Criminal and family law 'a very good starting point' in Singapore, say experts

Mr Choo Zheng Xi, who has been practising both criminal and commercial law since 2011.
Mr Choo Zheng Xi, who has been practising both criminal and commercial law since 2011.
Corporate lawyer Stefanie Yuen Thio.
Corporate lawyer Stefanie Yuen Thio.
Mr Subhas Anandan, president of the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore.
Mr Subhas Anandan, president of the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore.

Criminal and family law are a very good starting point for fresh lawyers, said industry veterans.

They were responding to Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon's speech last month, when he urged new lawyers called to the Bar to hone their skills in community law first, instead of heading straight for corporate law.

Mr Subhas Anandan, president of the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore, believes that criminal law trains younger lawyers to think on the spot as the defence counsel has limited access to materials which may be useful in the trial.

Said the 67-year-old lawyer: "When criminal lawyers want to switch to civil law, they can do it quite easily. But if civil lawyers want to go into crime, they will find it difficult."

There is also the chance to conduct their own cases in court and cross-examine witnesses earlier in their careers.

Said Mr Choo Zheng Xi, who has been practising both criminal and commercial law since 2011: "You get trial experience much earlier as a criminal lawyer. My advice is to consider both commercial and criminal litigation to begin with."

But lawyers The Straits Times spoke to said they did not expect many to heed CJ Menon's advice, given the lure of big bucks in corporate law, and the challenges faced by community lawyers.

Lawyer Chia Boon Teck pointed out that corporate clients "have deeper pockets", so lawyers can bill them between $400 and $800 for an hour of work.

But family and criminal lawyers have to sometimes offer "package" prices which are affordable to their clients, who may be unemployed.

Added corporate lawyer Stefanie Yuen Thio: "I've seen young lawyers choose family law because of their ideals, only to give up because of the sheer volume of cases they had to take on to pay the bills."

Criminal lawyer Sunil Sudheesan also said that while there is plenty of demand for family and criminal legal services, there is "not enough paid work to sustain the criminal Bar".

"In that sense, the Government stepping in to fund criminal legal aid is a huge paradigm shift which will hopefully attract some to try out criminal defence work."

Law Minister K. Shanmugam announced late last year that the Government will give "direct assistance and support" to defendants through the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme.

Mr Subhas said every criminal needed legal advice. "Even though there are people who will sometimes doubt it, the presumption of innocence is still important; it is the cornerstone of our judicial system."

limyihan@sph.com.sg

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