Singapore Budget 2015: MinLaw's focus is to ensure enough 'quality legal talent'

SINGAPORE - The recent delisting of eight British law schools from the approved list of universities which can have their students admitted to the Singapore Bar is not an attempt to control the number of lawyers and try to beat market forces.

Instead, the rationale is to ensure there is "a sufficient pipeline of quality legal talent" to support Singapore's legal needs, said Ms Indranee Rajah, Senior Minister of State for Law on Tuesday.

She added that the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) has the responsibility to "inform aspiring lawyers of the situation to enable them to make informed choices on whether, and where, to pursue a law degree".

She was responding to two MPs, Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang) and Mr Hri Kumar (Bishan-Toa Payoh), who asked about the recent review of approved overseas universities.

The number of British law schools whose students can be admitted to the Singapore Bar was cut last month from 19 to 11, weeding out those which are believed to have fared poorly in certain rankings. The changes affect only next year's intake, and not students already studying there.

The number of Singaporean law students going to Britain to read law rose from 350 in 2008 to 1,142 in 2013. This made it harder for returning graduates to get a six-month practice training contract (PTC) at a law firm, a requirement for entry to the Bar. Last year, nearly 650 graduates competed for about 490 PTCs.

"The number of available training contracts and retention of trainees is determined by the law firms, not the Government. It depends on their manpower needs, which in turn are determined by market forces," said Ms Indranee.

She also said that while there is no overall shortage of lawyers, there are not enough lawyers practising criminal and family law. "This shortage is unlikely to be addressed by the current supply of law graduates as many of them aspire to practise commercial and business law," she said.

The third law school, known as UniSim Law School (ULS), is a "targeted measure" to address this problem. It will begin with an intake of about 50 to 75 students a year.

Ms Indranee said that the ULS steering committee is finalising its report, and more details will be out when the committee's work is done.