All 60 places filled in S'pore's third law school

Blocks B and C of the SIM headquarters campus in Clementi. Law students will study with others at the existing SIM HQ campus.
Blocks B and C of the SIM headquarters campus in Clementi. Law students will study with others at the existing SIM HQ campus. PHOTO: ST FILE

Close to 400 apply for two new programmes in UniSIM, which focus on criminal, family law

Singapore's third law school has filled all 60 places in its two new programmes, after receiving close to 400 applications.

SIM University (UniSIM), which hopes to plug a gap in the legal industry by training criminal and family lawyers, took in 27 applicants for its Bachelor of Laws (LLB) programme, and 33 for the Juris Doctor (JD) course, for those who have a first degree.

The private university, which released these figures yesterday, said 80 per cent of the successful applicants have an average working experience of 11 years.

They include law enforcement officers, court registrars, teachers and social workers. The rest are fresh school-leavers.

According to the Ministry of Law (MinLaw), there are about 1,600 criminal and family lawyers here as of 2014, compared with 3,600 corporate and commercial lawyers. A spokesman said many lawyers do not practise exclusively in these areas.

While UniSIM's law graduates can practise any area of law, there will be a strong focus on criminal and matrimonial law.

Both part-time courses, which start next January, will emphasise practice-based learning with a compulsory six-month Legal Clerkship Programme to train students to apply knowledge to actual cases.

This is separate from the training contract, a period of supervised training - typically also six months - required for entry to the Bar.

Students will take core modules in criminal law and family law, and subjects such as social services.

MinLaw will provide study awards for Singaporeans not eligible for government tuition grants as they had already attained a qualification with government subsidy.

Each LLB recipient will get $75,000 and those in the JD programme will get $60,000.

While there has been concern about a recent glut of new lawyers, a MinLaw spokesman said the new school "is a result of the recommendations of the fourth Committee on the Supply of Lawyers, which saw a need for legal practitioners in (the criminal and family law) fields".

"The demand for legal services is market-driven. The Government cannot control the number of Singaporeans who choose to pursue a law degree overseas," he said. "Our focus is to ensure quality of practitioners and the standards of legal services are maintained."

Lawyer Sunil Sudheesan, acting president of the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore, said UniSIM law graduates would bring "fresh insights" from their own fields into the legal sector. "The only concern is whether there is enough paying work to sustain these graduates, as a lot of the work in these areas is pro bono."

Mr Balasubramaniam Tharmalinggam, 40, an assistant registrar at the State Courts taking the JD course, said his passion is in criminal law.

"This is a unique and challenging area," he said.

"You can actually make a difference to the lives of the accused and their family members."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2016, with the headline 'All 60 places filled in S'pore's third law school'. Print Edition | Subscribe