Putik Lada: A passion that keeps them in practice

Last week, I contributed an article to the Star’s Putik Lada column. It is a bi-weekly column of the Bar’s National Young Lawyers Committee featuring articles and viewpoints of young lawyers from across the country.

I wanted to share how important it is to have passion for what you do. Hopefully the message still comes across whether you are in legal practice or just working in general.

A passion that keeps them in practice

Legal practice is never boring. The law is ever-evolving. It forces you to keep learning the latest legal developments as well as to update yourself on the current affairs in the relevant industries.

A FEW months ago, I was moderating a session at the Young Lawyers Con­vention 2011 on the working conditions of young lawyers.

With me were three Speakers with different levels of seniority at the Bar.

In that session, questions were posed by various lawyers highlighting their perspective on the practice and concerns on issues such as long working hours and low pay.

Midway through that lively discussion, a question was posed to the four of us on what motivated us to still stay on in practice. The first Speaker spoke of the thrill of litigation and being up on his feet in court. He described that feeling as almost intoxicating and that continued to spur him on in practice.

Another Speaker shared his perspective on how he enjoyed being able to manage a matter from start to finish and he enjoyed the sense of satisfaction in being able to assist his client on legal matters.

The third Speaker talked of enjoying the intellectual challenge of practising law and the joy of still read­­- ing and learning the law.

I then spoke on how I could relate to each and every aspect highlighted by the Speakers.

I expanded on my personal experience which I will share in this article.

Firstly, I touched on how I had ended up doing law.

Unlike a number of lawyers I know, I never had a deep yearning to study law when I was in secondary school or college. Without quite knowing what I should study in university, I settled for doing a law degree since I thought it would give me a good foundation to go into other fields if I wished to.

While doing my law degree, I enjoyed studying the subjects but my desire to become a lawyer only crystalised when I sat for the English Bar. With the Bar’s practical training, I then knew I wanted to be a litigator as I wanted to put forward arguments in court.

When I returned to Kuala Lumpur, I sought out a pupillage position to do litigation. I ended up starting my legal career at a law firm which was a very good fit for me. By chance, I ended up practising litigation in an area of law – that of company law – which I had no knowledge of at the beginning.

But it has since become a subject I am very interested in and passionate about.

Legal practice is not easy. Similar to the experiences shared by the other lawyers at that working conditions session, I have gone through periods of late nights and working on weekends which are almost de regiueur in the legal profession.

I have been frustrated with the delay in court proceedings and I have also many times felt aggrieved about low salaries. However, a lot of that frustration melts away once I set foot in the courtroom.

All the long hours somehow pay off when I am able to put forward my legal arguments in court or when I am on my feet cross-examining a key witness at a trial.

There is an adrenaline rush of submitting in court and that sense of satisfaction of having argued a good case.

Legal practice is never boring. The law is ever-evolving. It forces you to keep learning the latest legal developments as well as to update yourself on the current affairs in the relevant industries.

What I shared with the audience that day was that if they were unable to relate to any of the narratives shared by the speakers and I on why we were still in practice, then it may be a sign that some form of change is needed.

Maybe a change in the law firm they are working in, perhaps a move into setting up their own law practice or even a switch in the area of law they were practising.

Without passion for what you are doing, it is difficult to soldier on in practice since the profession demands so much out of you.

Long hours are a necessity in order to hone our skills and irregular working hours are the norm since we are answerable to the demands of our client.

With a tinge of pessimism or realism (depending on how you look at it), legal practice in Malaysia is also not going to make you incredibly rich and I do not expect to draw an astronomically high pay.

So to last in the profession, I would think we need to enjoy what we are doing.

There is a saying that once you find a job you love, you will never work a day in your life.

This brings back into focus the question posed from the floor that day – Why am I still in practice?

It is because I am still passionate about the work I do.

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KL Bar Talk on Shareholder Remedies

I will be giving a talk to the KL Bar on Tuesday 3pm 19 April 2011 ‘Shareholder Remedies: How to Slay a Dragon‘. The talk is very much inspired by my earlier article with the same title.

