Young lawyers must focus on ends and skills

I agree with the need for "recalibration of priorities" in the legal sector, but I am sceptical that taking our eyes off profit would do the trick ("Burnout leads to 'hollowing out' of mid-career lawyers"; last Sunday).

I am also not sure law firms will heed the advice of Law Society president Thio Shen Yi not to overstretch mid-career lawyers to a point where they leave the industry.

We need to educate young lawyers on the ecosystem they exist in and help them acquire the mind and skill sets needed to survive and thrive in it.

For two decades, larger firms have been paying new recruits handsome starting salaries to do their grunt work. For a fat salary, young lawyers work long hours but are exposed to only parts of the work they assist in.

Most do not learn enough in five to six years to allow them to become an expert or a rainmaker in that field. Clients are therefore unlikely to brief them directly.

If a young lawyer functions only as a workhorse, he risks having his firm find a cheaper labour source to replace him. If that happens, he is unlikely to get the kind of pay he is accustomed to in his next job.

He is also unlikely to be able to start out on his own, as he may not be able to attract the work he was used to doing. He would also not have done work the smaller firms usually do. Against such a backdrop, his only option may be to leave the practice.

A young lawyer should begin with the end in mind. He should apply his mind to what skills he needs to acquire in the next few years to survive.

Unless a young lawyer is passionate about becoming a top dog in a field of work large firms engage in, he may be better off choosing a small firm with a smaller salary.

He should then aim to learn to do work he can see himself attracting. While learning to do that work well, he should learn to prospect for such work. If he gets the hang of it, he would have learnt a life skill to take care of himself and his family.

It is a matter of taking control of one's professional life. Only when one can make a living would speaking of altruistic aspirations of justice and doing right be meaningful.

Michael Chia Soo

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 04, 2016, with the headline 'YourLetters Young lawyers must focus on ends and skills'. Subscribe