Time to recognise external law degrees

The discussion on overseas law degrees and the difficulty in getting lawyers to take up criminal and family law has missed two points.

First, allowing external law degree holders to practise should increase the number of community lawyers here.

In the past, many police officers read law in part-time external degree programmes and ended up practising community law - a natural fit. Former policeman A.P. Thirumurthy is one such example ("Ex-cop now a family lawyer"; May 30, 2013).

That said, if external law degrees are recognised, those not interested in community law could also study for such degrees. But they would need to do so with their eyes open, knowing they might not get to practise in other areas because of the keen competition.

Second, the policy of allowing only full-time foreign law degree holders from certain universities to practise hinders social mobility.

Only those from well-to-do families can afford to go overseas to study full time. Most others seeking advancement can hardly afford the fees, living expenses and opportunity cost involved in overseas study, while knowing they may not secure a training contract with a law firm.

While the third law school should ease the shortage of community lawyers, it will not suffice as its graduates cannot be forced to practise only community law.

Tan Soon Meng

This article was first published on September 12, 2014.
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