Some of the topics I’ll be covering over the span of about 2 hours:

  • The rule in Foss v Harbottle – the two-headed dragon.
  • The WMDs: Winding-up, Minority Oppression, Derivative Action.
  • Interim Remedies and the Statutory Injunction.
  • The Side Arms: Convening Meetings and Director’s Access to Records.
  • Case studies: The 50-50 Split, the Matriach Company and the Tale of the Lazarus company.
  • Arbitrating Shareholder Disputes?

Do come and attend if you are interested in learning a bit more.

Rise and fall and rise of the heritage law firms

From Singapore Law Watch (link may expire), the Chief Justice of Singapore Justice Chan Sek Keong wrote the following foreword to commemorate the 150th year anniversary of Rodyk & Davidson. Malaysian law firms can also take away some of his advice: “Embrace change; discard the culture of seniority ranking of partners; seek fresh talent wherever they may come from; and share profits equitably.”


LAW firms with a long historical lineage during the period of colonial rule in Singapore are a rarity. Singapore became a British territory in 1824, and English law was introduced into the colony in 1826 through the Second Charter of Justice. From 1826 to 1963, Singapore was the legal capital of the Straits Settlements in terms of the volume and quality of legal work and disputes. Many law firms were born and died.
Many ceased to exist because of the Japanese Occupation in 1942 and were never revived after the British returned. Many others did not survive their founding partners, who did not care to let their names continue as brand names for the sake of their partners.

Those that have survived to this day are our heritage law firms bearing British names. Their names reflect the colonial history of our legal profession. The oldest of such law firms bearing its original name is Rodyk & Davidson, a firm that is deservedly proud of its lineage.

Legal services at the inception of the Straits Settlements were provided by law agents, rather than by lawyers. The two Lists of Law Agents published in Vo1 1 of Kyshe’s Reports 1808-1884 and Vol IV 1885-1899 respectively contained the names of all law agents and lawyers of the time.

There was no Asian lawyer among them. The prominent ones were William Napier (1833), Bernard Rodyk (1860), Thomas Braddell (1861), Robert Carr Woods Jr (1863), Edwin Koek (1864), Duncan Clerk Presgrave (1867), Charles William Rodyk (1868), Alexander Leathes Donaldson (1873), Robert Garling Van Someren (1873), John Burkinshaw (1874), Thomas de ML Braddell (1880), Robert Braddell (1883) and Walter John Napier (1889). Neither Allen nor Gledhill appeared in the two lists.

The first Asian to be admitted to the Singapore Bar was Sir Ong Siang Song, in 1893. Other notable Asian lawyers were SJ Chan, Wee Swee Teow, and Reynold Lionel Eber. SJ Chan formed Chan & Swee Teow, which later became Wee Swee Teow & Co in 1912, while SJ Chan teamed up with RL Eber as Chan & Eber, and subsequently the latter formed Eber & Tan.

Our most famous criminal lawyer David Marshall practised under various firms and finally formed David Marshall & Partners. Unfortunately, most of these names are now history.

In 1968, the Directory of Law Firms in Singapore published in Vol 1 No 1 of the Singapore Law Review listed the following firms which could be said to be heritage law firms, namely Allen & Gledhill, Battenberg & Talma, Braddell Brothers, Donaldson & Burkinshaw, Drew & Napier, Wee Swee Teow & Partners, Eber & Tan, Murphy & Dunbar, and Rodyk & Davidson.When I started practice in Singapore in 1963, only three of the firms named above were headed by Asian lawyers; the rest were still headed by British expatriates. The last expatriate lawyer to leave was apparently LAJ Smith.

Currently, only three of these heritage law firms are among the largest law firms in Singapore, having made the transition successfully after full localisation, with leadership and vision. Many law firms continued to survive on brand name and past goodwill for a short time. Even the best of law firms will suffer the same fate without successive generations of new blood and talent in the new legal environment.

