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The Singapore Law Gazette

Figuring Out Where Pro Bono and Volunteering May Fit in

The Negative Impact of the Myth of Work-Life Balance on Young Lawyers and How It May Be Balanced

With the ongoing trend of the high attrition rate amongst their peers, it is becoming increasingly difficult for young lawyers to ignore the nagging, “award-winning” question being posed to them, namely, whether they should continue in practice, go in-house, or perhaps walk away from the way of the law altogether. Just last year, at Mass Call 2017, The Honourable the Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon (Chief Justice) raised the issue of young lawyers working under increasing strain for the second consecutive year, looking at the troubling studies conducted in respect of other jurisdictions and how young lawyers in particular are facing increasing strain to deal with the emotional and mental pressure at work. An equally important aspect that has, however, not been equally focused on, is another challenge that the Chief Justice highlighted: The search for meaning and purpose beyond personal rewards within the legal industry. What is required to commit oneself to such an intellectually, mentally and emotionally challenging practice in the long haul is something much deeper than pure material gains. As iterated by the Chief Justice himself, the discovery or nurturing of a devotion to something that is larger than oneself may be the only way to truly attain the requisite level of commitment for a lifetime of labour as a lawyer. Perhaps, a decent case may be built around Pro Bono and other volunteering causes being cardinal to this search by young lawyers for the meaning and purpose of staying in the legal industry. By this, what is to be examined goes further beyond having opportunities to take on Pro Bono work simply as an additional avenue for greater exposure to the strictly legal aspects of the job.

Pro Bono as it is Known Traditionally in Singapore

It is almost without contest that the first initiative that comes to mind when one talks about Pro Bono is the legal clinics scheme. There is a whole host of options available should a young lawyer intend to volunteer his professional services in this respect, namely the Community Legal Clinics, the Civil Legal Clinics and the Family Legal Clinics at the State Courts, the Community Organisation Clinics (which is for local practitioners with corporate expertise) and even the Singapore Association of Women Lawyers (SAWL) Pro Bono Legal Consultation Clinics (which originally was for practitioners wishing to primarily provide advice on women and children related issues, but has recently expanded its scope of service).

Whilst the thought of immediately being in put in the spot as the main front-facing counsel may appear to be daunting especially for freshly qualified lawyers, each of the volunteer schemes have in place support systems for its volunteers. As such, young lawyers should not let the lack of experience deter them from joining. For example, in respect of that run by the Law Society Pro Bono Services (LSPBS), one such support is the provision of a comprehensive legal clinic manual and a thorough case-by-case clinic case synopsis, and in respect of that run by SAWL, the opportunity to sit in for the clinic sessions before easing into conducting the sessions.

That said, it may be noted that the greatest value of joining such schemes may perhaps even be said to be exactly that which is daunting – The process of learning to deal with persons. Through exposure to day-to-day and real-life issues without the pressure of conforming to a particular manner of running files or billing, this may better allow the focus to be on the development of not only the crucial soft skills, but also understanding and empathy towards people whom are neither legally trained nor as informed of their rights and obligations under the law. This may in turn may better develop the young lawyers’ connection as to the true role and inherent value of the law and the lawyer in the community beyond billable hour crunching.

Volunteering as a Lawyer with LSPBS Beyond the Traditional Notion

Another likely problem that deters young lawyers from participating in the volunteer schemes such as the legal clinics would be in relation to the inability to avail themselves for the allocated timeslots. To this, there are many alternative ways that young lawyers can contribute and better connect with the law, their identity as a lawyer and the legal fraternity as a whole. LSPBS itself needs little introduction, being an initiative by the Law Society to help bring free legal assistance to those in need within the Singapore community as part of the greater mission to ensure access to justice for all. However, unbeknown to some, there are various meaningful areas and project-based initiatives that may be considered depending on one’s natural propensities and interests, which may be particularly beneficial to young lawyers struggling with managing their time in this respect.

In addition to its legal clinics scheme, young lawyers may also partake in writing, contributing, compiling, editing or (for the more artistically inclined) even illustrating in manuals, guides and material of the Law Society Publications Committee, such as the “Know the Law” booklet and the recently published “Advocates for the Arts” handbook.

