As a local lawyer of more than 15 years' standing, the news that trainee lawyers cheated does not come as a surprise (Six trainee lawyers who cheated in 2020 Bar exam have their admissions to the profession delayed, April 18).
The profession has, over the years, become inured to news of its members absconding with clients' money, misleading the courts, committing forgery, tax evasion and so on.
Justice Choo Han Teck said this latest incident raises many questions about whether there is a culture of cheating.
Taken together with other acts of dishonesty involving lawyers, it points towards the gradual erosion of the profession's moral standing and the loss of its status as a noble calling.
What can be done to stop the rot? Clearly, ethics and moral training alone are insufficient, for they did not have the requisite effect on the exam cheats.
Perhaps we need to look into the motivations for studying law in the first place.
Based on my interactions with other lawyers, it appears that a majority joined the profession because they (or their parents) see it as a lucrative career path, and not because they were driven by an innate desire to serve as agents of fairness and justice.
It does not help that, in the corporate world, lawyers who are more willing to compromise on morality and lack rigour are generally regarded as being more "business-friendly".
Over time, lawyers learn that the key to improving their career prospects is to avoid being "legalistic" and to adopt a "risk-based approach".
At the same time, the competitive nature of Singaporeans is manifested in the manner that some lawyers conduct litigation, in which they are constantly seeking an edge to chalk up a win and its associated bragging rights.
I urge the legal profession to admit that there is clearly "something wrong somewhere" and to take up the judge's call for an honest and thorough introspection.
Peter Heng Teck Wee