting is that our profession is undergoing much movement and activity which carry potential long-term implications, particularly for young lawyers.

The profession has been blessed with senior practitioners who have been willing to patiently and earnestly consider junior lawyers’ perspectives and suggestions, and to utilise resources to address them. The request for relational mentorship and its recent coming to life as a new scheme is a case in point.

Another recent movement was this year’s EGM calling for a mandate to sell the current Law Society premises and purchase new premises. This was touted as a move which would create more facilities and amenities that would eventually benefit the now-junior members of the legal profession in time to come – though the motion, for better or for worse, was not carried (only about 70 members turned up to vote at the EGM).

On an even more macro scale, crucial changes are afoot for young lawyers-to-be, which may change the structure of what new entrants to the Bar will go through. Work in the Committee for the Professional Training of Lawyers (“CPTL”) by the judiciary is already underfoot, to look into the current practice training regime. The findings of the Young Lawyers’ Task Force headed by the younger Law Society Council members (focusing on ways to improve the professional training and lives of young lawyers) will also soon be published (watch this space!).

Where To?

The question remains: what is so “golden” in this jubilee? Apart from the 50 years of history, one thing we can celebrate is the consolidation of the pastoral schemes for lawyers in general, including the junior ones. Personal well-being and bread-and-butter concerns are undeniably always a point of importance.

On top of that, with so many matters that are arising in the profession, there is a momentum of change afoot, and (pardon the pun) a “golden” opportunity for stakeholders to steward the movement and direction of that momentum. Pertinently, many of the potential changes concern our personal and professional well-being as junior members of the profession. Encouragingly, mature engagement on our part has been helping to result in change (such as the Relational Mentorship scheme).

In particular, the impending publication of the Young Lawyers’ Task Force report would be an exciting opportunity for young lawyers to proffer relevant comments and suggestions and engage with relevant decision-makers in a mature manner. Where those comments touch on practice training, the hope is that it may also assist the CPTL in the review of our practice training regime. Who knows which comment of ours will help to improve practice training for our juniors, or perhaps sons and daughters (for those of us who somehow have such far-sighted aspirations for their children)?

It is an exciting time to find ourselves in the Junior Category this Golden Jubilee. While the senior members of the profession can look at their previous years in celebration, we as junior lawyers have the opportunity to look at future years with an eye to contribute to both our personal as well as our professional development, and no matter how long we spend in this industry, isn’t that something worth striving for?

Chia Wong LLP
Member, Young Lawyers Committee
E-mail: [email protected]