Imbalance, not glut, of lawyers the issue

Lawyers taking their oath on Aug 27, 2016.
Lawyers taking their oath on Aug 27, 2016. ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

Back in the 2000s, there was a shortage of lawyers, resulting in the setting up of a second law school at the Singapore Management University (SMU) to meet the country's demand for legal services.

Fast forward to 2016, and we now have too many lawyers, and once again, countermeasures are being rolled out ("New panel to address oversupply of new lawyers"; Sunday).

Yet, there is a startling trend that, despite having too many lawyers, there is a shortage of lawyers practising community law ("New lawyers must change mindsets" by Ms Gloria James; yesterday).

The response to this was to set up a third law school ("UniSIM law school to open in January"; Feb 17).

This seems to go against logic; as it is, there is already an oversupply of lawyers.

Opening a third law school is not the way to go to promote community law.

Instead, we should look at our existing legal education and encourage law students to pursue a path towards community law.

SMU, for instance, tends to emphasise corporate law subjects, so it is no wonder that eventually, many of its graduates go on to practise corporate law.

The university's course listings show that the majority of modules offered are corporate law modules.

The number of community law modules are limited and are insufficient to promote a liking among law students to encourage them to go down that path.

Slots in community law modules are always insufficient. For instance, the Family Law course is very popular and frequently oversubscribed, yet there is only one class a year - simply not enough to cater to everyone who has an interest in it.

Furthermore, a new committee can only restrict the supply of lawyers in order to ensure more graduates are able to secure training contracts, but it does little to tackle the root issue of this imbalance.

Yes, there are more lawyers, but, the market can balance itself out, should more graduates move into areas where there is a lack of manpower, such as in community law firms or as in-house counsel.

Yong Li Yuan (Miss)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2016, with the headline 'Imbalance, not glut, of lawyers the issue'. Print Edition | Subscribe