Over 5,000 lawyers and counting as Law Society turns 50

Number of law firms also up; when society started in 1967, it had just 259 lawyers

From just 259 lawyers when it started in 1967, the Law Society now boasts more than 5,000 members.

This was one of the highlights it noted in its 2017 annual report.

The number of lawyers has crossed the 5,000 mark, climbing from 4,486 in 2013 to 5,191 as at Aug 31 this year as the society celebrates its 50th anniversary.

The figure is expected to rise further, given the 484 applicants admitted to the Bar in the Mass Call events at the Supreme Court in late August.

It is understood that over 200 from this cohort could apply to be practising lawyers, while the others may seek legal positions not requiring a practising certificate such as in-house counsel.

"The Law Society has indeed come a long way from its humble beginnings in 1967, with a mere 259 lawyers," said chief executive officer Delphine Loo Tan in the annual report.

The report, which covers the period from September last year to end-August this year, noted that the number of small law firms had inched up, forming 81 per cent of the 881 law firms. A small firm has one to five lawyers.

Meanwhile, the number of medium-sized firms - of six to 30 lawyers - rose to 140 from 108 five years ago. There are 21 law practices having more than 30 lawyers each. The year also saw the first Queen's Counsel, Mr Toby Landau, successfully called to the Singapore Bar in May.

During the year, the society conducted 50 anti-money-laundering inspections, which for the first time were done at foreign law firms in addition to local firms.

"The decision to significantly increase the number of inspections undertaken, compared with previous years, was made to support Singapore's national interests, bearing in mind our Government's robust stand against money-laundering activities," said the society's anti-money laundering committee, chaired by senior lawyer S. Surenthiraraj, in the report.

The inspections conducted over two months late last year were outsourced to a large audit firm known for major audits.

"Overall, the results of the inspections were encouraging, with the vast majority of the law practices inspected being accorded a positive assessment."

The few practices found to have inadequate internal controls and processes to minimise the threat of money laundering were given time to address the weaknesses identified and will be re-inspected.

Another first in the year was the setting up of the society's first wholly owned subsidiary, known as the Law Society Pro Bono Services.

The society transferred to the new entity all its pro bono legal aid activities previously provided through its Pro Bono Services Office.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2017, with the headline 'Over 5,000 lawyers and counting as Law Society turns 50'. Print Edition | Subscribe