Globalisation of legal services has allowed foreign law firms to claim a natural right to supply to all, without hindrance. Singapore law firms now face international competition domestically, and even greater challenges abroad.Rodyk’s recent history provides a valuable lesson on how to keep our heritage law firms alive and prosperous. It was once the pre-eminent law firm in Singapore, but its star began to fade in the 1980s through lack of leadership and fresh legal talent, amid the dynamic economic changes taking place in Singapore and in the region.

It lost its lustre and became a pale shadow of its former self. Its illustrious past was what it was, past. Fortunately, through a merger with HelenYeo & Partners and acquisitions of new talent, a new generation of able lawyers with foresight and vision emerged with the aim of regaining the firm’s former eminence and prestige.Singapore needs more and larger law firms with the talent, ability and desire to compete both in Singapore and in Asia. In this quest, some of our other heritage law firms can take a leaf out of Rodyk’s experience. Embrace change; discard the culture of seniority ranking of partners; seek fresh talent wherever they may come from; and share profits equitably. Rodyk is now doing all of these things – it has found the elixir of professional life and is deservedly celebrating the 150th anniversary of its founding. Rodyk has my congratulations and best wishes.

The writer is the Chief Justice of Singapore. He contributed this piece to ‘Rodyk 150 Years’, a book commemorating Rodyk & Davidson’s 150th anniversary

Getting Called to the Singapore Bar (Part 2): Sitting for the Bar Exams

My article originally posted up on LoyarBurok.

Part 1 of this article set out the process in which a Malaysian lawyer can get admitted to the Singapore Bar. Part 2 recounts the personal experience of a LoyarBurokker who recently sat for the Singapore Bar examinations.


Having applied in April of this year to do the Singapore Part A Bar exam, I was informed at the end of June that I had successfully secured a place. Like many other Malaysians, I had opted to only sit for the exam rather than enrol in the 3-month preparatory course in order to minimise time off work.

In August, we were given a reading list of recommended textbooks and cases to study. At that time, I did not realise the stressful study route ahead of me. The exams starting in November still seemed very far away and any thoughts of studying were placed on the back burner.

THE (ATTEMPT AT) STUDYING BEGINS

With 5 subjects to cover, being Criminal, Evidence, Singapore Legal System & Constitutional, Land and Company, it was quite surprising how little knowledge I had retained on some of these subjects from my university days in the UK. On top of that, these subjects, naturally, featured almost solely Singapore law cases. It seemed like I be pretty much starting from scratch for most of my subjects.

At the start of October (with the exams now just a month away), it was time to knuckle down and I attempted to start with my studying. This however had to still be balanced with normal working hours. So this meant that I had to work until about 6-7pm after which, I had to put aside work aside for the day, in order to bring out my Part A Bar books to study for the rest of the night. Quite stressful and really not the most productive way to study. I could barely sneak in any free time to study and before I knew it, it was already past mid-October.

With stress levels now having jumped up quite a few notches and with a growing sense of panic that this was the most under-prepared I have ever been for any exam, I headed off for study leave and took a break from work. This was just about 1 1/2 weeks before my first paper.

THE (REAL) STUDYING BEGINS

So I headed down to Singapore sometime close to the last week of October. When I first looked at the sheer amount of reading material I had to cover, there was this initial sense of dread about having to study academic law subjects all over again. I thought it would be something so far removed from practice and something I had already left behind. But as I buried myself deeper into my books, it became more and more enjoyable to study the law again. More so, when the Singapore legal system shared so many common features with Malaysia’s and I saw the law from a fresh perspective, having seen the practical application of the law already and now applying those examples when picking my books.

Both Singapore and Malaysia share the same English common law origins, especially with a joint heritage through the legal system set up in the Straits Settlement of Penang, Malacca and Singapore. We both adopted the Indian codification of the Evidence Act and the Penal Code. Many of the key provisions of the Constitution of Malaysia and Singapore, especially relating to fundamental liberties, were also very similar or even identical in wording. Both countries adopted the Australian Torrens system for land and the Companies Act were similarly influenced from English and Australian provisions.

Having never studied the history or theoretical framework of Malaysian law subjects (having picked up Malaysian law only through chambering and practice), it was very interesting to learn about the similar Singapore principles of law, since I could instantly relate the subjects back to Malaysian law.

