Paralegal route not the solution

I have reservations about the suggestion for law firm trainees to be retained as paralegals ("Panel to explore option of paralegal route"; Sunday).

It is illogical to retain a trainee as a paralegal if he is a qualified lawyer.

A refusal to retain a trainee usually stems from a law firm's budgetary constraints or a trainee's lack of ability.

It is good to offer training. But if retention is not on the cards due to a firm's budget, it should be disclosed at the outset. Trainees should not be made paralegals when they signed on to be lawyers.

If a trainee has the ability, and the only obstacle is the budget, calling him a paralegal is not the solution.

The solution is for parties to negotiate an acceptable salary. If law firms cannot afford to retain trainees in any event, then trainees should be released to impress other practices that can afford them.

If a trainee is not retained due to a lack of ability, hiring him as a paralegal on a lower salary makes little sense.

We need to revisit the ideals of value creation and resilience.

A fat salary is not a given for lawyers, less so for new ones. It is about value adding, not entitlement ("New lawyers must change mindsets" by Ms Gloria James; yesterday).

A trainee's quandary of whether to stay or go in a glut, or whether to accept lower pay and stay on, is, in itself, a test of resilience.

It is also a litmus test for one's passion to do what lawyers are called to do. The paralegal suggestion mooted will not help sieve out those who lack passion; it will just delay the process.

Turning would-be lawyers into paralegals will also create problems for diploma holders from the Law and Management course at Temasek Polytechnic. Are we asking diploma holders to compete with law graduates for paralegal roles? Or are we asking them to get a law degree to compete?

We must resist the temptation to react to a supply and demand problem. Given time, the market and parties will find balance and things will sort themselves out.

When we meddle with supply and demand, we introduce a new set of problems to be solved down the road.

The current glut is a problem created by upstream measures introduced in 1994 to deal with oversupply and the subsequent measures to deal with undersupply caused by the original measures. We should, therefore, learn from our past mistakes.

Michael Chia Soo

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2016, with the headline 'Paralegal route not the solution'. Print Edition | Subscribe