Law Society goes online for council member polls

Move is a first by an association; attention on who will be next leader in challenging times

The Law Society is going online with its annual elections for council members, in what is believed to be the first such move by an association in Singapore.

The polls - to be held next Monday - will also be closely watched to see who will be taking the helm at a time when the industry is facing increasing challenges.

This includes greater competition for work as the sector liberalises, more law graduates jockey for positions, fewer cases to take on and higher costs.

Seven candidates are vying for the four spots in the senior category of the governing council that are up for grabs. The governing council also includes representatives from the junior and middle categories.

More than 2,000 lawyers in the "senior category" - those with no fewer than 15 years' standing - will be casting their votes via "i-voting" on a secured election Web portal. Registered voters are given a PIN code to log on to the given address of the portal.

This will help resolve a key headache for lawyers. Voting is compulsory under the Legal Profession Act (LPA). This means that defaulting lawyers who do not vote have to explain themselves or face penalties.

  • Candidates

    •Michael Chia: director, MSC Law Corporation

    •A. Manimaran: sole proprietor, Mani & Partners

    •Steven Lam: director, Templars Law LLC

    •Lisa Sam: managing partner, Lisa Sam & Company

    •Adrian Tan: director, Morgan Lewis Stamford LLC

    •Engelin Teh: Senior Counsel, managing director, Engelin Teh Practice LLC

    •Gregory Vijayendran: partner, Rajah & Tann

A spokesman said: "Like other associations, the society used to organise elections in the traditional way, where members turn up at a voting centre in person, have their identities verified, and then mark their votes on paper, which will then be tallied by hand.

"As a result, members have their work and travel plans constrained by council elections. The society's i-voting initiative now enables lawyers to cast their votes from anywhere in the world, so long as there is Internet access."

Internet poll allows members to vote without affecting work, travel plans

It is understood the LPA had to be amended to allow for electronic voting. "The implementation of i-voting would also enhance service delivery by the society as part of its continuing efforts to support the Smart Nation initiative in Singapore," added the spokesman.

The Law Society's move to use online voting for council elections is different from other organisations that allow members to indicate digitally a straightforward yes-no on issues.

Manifestos of the seven candidates were released to members yesterday. These identified many of the challenges faced by lawyers.

Candidate A. Manimaran urged members to vote in candidates from small and medium-sized law firms which are under-represented in the council. He called for three others from such firms - Ms Lisa Sam, Mr Steven Lam and Mr Michael Chia - to be elected as well.

Mr Chia said the smaller practices had a " vital role" in the justice system and it is important to ensure these practices "are not inadvertently edged out of existence in this fast-changing and competitive environment."

Mr Lam sought to address the "challenging times", noting among other things that fees have not kept pace with higher managing costs and increased client demands.

Ms Sam, who served on the council the past nine years, said she seeks to mitigate the effects of "this challenging and competitive environment".

Senior Counsel Engelin Teh is standing for election for the first time, a move that is tipped as a potential step to a top post if elected. The council meets later this year to decide on office bearers for next year.

"In the past year, I have been approached by fellow lawyers who spoke to me of the various problems that they have been facing as a result of the changes in the legal landscape and the economic downturn," she said in reference to the increased number of law graduates and higher costs, among other things.

"I thought long and hard about it and would like to think it is time for me to give back to my profession from which I have gained much."

Current Law Society president and Senior Counsel Thio Shen Yi is expected to step down by year's end.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2016, with the headline 'Law Society goes online for council member polls'. Print Edition | Subscribe