Schools must go beyond teaching letter of the law

I operate a small family law firm.

Over the years, applications for internships, training contracts and legal positions in my firm have been overwhelming. In interviews with these candidates, I saw the passion they showed towards family and criminal law.

I do not think there is a shortage of such lawyers ("UniSIM law school to open in January"; last Wednesday). The first two law schools provide a sufficient supply of community lawyers.

To create a vibrant family Bar with high standards, training has to go beyond the teaching of black letter law and include soft skills, such as psychology, counselling, best dispute resolution methods and client management.

The attrition rate of lawyers is not specific to the family Bar; it covers the entire profession.

The focus for the Ministry of Law, Law Society, law schools and law firms should be to look at holistic solutions in minimising the number of lawyers leaving the profession.

Law schools should look out for applicants who are passionate about law and wish to become lawyers. Further, preparation for life as a lawyer and the rigours of law practice needs to be done in law school, as well as during the Bar course.

Law firms can provide structured internship programmes to enable law undergraduates to experience life in a law firm.

For their lawyers, firms can formulate flexible work arrangements, such as telecommuting or measuring work performance in ways other than on work done during traditional work hours in the office.

Lawyers, on their part, need to have a deep understanding of why they are practising law.

The clarity in their career will help them to steer through the low points of their working life and to remain in the profession.

It cannot be assumed that mid-career lawyers will focus only on community law practice or will be able to better withstand the demands of law.

It may be difficult for employers to train mid-career lawyers, compared with young ones.

Employers may also not be able to pay mature lawyers an amount commensurate with their work experience when they start their legal careers. Young lawyers who enter the workforce will be less costly to employ.

Rajan Chettiar

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2016, with the headline 'Schools must go beyond teaching letter of the law'. Print Edition | Subscribe