By way of examples, the Singapore criminal case law we studied would be drawn heavily from both Singapore and Malaysian authorities, applying almost identical provisions in the Penal Code. For constitutional law, and with me having had only a rudimentary knowledge of Malaysian constitutional law prior to this, it was fascinating to see how both Malaysia and Singapore grappled with similar constitutional issues and questions, for instance, those relating to preventive detention laws. Another example would be in the sphere of company law, with Singapore applying very similar laws for shareholder remedies which originated from the same English authorities applied in Malaysia.

THE END OF DAYLIGHT

Every single day, whether a weekday or a weekend, was spent studying from the hours of about 10am until 9pm. I was lucky to have a small study group and we would just camp out in the library, taking a break for lunch nearby, and then immediately heading back to continue our studying. Dinner may be some bread we bought for ourselves and I’d gobble it down with a drink from the drink dispenser machine. It would then be back into the library to continue with the studying.

Books and notes would be heavily tabbed with different coloured Post-Its. Past year exam questions would be leafed through for us to try to get a feel of what the exam questions might be like. Brief discussions would be made in whispered voices as we tried to figure out some of the harder issues raised in those past year questions.

One unintended side effect of hitting the books and taking down all the notes was a dramatic improvement in my handwriting. Having not written lengthy notes for years now, my hand regained its mobility from all the atrophy of keyboard typing. I was going to need my strengthened hand for the exam papers ahead of me.

THE START OF THE EXAMS

With me still scrambling to finish covering the syllabus, the exams were upon us. 5 exam papers, each lasting for 2 hours with an average of 2 questions to answer, and an exam period which was spread out over the course of 2 weeks. It would be an open-book exam so we would be allowed to bring in any material we wanted, save that it could not violate any copyright laws (i.e. no photocopying whole textbooks and bringing them into the exam hall). Almost all the exam questions had a heavy emphasis on hypothetical problem questions. These questions would involve a detailed fact scenario and you then had to write out an opinion of sorts for your hypothetical client to advise on the issues arising and the reliefs available. While the open-book format definitely made things easier since you did not have to commit large chunks of statutory provisions to memory, you still had to know where all your material was and you had to be able to identify the issues raised in the questions.

With all the exam papers starting at 6pm, this meant a lot of cramming could still be done during the day of the exam itself which would also leave me exhausted at the end of each paper. There would be a one-day gap in between papers, which made for some welcome breathing space and allowed us to cram in even more material for the next paper. I was quite nervous before my first paper (being Land law) but once that was out of the way, it was a lot less nerve-wracking.

There was a relatively large contingent of around 20 former and present Malaysian lawyers all sitting for the Singapore Bar exam this year. Before each paper, there would be a group of us having a brief chat before heading into the exam hall so it was like a mini-reunion of sorts. After each paper, we would also share a quick complaint or lament, depending on how difficult each paper, was before we scurried home to rest or study further that evening. There was such relief once all of us finished our final paper. Results would be out around 2 weeks later but we were just so glad to have finished with the exams.

CONCLUSION

The end of the exams left me with mixed feelings. It was stressful studying in the short period of time, and having to face exams again. On the other hand, it was enjoyable leading a student life again, even if it was for only 3 or so weeks. Best of luck to anyone in future who wishes to take the Singapore Bar exams.

Getting Called to the Singapore Bar (Part 1): The Requirements

This was my article originally posted up on LoyarBurok
 
Recent changes to the Singapore Bar admission requirements have made it easier for foreign lawyers to get admitted to practice law in Singapore. Here are the requirements Malaysian lawyers need to meet.

This first-part will set out in some detail the process in which a Malaysian lawyer can get admitted to the Singapore Bar. Due to the various rule changes over the years, with different admission standards applying for different years, it will focus mainly on younger lawyers who obtained their law degrees after 1997.

Part 2 will then shift to a different perspective where we get to learn about the personal experience of a LoyarBurokker who recently sat for the Singapore Bar examinations.

