New lawyers must change mindsets

I am a senior lawyer who has been practising for 20 years, and the head lawyer of a team of nine lawyers and 11 staff ("Call to address hiring and retention concerns welcomed"; Sunday).

My firm primarily practises personal law (that is, community law) in the areas of family and criminal law. It is our passion to help the masses that leads us to take on such cases.

There are many small law firms in Singapore which do bread-and-butter work. It is difficult to attract new lawyers to join such firms, as bread-and-butter work is not as glamorous as corporate work.

Small firms' work also involves a lot of interaction with clients, thus, it is essential to have good people skills. New lawyers may not like handling matters where emotions run high and they are not able to manage clients' expectations. Further, it also requires a level of maturity to handle demanding clients.

A corporate law firm's work tends to appeal more to new lawyers. Practising family and criminal work tends to be emotionally difficult for them to handle.

Furthermore, many young ones come with a mindset that they will be given high salaries and bonuses. Often, it is not about how they can contribute and make a difference in the law firm.

Every day, we receive many applications for internships and training contracts.

Unfortunately, we cannot take in all of them, in view of space constraints and overhead costs.

Also, we have been hurt by trainees treating the training contracts lightly and shopping around for the best training contracts.

A law firm's ability to retain trainees and offer them employment will largely depend on economic factors and the changing face of law.

However, it is not about the law firm or its ability to retain new lawyers.

What matters most is that these lawyers must show that they have a love and passion for the law firm's areas of practice, coupled with dedication and drive to show they are able to make a difference, and not be in it for the money or as a stop-gap measure until they find something else.

Gloria James (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 30, 2016, with the headline 'New lawyers must change mindsets'. Print Edition | Subscribe