Cartoon illustrated by Colin Goh, former practicing attorney, as part of the “Advocates of the Arts” handbook – Coloured version as publicity material

Image from the LSPBS Facebook page:

For the more hands-on or adventurous young lawyer, there are occasionally opportunities to partake in or even be casted in videos such as those used in, Project Schools (an initiative to engage, enable and empower students by creating greater awareness of the law, in particular juvenile delinquency). For the outspoken young lawyer, the annual Law Awareness Week @CDC (Community Development Councils), an initiative to promote understanding of common legal issues in the community through a series of talks for the general public, allows opportunities to partake in public speaking on a wide variety of legal topics. Last but not least, for the young lawyers who find none of the above of interest, the option of assisting or simply participating in fund raising activities for their annual donation drives is always available – like 2017’s Just Jubilee “Fun & Fair for All” (a ticketed carnival with activities such as food and beverages, game booths and performances) and 2016’s Just Sing “Justice in the Groove!” (a fund-raising concert featuring legal alumni).

2017 Just Jubilee “Fun & Fair for All”

Volunteers at 2017 Just Jubilee

Performers and Participants at 2017 Just Jubilee

Images of the 2017 Just Jubilee “Fun & Fair for All” from the LSPBS Facebook page:

Volunteering with a Legal-Related Cause – Singapore Association of Women Lawyers

Much in line with the increasing focus on women in practice, SAWL is another wonderful avenue for young women lawyers to look at in this search for greater meaning within the legal profession. SAWL is a professional body and a non-profit organisation, which has, since 1974, been contributing to the community with a primary focus on women and children, and mainly in support of the SAWL Scholarship Fund (which has the furtherance of educational interests amongst needy student with physical disabilities as its chief objective). SAWL has a strength of about 90 members, with most of its active members being very experienced practitioners – making it a perfect time for young lawyers to join to better represent and shape how women in the industry and the community as a whole moving forward, noting the prominent events that SAWL’s members feature in. For example, SAWL was part of the Coalition Committee that submitted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Shadow Report to the 68th Session of the UN Committee of CEDAW just last year.

In addition to the SAWL Pro Bono Legal Consultation Clinics, SAWL also has a plethora of other initiatives that a young lawyer may partake in, although for now these are primarily in respect of fund-raising for the SAWL Scholarship Fund. Examples would include the publication and sales of SAWL’s books, namely “You & The Law” and “Teens & The Law”, as well as its fund-raising partnership with The Singapore Shawl.

Primary Products which Sales Contribute to the SAWL Scholarship Fund

Image from the SAWL Facebook page:

A particularly notable event that SAWL members participated in, in respect of SAWL’s fundraising, is that of the 2017 Law Society dinner

Image courtesy of Rebecca Yeo, a member of the Exco of SAWL

Demystifying the Myth of Work-Life Balance

All in all, finding balance in life is no easy task. This is particularly in the context of the legal industry and more so under the circumstances facing the lawyers in the junior category here, such that it would appear as if the concept of “work-life balance” may well be to be one of the greatest myths ever told. Be that as it may, perhaps the key is to understand and internalise that the problem in finding balance may simply be the insistence of distinguishing between the time spent as a lawyer from the rest of one’s life. When one chooses to walk the path of the law, or partake in any practice as profound as such, it may help to adopt a perspective that can encompass both the breath and the depth of the legal world – that the law is not simply a job, or even just a career, but is instead inherently a way of life. Whilst this sounds very much like the much-hated concept of “work-life integration”, be mindful that “There is no such thing as work-life balance – it is all life. The balance has to be within you.”1Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev; Founder of the Isha Foundation, New York Times bestselling author, holder of the Padma Vibhushan civilian award by the Government of India 2017. Noting that experiencing and embodying the spirit of giving back to the community as a lawyer may indeed be the additional weight needed to tip the scales of a young lawyer’s life back in balance, would the time invested (regardless of how much) not be worth more than its equivalent in billable hours?

Special thanks to the Law Society Pro Bono Services and the Singapore Association of Women Lawyers, in particular Ms Rebecca Yeo.

For further information, please refer to the following links:

The Law Society Pro Bono Services


Facebook Page:

The Singapore Association of Women Lawyers


Facebook Page:

To support your volunteering through the Law Society Pro Bono Services, click here:


1 Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev; Founder of the Isha Foundation, New York Times bestselling author, holder of the Padma Vibhushan civilian award by the Government of India 2017.

Stephenson Harwood LLP
Member, Young Lawyers Committee
E-mail: [email protected]