Networking and Communication Amongst Young Lawyers
Law school is trying. Passing the Bar is no easy feat. Legal practice is challenging enough without having to navigate the murky waters of interpersonal relationships with fellow lawyers. The issue of sustaining professionalism and civility amongst lawyers can be a tricky one, especially for young lawyers who are just starting out in their legal careers.
With so much time and effort spent on meeting court deadlines or responding to clients’ demands, we are left with little room to consider the nature of our interpersonal relationships with our peers. However, the mark of a great lawyer is not just the ability to excel in legal practice and have the most up-to-date legal knowledge. Maintaining gracious and respectful relationships with fellow members of the Bar is also key to professional development. The bonds that were forged in law school and during the Bar course do not end there. One of the most unique and irreplaceable attributes of our profession is the ability and opportunity to meet and work collegially with a community of lawyers, within and beyond the walls of one’s office.
The legal profession functions best when there is mutual trust and respect between practitioners, regardless of gender, seniority, and the history and reputation of a law firm. Having healthy and mutually respectful relationships with fellow lawyers promotes robust legal discourse and a conducive working environment for everyone. Needless to say, there should be no place in the legal profession for discrimination of any sort towards fellow lawyers.
Networking and making friendly conversation with one another is a great way to maintain a good professional relationship with other lawyers. However, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the camaraderie amongst lawyers in the profession has been adversely affected. The ability to network and engage in friendly banter while waiting for Pre-Trial Conferences or Mentions in court and during CPD seminars has now virtually disappeared. With work from home and court proceedings via Zoom, lawyers are missing out on face-to-face interactions.
Remote working has created a new social dynamic. The onus is on one to adapt to change and networking should not be at the bottom of one’s priority list. No individual is too busy, too smart or too well-networked to build professional relationships with fellow members of the profession. Given the constraints of the new social dynamic, how then do we find ways to connect, maintain professional relationships, and share information?
1. Pick up the Phone to Your Opposing Counsel
Most legal communication is via letters or e-mails. Some lawyers believe in adopting a hostile stance in dealing with opposing counsels. However, such hostility often detracts from facts which can lead to unproductive arguments that can upset the peace between lawyers. As a result, it is challenging for lawyers to build friendly and constructive relationships with one another. Being difficult or hostile does not make you a better advocate. The profession does not require the use of offensive tactics or preclude the treating of all persons involved in the legal process with courtesy and respect.
Our duty as a lawyer, is to act with reasonable diligence and integrity to advise the client appropriately. A client’s interest is best served when opposing counsels can communicate frankly and efficiently with each other. Thus, I would urge you to pick up the phone and speak to your learned friends on the other side. It must be appreciated and acknowledged that hearing a person’s voice demands more courtesy, respect and soft skills.
2. Participate in Virtual Luncheons
Apart from seminars over Zoom where more often than not, microphones are muted and cameras are turned off, we can also participate actively in virtual luncheons organised by the Law Society of Singapore.
Prior to COVID-19, luncheons used to be held at the State Courts Bar Room. This required physical attendance, which was time consuming. Now, you can attend virtual luncheons from the comfort of your home or office. A virtual luncheon is a way to take a break from work and have spontaneous conversations. Attendance at a luncheon does not end there. Active steps can be taken by connecting with a fellow member on LinkedIn or sending them an e-mail to stay in touch. One can hope that post pandemic, luncheons will return to face-to-face interactions.
3. Take on Pro Bono Work
In addition to the Legal Aid Bureau, the Law Society’s Pro Bono Services has several initiatives such as Community Legal Clinics, Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, Ad Hoc Pro Bono Assessment Scheme and Law Awareness where you can invest your time in contributing meaningfully to society. You will gain invaluable personal and professional experience when you take on pro bono work, which will improve your skills as a lawyer.
Pro bono work offers you a great opportunity to meet and engage with lawyers of different experiences and seniority. You will be doing something worthwhile with like-minded individuals outside of your firm and at the same time expanding your professional circle.
4. Volunteer for a Committee
The Law Society has 32 standing committees representing various practice areas impinging on policies and issues affecting the legal profession. Volunteering in a committee provides additional sources of knowledge, innovation, experience, insights and creativity which will help your career progression. Volunteering for a Law Society committee is also a way of giving back to the profession. In addition, you develop wider relationships in the profession which reinforces the interpersonal relationship between fellow members of the Bar.
As young lawyers, you might find yourself at a disadvantage if you do not forge treasured professional networks.
The legal profession is fast paced and stressful, but rewarding. As young lawyers, we are the future of the legal profession. Building camaraderie requires a conscious effort. We must be mindful that we are part of the legal fraternity and community. It is incumbent on us to commit to being respectful, civil and responsible lawyers to make the practice of law fulfilling. You are never too young to start building your professional network and forging lifelong friendships.