SINGAPORE - Singapore's newest lawyers have been urged to begin their careers in family and criminal law to hone their skills, instead of heading straight for corporate law, which is getting more competitive than ever.
The legal community yesterday welcomed 430 newly appointed advocates and solicitors at this year's mass call to the Bar, up from 411 last year and 363 the year before.
The expansion in the number of lawyers means the newcomers will enter a market where the generous salary packages and multiple job offers their predecessors enjoyed will be harder to come by, said Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon.
This is also because other major legal centres around the world, such as New York and London, are cutting back in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, he added.
A week ago, Law Minister K. Shanmugam highlighted how Singapore could face a glut in supply of lawyers in the next three years as more aspiring lawyers pursue a law degree here and overseas.
During yesterday's ceremony at Nanyang Technological University, the Chief Justice said the legal industry is adjusting from one of "undersupply" - when there were more jobs than law graduates - to one where supply and demand are more balanced now, especially in commercial law.
"This means that you will not be running with the wind to your back," he told the new lawyers hoping to enter corporate and commercial practice. Instead, they can expect "more competition, fewer guarantees and less room for negotiation". This is a trend that is happening not only in Singapore.
After a period of sustained growth in New York and London "in the later decades of the 20th century", the pace of recruitment there has slowed down.
Singapore, which benchmarks lawyers' salaries with those paid by New York and London firms, is no exception to these market forces, especially given how "we also compete in a South-east Asian market where starting salaries are generally lower". Instead the Chief Justice challenged the new lawyers to take the plunge into family and criminal law - where there is a shortage - and cut their teeth there.
While he admitted that there may be a "good deal less glamour" in these areas of the law, there is no better place than community law for young lawyers to get into the thick of the action, said the Chief Justice.
New lawyers The Sunday Times spoke to said while the market may be getting tighter now, it is their juniors who will feel the pinch. Mr Asik Ali Sadayan, 26, a Singapore Management University graduate, said: "My juniors have told me that it has become a lot harder to get training contracts.
It was easier for my batch and we did not feel the competition as much." Every year, about 400 local law graduates, along with a growing number of foreign-educated ones, apply for about 500 training contracts offered by law firms.
The six-month contract gives would-be lawyers the real world training they are required to complete before they are called to the Bar. In his speech yesterday, Law Society of Singapore president Lok Vi Ming said his organisation is considering various initiatives to ensure that every graduate eligible for a training contract will get it.
Other new lawyers told The Sunday Times that they had their hearts set on corporate law, and would prefer to give back to society through pro-bono work - something the Chief Justice said was important for lawyers to be involved in.
Not only does such work keep lawyers connected to the community, it also helps them to avoid thinking that their worth is reflected by how much they bill and little else.
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