Young lawyers can turn to mentors in new scheme to tackle work pressures

Newly-appointed lawyers taking the oath during the first session of Mass Call 2017.
Newly-appointed lawyers taking the oath during the first session of Mass Call 2017.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

SINGAPORE - Junior lawyers who are stressed at work and need a listening ear can soon turn to a senior in the profession who can act as mentor, under a new initiative by the Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc).

The mentorship scheme was announced by LawSoc president Gregory Vijayendran on Monday (Aug 28) during his speech at this year's Mass Call, a proceeding that formally admits lawyers to the Bar.

When it is rolled out in the next two months, the society will match junior lawyers - those with less than five years of experience - with a mentor, on request.

Mr Vijayendran said: "We cannot underestimate the extraordinary work pressures and job stresses in Singapore that may lead to (setbacks)." He added that the legal world is, similarly, not immune to this.

Mr Vijayendran's comments echoed those of Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who earlier on Monday urged law firms to do more to help lawyers who may be struggling to cope with the volume and pace of their work.

The Chief Justice was the presiding judge at the first session of this year's Mass Call, while Judges of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang and Steven Chong presided over the second and third sessions, respectively, on Tuesday.

In total, the legal community welcomed 483 lawyers this year, at the event held at the Supreme Court auditorium, which was gazetted as a courtroom.

Young lawyers, in particular, are under increasing strain, said the Chief Justice in his address.

For instance, a recent survey in Britain found that more than 90 per cent of 200 young lawyers felt too much emotional or mental pressure at work, he said.

"If this were not troubling enough, one in four described the stress they experienced as either 'severe' or 'extreme',"he added.

He also cited an Australian study which reported that lawyers suffer from significantly lower levels of psychological health than other professionals.

And while there has not been an equivalent study done locally yet, Chief Justice Menon said that the experience of other jurisdictions has been enough to spark concerns here.

He cited examples from abroad that firms here could adopt.

International law firm Clifford Chance, for instance, has a mental health awareness scheme for new recruits. They undergo resilience training and have access to specialist speakers, such as psychologists.

Mr Vijayendran said the LawSoc's new scheme will focus on relational mentorship, unlike the society's current PracMentor scheme, which allows young lawyers to seek technical advice in specialised practice areas from senior lawyers.

Under the new scheme, junior lawyers will be able to turn to their mentors for career counselling or when faced with ethical conundrums, in addition to stress issues.

Of the current population of 5,117 practising lawyers, around 34 per cent, or 1,750, are in the junior tier, according to latest figures from the society.

A LawSoc spokesman said that the numbers are expected to increase after this year's Mass Call, as newly called lawyers begin to apply for their practising certificates.

Mr Vijayendran, who spoke to reporters on the sidelines of the event, said that he hopes to have at least 50 mid-tier and senior lawyers on board to provide one-on-one mentorship to their juniors.

Addressing concerns about client confidentiality, he said that lawyers will be guided to talk about their issues in a way that keeps identities in a case anonymous.