21 law firms pledge to increase opportunities for young lawyers to represent clients in court

The Supreme Court building. The pledge was signed by the managing partners of the participating firms at the Supreme Court on Oct 15, 2018.
The Supreme Court building. The pledge was signed by the managing partners of the participating firms at the Supreme Court on Oct 15, 2018.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Twenty-one law firms, including Drew & Napier LLC and Tan Rajah & Cheah, have pledged to provide more opportunities for young lawyers to represent their clients in court.

An initiative of the Young Members Chapter under the Singapore Academy of Law's Professional Affairs Committee, the new scheme will see senior lawyers from the firms identify and give their young lawyers the chance to advocate at all stages of a proceeding as lead counsel.

The managing partners of the participating firms signed the pledge at the Supreme Court on Monday (Oct 15). This was witnessed by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon.

The judiciary is also supporting the scheme by amending the Supreme Court's Practice Directions to require, among other things, a lead counsel to inform the court "as early as is practicable" whether the advocacy tasks for a trial or a hearing will be shared with junior counsel.

Lawyer Jordan Tan, 35, who co-leads the Young Members Chapter, said young lawyers who do not get the opportunity early on "might get jaded with just playing a supporting role and leave practice mid-career".

This results in a dwindling middle-tier of practising lawyers.

In his speech at the signing ceremony , Judge of Appeal Steven Chong, who chairs the Singapore Academy of Law's Professional Affairs Committee, said the unprecedented growth of the profession over the last two decades has come at a cost.

Due to a number of reasons, including the complexity of claims, clients have become more selective in choosing their counsel to advance their cases in court.

He said: "Almost as a default, clients would typically prefer to use the senior members of the litigation practices. This has unfortunately translated into a lack of opportunities for the younger members to cut their teeth in court and has in turn led to a diminishing pool of middle-tier advocates."

Justice Chong said this "unhealthy trend" required timely intervention.

Mr Tan pointed out that this was less of a problem 20 to 30 years ago as there were fewer practising lawyers then and legal teams were smaller. This allowed advocacy work to be split more evenly across the ranks and young lawyers were expected to go to court to represent their clients.

The Law Society of Singapore's website shows that 1,825 of the 5,191 practising lawyers last year had less than five years of practice.

The mid-tier lawyers with five to 15 years of experience numbered 1,045 while those with more than 15 years of experience numbered 2,321.

Mr Tan said that planning for the new initiative started late last year.

He said: "Its aim is to keep young litigators interested in practice and to have front-line experience. Ultimately, young lawyers need time on their feet to gain enough experience so that when the time comes for them to act as lead counsel, they will be able to do so effectively.

"The overwhelming support for the initiative from the judiciary and the senior practitioners has been very encouraging."

Under the initiative, senior lawyers from the firms will supervise the junior lawyers in preparations for a case and attend hearings with them where necessary, to provide feedback. The young lawyers will also be given relevant advocacy training outside the court.

Justice Chong added that the pledge is an important milestone in the development of the Bar and marks a collective signal to the profession - particularly its younger members as well as law students, both current and future - that steps are being taken to "provide more opportunities to develop their potential to the fullest".

A young lawyer, Ms Andrea Gan, 29, welcomed the scheme.

"The push to provide young lawyers with increased opportunities for oral advocacy gives us the chance to develop our advocacy skills earlier and incrementally.

"Such actual hands-on experience is probably the most effective way to truly learn and grow as a young advocate."

Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, the executive chairman of Drew & Napier LLC, said: "Drew & Napier is proud to support this highly laudable and farsighted initiative to give young advocates the opportunity to gain experience, and to grow in confidence and stature. It should be enthusiastically embraced and supported by every senior advocate."