535 called to the Bar

PHOTO: Supreme Court

A record 535 lawyers were called to the Singapore Bar yesterday.

And while Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon told the new batch they are not immune to competition for jobs, he gave an assurance that there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic, given the increasing legal opportunities here and abroad.

Worries have been raised recently over an oversupply of lawyers and law graduates, especially from universities in Britain and Australia. It appears to be an employer's market, with firms reportedly cutting starting salaries.

Last year, nearly 650 graduates competed for about 490 practice training contracts, a requirement for entry to the Bar.

Earlier this year, in a bid to ensure the quality of local lawyers, the Ministry of Law cut the number of British universities whose graduates are accepted for legal practice from 19 to 11.

Last year, there were 430 newly appointed advocates and solicitors, up from 410 the previous year and 363 the year before. In 2011, the number was just 257. Of the new batch, about four in 10 obtained their law degrees overseas.

Acknowledging the shortage of training contracts, the Chief Justice said in his speech at the mass call held at the Singapore Expo that "we should not see ourselves as a special breed entitled to be insulated from job competition, long working hours, and struggles between work and family".

"These very challenges afflict almost every other professional vocation," he said.

And while new lawyers might lack some of the opportunities enjoyed by their predecessors, such as the chance to argue a case in the Court of Appeal within months of being called, other opportunities have emerged.

There is no shortage of commercial work, he said, and increasing globalisation has allowed "Singapore lawyers to offer their services in places far away from home".

"As more foreign companies set up regional headquarters in Singapore, and more local com-panies expand into the region and beyond, the demand for in-house counsel will only grow."

As for young lawyers looking to build their advocacy skills, the Chief Justice said there are platforms available, such as being part of the expanding legal aid schemes. He added that criminal law and family law are becoming more appealing practice options for lawyers.

Mr Xiao Hongyu, 26, one of those called to the Bar yesterday, admits that the market may be tougher for new lawyers like him, but this is only motivation for him to work even harder.

"Those in my batch may lose out in terms of opportunities and pay compared with our seniors, but there is also pressure to do better - which is not entirely a bad thing," he said.

This article was first published on August 23, 2015. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.