Legal sector stirred into addressing exodus of junior lawyers: Law Society president

Law Society president Adrian Tan said it came as no surprise to him that junior lawyers were highly sought after, as law firms are a good training ground. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Amid a spike in departures from the law profession, the industry has been jolted into action to help stem the exodus, said the new president of the Law Society.

"We have started a national conversation about our profession, and we are listening to what everyone has to say," said Mr Adrian Tan in an interview with The Straits Times last Friday (Jan 21).

"All over social media, young and not-so-young lawyers are speaking out, and telling their stories."

In his speech to mark the opening of the legal year, he said 538 lawyers left the profession in 2021, a figure that represented a five-year high. In the four years prior to that, between 380 and 430 lawyers quit the profession each year.

Among those who left last year, 310 were junior lawyers who had practised for less than five years.

Mr Tan, a partner at TSMP Law Corporation, said it came as no surprise to him that junior lawyers were highly sought after, as law firms are a good training ground for them to be exposed to a wide range of work.

He said: "The Singapore legal industry is a victim of its own success.

"Singapore lawyers are known to be bright and hardworking. They are often headhunted for roles in not just law, but in fields requiring compliance, risk management, business restructuring, finance and many other lucrative positions."

But the legal sector cannot afford to lose too many lawyers as there needs to be constant renewal within its ranks, given the demanding nature of the profession.

He said: "As older lawyers reach the end of their careers and step back, young lawyers are needed to rejuvenate the profession."

There are about 6,000 practising lawyers in Singapore.

Mr Tan, a veteran lawyer of more than 30 years, said the Law Society was proud of every lawyer who had spoken up to share his or her experiences.

"Some have done so openly, and others have done so privately, in messages to me and other members of the Law Society Council.

"We want to reimagine how we can practise law in Singapore, so that we can meet the requirements of the client, the court and the community, while balancing that with the modern lawyer's wish to have balance and wellness," he said.

In his speech, Mr Tan envisioned a future where lawyers could work from a laptop, use technology to collaborate with other lawyers, meet clients virtually, and not be bound to a physical office. He added that the conversation would be tough but necessary for the legal profession to have with itself.

Mr Tan called on young lawyers to stay in their careers for a "reasonable amount of time" in order to become sufficiently skilled at their work, citing the many years it takes to make a good lawyer.

"Lawyering requires more than a law degree. It is a craft that demands patience, experience and dedication," he said.

Mr Tan also reiterated the need for legal services in every aspect of economy and society, pointing out that businesses use lawyers "when they have plans to expand, to go public, to acquire or dispose of assets, to hire, or to resolve disputes".

Lawyers were also essential to individuals when they have to deal with family issues, plan their estates, resolve disputes, or if they face criminal charges.

Mr Tan took over as Law Society president on Jan 1, succeeding Senior Counsel Gregory Vijayendran, who held the post for five years.

Mr Tan said he hoped future generations would continue to aspire to become lawyers.

He noted: "Young people are seeing that laws and advocacy are important to the issues that they hold dear.

"They see the impact that lawyers make on society, by helping the less fortunate and speaking up for the voiceless. Whether they are concerned about climate change, discrimination, institutional bias, or whether they want to effect change, they need to understand laws, and they need to be effective advocates."

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