Expanding pathways to Bar may help draw mid-career switches, says CJ

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon proposed several ideas to reform the current system of legal education and training yesterday.
Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon proposed several ideas to reform the current system of legal education and training yesterday.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

It may be valuable to introduce more pathways that lead to admission to the Singapore Bar, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said yesterday.

This will encourage individuals with complementary backgrounds and skill sets, such as those from science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, to join and strengthen the legal service sector, he added.

In his speech at the opening ceremony for the new legal year, CJ Menon further suggested that the local law schools consider offering such pathways through their courses and degrees.

Apart from direct undergraduate law degrees, mid-career individuals with non-law backgrounds may be permitted to enter the legal profession via these pathways.

One possible example he gave was a new four-year degree comprising two years of core legal education, a year of professional training, and a final year of study in a complementary discipline such as business, accounting and computer science.

The Chief Justice further proposed that all pathways could be "capped" by a common Bar examination, in order to maintain the required standards of the legal profession.

The above proposals are part of CJ Menon's ideas to reform the current system of legal education and training to ensure that it remains capable of "moulding the lawyers we need".

The Chief Justice's ideas are based on his interactions with more than 160 stakeholders across 16 focus groups in the legal industry concerning the future of the legal profession.

He also suggested that a steering forum for legal education and training may be formed to consult decision-makers in key constituencies of the legal industry, such as universities, the ministries of law and education, as well as the judiciary.

 
 
 
 

"This forum can then identify strategic objectives and areas of reform, and guide the evolution of our system of legal education and training," he said.

Other suggestions by CJ Menon include redesigning the current Continuing Professional Development programme for qualified legal professionals, and reviewing the undergraduate law syllabus in order to enhance the teaching of practical skills.

The Chief Justice mentioned that these proposals are expected to be explored further this year.

Professor Simon Chesterman, dean of the National University of Singapore's Faculty of Law, welcomed CJ Menon's ideas in reforming the legal education system.

"Upheavals in the practice of law require a radical rethink of the purpose, content, method, and funding of legal education and training," he said.

"We look forward to working with the Chief Justice, the Ministry of Law, our many alumni and other stakeholders to keep Singapore at the forefront of legal education and training - an essential part of our reputation as a global legal hub."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 07, 2020, with the headline 'Expanding pathways to Bar may help draw mid-career switches, says CJ'. Print Edition | Subscribe