'Be a wise lawyer with a good heart'

Attorney-General V. K. Rajah at the Attorney-General's Office on Jan 12, 2017.
Attorney-General V. K. Rajah at the Attorney-General's Office on Jan 12, 2017. PHOTO: ST FILE

Be yourself. Embrace competition. Seek a larger purpose.

Former attorney-general V.K. Rajah dispensed this advice to law graduates from the National University of Singapore (NUS) yesterday, as he urged them to be not just smart lawyers but more importantly, wise people.

"Try and be lawyers with good heads and good hearts. Be wise lawyers. In Singapore, we have many clever people but not enough wise ones," said Mr Rajah, who stepped down as A-G in January after a career as a Judge of Appeal, a High Court judge and managing partner of law firm Rajah & Tann.

Speaking at a commencement ceremony that also marked the NUS Faculty of Law's 60th anniversary, Mr Rajah noted that many young lawyers would want to emulate apparently successful lawyers and feel the need to assume some of their traits.

"A word of advice. Don't. Be yourselves. By all means, absorb all the professional lessons but do not blindly absorb all the personal attributes that you witness," he added. "There are practising lawyers who have changed their identities and become uncaring in seeking to secure their clients' ends. They practise ostensibly within the letter of the law without observing its spirit."

On seeking a larger purpose, Mr Rajah, who was from the 1982 batch, said law firms and lawyers "should not be defined by just billing targets, profits and compensation". He also urged graduates not to stay on longer in the profession than they have to if they are uninterested as "only those with passion will excel".

  • 509

    Number of new lawyers admitted to the Bar last year.

"Unhappy lawyers are not just unhappy persons, but a lack of commitment can have adverse consequences for others. Find your passion by all means. Today, a law degree opens many doors," he added.

Mr Rajah's comments come even as the third law school here opened at the SIM University earlier this year, amid an oversupply of young lawyers.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said last year that the number of new entrants to the profession has doubled in the past five years. Last year, 509 new lawyers were admitted to the Bar. But The Straits Times reported last week that two universities were seeing a 17 and 22 per cent drop in applicants listing law as their first choice compared to last year.

Mr Rajah assured parents of those who choose to leave the law profession that their children have not wasted four years of their lives. NUS law graduates have, over the last 60 years, excelled in many different fields beyond the law. They include Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh and Ms Aileen Lim who, apart from establishing her own law firm, is the hotel proprietress of Jaylene 1918 Hotel and Jaylene Clarke Quay Hotel.

Both Professor Koh and Ms Lim were among the eight members of the Class of 1961, who attended the commencement ceremony. Prof Koh said he hopes Singapore's brightest students will continue to see law as their first choice for their future.

"A legal education prepares our students not only for a career in the law but also for a whole variety of options, the foreign service, business and even the arts."

Janice Tai

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 09, 2017, with the headline ''Be a wise lawyer with a good heart''. Print Edition | Subscribe