Two key bars cited in mid-career law switch

Singapore Management University students in convocation gowns on July 21, 2012.
Singapore Management University students in convocation gowns on July 21, 2012.PHOTO: ST FILE

Law schools urged to tailor courses to suit older grad students' family, financial situations

Many mid-career individuals who joined the legal industry say law schools should structure their programmes to accommodate family and financial commitments of older graduate students, if they want to attract more of them.

Several who made the switch to law told The Straits Times that school fees and loss of employment income while studying entailed a huge financial commitment, but they persisted because of their interest in the law.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, in a speech earlier this month, suggested having more pathways to the Singapore Bar to draw more mid-career professionals to the legal industry, particularly those from science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) backgrounds. He urged local law schools to create more such pathways.

All three law schools here - the National University of Singapore (NUS), Singapore Management University (SMU) and Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), have graduate programmes. NUS has a three-year LLB programme, while SMU and SUSS offer a Juris Doctor (JD) course each. SMU's course can be done in two to three years, and SUSS' in about four to six years.

Professor Simon Chesterman, dean of NUS' Faculty of Law, said the university plans to launch a new JD degree for people with diverse skills that would be complementary to a career in law.

"We are also reviewing our admission process to see how we can attract those with strong Stem backgrounds to law," he added.

Professor Leslie Chew, dean of SUSS' School of Law, said the school is trying to attract more computer science graduates, given that crime in the future is more likely to be technology-based.

The JD programme at SMU has also seen a growing number of mid-career applicants across the years, said its director, Associate Professor Maartje de Visser.

According to the Law Society of Singapore, the number of lawyers with less than five years' experience increased from 1,821 in 2018 to 2,897 last year. However, the number of mid-tier lawyers with five to 15 years' experience decreased from 1,161 to 1,065 for the same period.

 
 
 
 

Law firms told ST that having lawyers with backgrounds in other industries adds value to their services because of their familiarity with those fields.

Lawyers and trainees who made the switch said more can be done to help in the transition.

Mr Shane Goh, a trainee, proposed letting mid-career students do law modules one at a time over a few weeks each, instead of taking several modules in one semester.

Mr Goh, 38, who managed his own accounting practice as well as other businesses before he entered the JD programme, said such a move would help those who have to juggle family commitments.

Some suggested compressing graduate law programmes to two years to reduce the income loss.

There is also the challenge of restarting one's career despite having work experience, said Drew & Napier associate director Charles Li.

An auditor before he obtained his JD at SMU, Mr Li said he would probably have made more money if he had remained an accountant.

Still, the past decade as a lawyer has its compensations. "I find myself much less inhibited in my work," he said. "I feel a greater sense of achievement in being able to... address both the legal and commercial problems that people face."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 20, 2020, with the headline 'Two key bars cited in mid-career law switch'. Print Edition | Subscribe