No extra hurdles for overseas law grads

Overseas law graduates who earn a second-lower honours degree will continue to be allowed to practise in Singapore without having to cross extra hurdles, despite a predicted glut of lawyers here. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Overseas law graduates who earn a second-lower honours degree will continue to be allowed to practise in Singapore without having to cross extra hurdles, despite a predicted glut of lawyers here. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

But list of recognised foreign varsities is being reviewed

Overseas law graduates who earn a second-lower honours degree will continue to be allowed to practise in Singapore without having to cross extra hurdles, despite a predicted glut of lawyers here.

But a review of which foreign universities should be recognised is being finalised, and the findings are expected to be released soon.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam recently warned of an oversupply of lawyers in the next three years, and attributed this to the sharp rise in Singaporeans going abroad, mainly to Britain, to pursue law.

In Britain, the number of Singapore law students more than doubled from 510 in 2010 to 1,142 last year. In 2009, a rule was relaxed to allow foreign-trained lawyers with second-lower honours to take the Bar exam without extra years of legal work experience. Previously, they needed two years.

The Law Ministry told The Straits Times yesterday that there are no plans to change this. Instead, a committee chaired by Attorney-General's Chambers chief counsel David Chong has been reviewing the list of recognised overseas universities.

The list, which currently has 35 universities such as the University of Sydney and University of Liverpool, has been unchanged since 2006. A spokesman for the Singapore Institute of Legal Education, a statutory board tasked with the review, said the committee will submit its report in the near future.

The previous president of the Singapore Corporate Counsel Association, Ms Angeline Joyce Lee, said this review was important as universities where legal education standards are not as robust should be re-evaluated.

"Standards are high in reputable institutions like London School of Economics and University of Bristol, but I'm not sure about others," said the lawyer, who was part of the 4th Committee on the Supply of Lawyers that released its recommendations last year.

The rising number of law graduates from abroad has made it harder for them to get a six-month practice training contract - a requirement for entry to the Bar. The contract allows them to get on-the-job training at a law firm.

Every year, there are around 500 contracts on offer. Most go to the 400 or so local law graduates from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Singapore Management University, leaving the rest for their foreign-educated peers.

One 23-year-old who graduated from the University of Warwick last year told The Straits Times she had to apply to more than 40 law firms before securing a contract.

A 22-year-old from the University of Nottingham, who also did not want to be named, said she has yet to get one despite applying to more than 10 firms. "Many were full when I called them. They said they were taking in mostly local graduates."

NUS law dean Simon Chesterman told The Straits Times that demand for a law degree is high here. He said the faculty received 4,000 applicants for 250 places this year.

"The numbers going overseas cannot be easily controlled as more parents and students can afford it," he said. "But that doesn't guarantee you a job in the profession. Students have to manage their expectations, unless they have a first-class honours degree from Oxford or Cambridge."

MP Hri Kumar Nair, who is the chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law, said those who want to practise law "should not be restricted from pursuing their dream".

But they also have to be realistic. New students may find that the "market may have changed" upon graduation. But the study of law, he said, is also a "gateway" to other professions, such as banking, management and politics.

ateng@sph.com.sg