Voluntary scheme started to accredit specialist lawyers


To help the public identify lawyers who have expertise in certain practice areas, the Singapore Academy of Law (SAL) has rolled out a voluntary accreditation scheme so practitioners can apply to have their skills recognised.

For a start, lawyers specialising in building and construction law can apply under the Specialist Accreditation Scheme. The first batch of accredited specialists in this field will be announced in January 2018.

The pilot programme, launched by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon at the opening of the legal year 2017, is expected to be expanded later to include shipping law and arbitration.

The move is meant to improve the quality of Singapore's legal services and the standard of the Bar in general, without disadvantaging those who choose to remain non-accredited, he said.

"Participation in the scheme will be entirely voluntary and will not be exclusionary. Thus, non-accredited lawyers will continue to be able to practise in their field, in the same way that those who are not appointed Senior Counsel are nonetheless able to practise as advocates. But accreditation will function as a mark of recognition that a particular lawyer in fact has particular skills and expertise," said Mr Menon.

The scheme will have two tiers: a lower tier (accredited specialist) for younger legal practitioners and an upper tier (senior accredited specialist) for more experienced legal practitioners. Candidates will be selected by a panel comprising judges, legal practitioners and industry professionals.

The assessment is based on the candidate's involvement in the practice area and panel interview, among other things. Younger lawyers will have to sit an examination while senior lawyers are exempted.

The specialist accreditation will have to be renewed every two years.

SAL said the scheme is expected to benefit more than 900 legal practitioners who practise building and construction law.

Former Law Society president and senior counsel Lok Vi Ming, who now runs his own dispute resolution practice, welcomed the accreditation scheme as it will "encourage practitioners to keep up with latest developments in a particular industry or practice area" and will ramp up different expertise.

"The public is always looking for product differentiation - people who can deliver better in a particular area of expertise and if you have a mark of excellence that is presented to them, they will gravitate towards that mark," added Mr Lok.

The SAL is also developing the Legal Industry Framework for Training and Education (Lifted), which is part of the nationwide SkillsFuture initiative and will help lawyers develop core and specialist competencies in their areas of practice.

For a start, Lifted will identify competencies and courses for corporate and commercial law, family law, legal technologies and legal support roles. It will be implemented in phases this year, starting with legal support roles.

This article was first published on Jan 10, 2017.
Get The Business Times for more stories.