Law grads to face more stringent professional Bar exam from 2023

The new regime proposes to uncouple admission to the Bar from the completion of the practice training contract.
The new regime proposes to uncouple admission to the Bar from the completion of the practice training contract.PHOTO: DON WONG FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

SINGAPORE - Law graduates will face a more stringent professional Bar exam from 2023 as well as lengthier training before they can qualify to practise law.

The "significant restructuring" of the professional training regime for lawyers was announced on Thursday (Aug 30) by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon during this year's mass call, a proceeding that formally admits lawyers to the Bar.

The recommendations, which have been accepted in-principle by the Law Ministry, were made by a committee he appointed two years ago to conduct a "root and branch" review of how undergraduates are offered training contracts by local law firms, as well as how they are assessed to be suitable for retention and employment.

Under the current regime, law graduates have to go through a six-month course and pass the Singapore Bar exam, known as "Part B", then complete a six-month training contract with a law firm, in order to be called to the Bar.

Currently, admission to the Bar is synonymous with being qualified to practise law.

However, the new regime proposes to uncouple admission to the Bar from the completion of the practice training contract.

This means law graduates who pass Part B can be admitted to the Bar without the need to undergo practice training. "This proposal recognises that a person who has studied law can contribute to society without becoming a practising lawyer," said CJ Menon in his speech.

Those who wish to practise law will still need to complete a practice training contract, which will be lengthened from the current six months to one year.

The committee, chaired by Justice Quentin Loh, was formed against the backdrop of a shortage of practice training contracts in the industry.

However, the committee said in its report that it focused its attention on strengthening the training regime, rather than addressing supply and demand issues and interfering directly in the market. A longer period of mentorship will allow trainees to develop a strong foundation for a sustainable and fulfilling career in legal practice.

By comparison, lawyers in Britain, France, Germany and Hong Kong have to undergo a two-year training period.

At the same time, the standard of the Part B exam will also be raised, to keep the bar high, and will be reviewed to include topics relevant to lawyers practising in the current environment, such as technology.

In his speech, CJ Menon also exhorted the newly minted lawyers to be passionately curious about developments outside the law, to be courageous in treading new ground and to be find creative solution through technology.