Lawyers and training contracts: Law Ministry replies

Miss Yong Li Yuan ("Imbalance, not glut, of lawyers the issue") and Mr Michael Chia Soo ("Paralegal route not the solution"; both published last Wednesday) misperceived why some law graduates are unable to secure training contracts.

The National University of Singapore enrols about 240 students for its undergraduate law programme while the Singapore Management University enrols about 180 students. Their graduates generally have no problem securing training contracts in local law firms.

Surveys conducted between 2011 and last year showed that 99 per cent of local law graduates obtained employment within six months of graduation. (Notwithstanding this, the ability of law firms to employ students will obviously depend on market conditions.)

In addition, many Singaporeans study law overseas. These numbers are not controlled by the Government and increased sharply to around 310 last year. During this period, only around 70 per cent of overseas-trained graduates managed to secure training contracts, let alone employment.

The Law Ministry highlighted these facts in 2014 and made relevant statistics available, so that students contemplating overseas law programmes could make informed choices. The number of qualifying overseas universities was also reduced, based on assessments of quality.

Separately, the Government accepted the recommendations of the 4th Committee on the Supply of Lawyers, to establish a third law school, with defined criteria and outcomes. The committee did not find an overall shortage of lawyers, but highlighted a shortage of criminal and family law practitioners. The situation was expected to exacerbate.

The third law school offers mature students who previously wanted to read law the opportunity to do so. Its curriculum will focus on family and criminal law. Mature students, who are more likely to practise in these areas, will be selected through the interview process. (That, of course, does not mean that they cannot practise in other areas after graduation).

This law school's intake was kept small, for a start, at 60 students. The demand this year outstripped the places available. That demand, if completely unmet, will mean that some students will go overseas anyway. The law school, therefore, offers an additional choice to these students, and applied training to increase their employability.

Some graduands may also choose not to practise law, but pursue careers in other professions.

On the review to be conducted by the Committee for the Professional Training of Lawyers, it is premature to anticipate its recommendations. The intention, as stated by the Chief Justice, is to help law graduands by making the pupillage process more structured, and employment processes more transparent.

Praveen Randhawa (Ms)

Director, Corporate Communications

Ministry of Law

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2016, with the headline 'Lawyers and training contracts: Law Ministry replies'. Print Edition | Subscribe