Why It Matters

Filling gap in community law

(From left) Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan, UniSIM president Cheong Hee Kiat and Senior Minister of State for Law lndranee Rajah at a press conference to announce the establishment of UniSIM Law School on Feb 16, 2016. PHOTO: ST FILE

Young and fresh faces will not fill the classrooms at Singapore's third and newest law school at the SIM University (UniSIM) next year.

Instead, most of the 60 students - about 80 per cent of them - will have an average work experience of 11 years. They vary from law enforcement officers and paralegals to court registrars, teachers and social workers.

The private university announced this week that it took in 27 applicants for its Bachelor of Laws course and 33 for its Juris Doctor course, which is for people with first degrees.

The study of law at UniSIM will not be quite the same as that at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Singapore Management University, (SMU) which cater mainly to fresh school-leavers.

Some people have raised concerns that the new school will add to a glut of new law graduates caused by more students pursuing law degrees abroad, but actually, its aim is to fill a shortage of criminal and family lawyers in the legal industry.

Fresh law graduates from NUS, SMU and overseas universities generally do not choose to join this field for reasons including remuneration that does not compare as well with corporate law. According to the Ministry of Law, there are about 1,600 criminal and family lawyers here as of 2014, compared with 3,600 corporate and commercial lawyers.

Senior lawyers noted that it requires a certain grit and maturity to last in community law, which can be emotionally taxing. The third law school's students have thus been carefully chosen through a selection process that included an interview, a British law school admissions test and submission of a resume.

The students with prior work experience come with insights from their own sectors and are familiar with the demands of dealing with different groups of people in need. It is hoped that with these life experiences, they would be more prepared to handle the demands of family and criminal law, and have a genuine passion for it. Filling the growing gap of good practitioners in these fields will ultimately benefit society at large, with the average Singaporean enjoying better access to legal help.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 30, 2016, with the headline 'Filling gap in community law '. Print Edition | Subscribe