INTRODUCTION

Increasingly, Singapore seems to be the port of choice for many Malaysian lawyers to practice in. There are many factors attracting Malaysians over, including higher pay and the opportunity to gain better exposure to higher level work.

In the past, the most common route to work in Singapore was to find a position as a foreign lawyer. This allowed a lawyer to work at Singapore law firms but without the need to be admitted to the Singapore Bar. Strictly speaking, as a foreign lawyer, you could advise only on foreign law but in practice, you largely carried out the same duties as a Singapore qualified lawyer but without the ability to attend Court or to sign off on documents or opinions. Some of the drawbacks of being a foreign lawyer were that in most cases, you would draw a lower pay than a Singapore qualified lawyer and your promotion prospects may also be affected.

While many Malaysians do still go over to Singapore to work as foreign lawyers, there have now been some recent changes to the admission requirements which make it easier to get admitted to the Singapore Bar.

PREREQUISITES

Even before you consider taking the Singapore Bar examinations, you will need to see if you satisfy certain prerequisites, and if you don’t meet these requirements, then you need to plan and see if you can apply for exemptions.

Broadly, to get called to the Singapore Bar, you need to satisfy 3 requirements:

  1. Satisfy the requirements of being a “qualified person” – more on this below.
  2. Complete the Part B Singapore Bar exams. The Part B is similar in some respects to the Bar Vocational Course or Certificate of Legal Practice, in that it focuses on more procedural law.
  3. Complete a 6-month training contract at a Singapore law firm. This is similar to pupillage.

I will explain more on these 3 requirements below and how the most important threshold to cross is that of being a “qualified person.”


QUALIFIED PERSON
(i) Scheduled UniversitiesYou need to have graduated from a certain list of scheduled universities, as a full-time internal candidate with a certain degree class. You can go through this useful checklist to see if you are a “qualified person” by first checking which university you graduated from.

So for instance, for a UK graduate, you would need to have been a full-time internal candidate with at least a Second Lower degree from a list of only 19 recognised universities. For an Australian graduate, you would need to be in the top 70% of your graduating batch from a list of only 10 recognised universities.

Some examples where you would not satisfy the requirements for being a “qualified person”:

1. You graduated from a twinning programme or a London external law degree; or
2. You had graduated from any of the local Malaysian universities.

However, you would be able to apply for exemptions from any of the requirements which I will elaborate on further below.

(ii) Permanent Resident

Another requirement is that you will need to be a Permanent Resident or a citizen of Singapore. So a factor you must take into account for being admitted to the Singapore Bar would be whether you are planning on moving down to Singapore to then apply for Permanent Resident status.

(iii) 6 Months of Legal Practice

You need 6 months of either “relevant legal training” or “relevant legal practice” to satisfy this final requirement to be a “qualified person.” So, if you were in active practice in any jurisdiction other than Singapore, this would fall under the definition of “relevant legal practice”. Chambering/pupillage may also qualify under the definition of “relevant legal training.”

(iv) Part A Bar Examinations

The final requirement to be met is that you would need to pass the Part A Bar examinations. The examinations cover 5 academic Singapore law subjects: Criminal, Evidence, Land, Singapore Legal System & Constitutional, and Company. You can either opt to sit for only the examinations, held once a year in November, or to attend a 3-month course (starting in August) and then sit for the examinations. This year the exam format was open book (i.e. you could bring in all your study material with you into the examination hall) while last year, it was closed book.

The deadline for applying for the Part A Bar Examinations (both for the course + exam or just the exam) is by the end of April of every year.

More information on the Part A Bar Examinations and its syllabus/fees are on the National University of Singapore website.

QUALIFIED PERSON – EXEMPTIONS

If you do not satisfy any of the above requirements, you can apply for exemptions. A common exemption is from the requirement of being a full-time internal candidate from a scheduled university. So for instance, an exemption to allow for a twinning programme to be recognised, or an exemption as your university does not fall under one of the scheduled universities.

The present exemption process, from what I have heard from friends, seems to be more flexible in allowing twinning programme candidates as well as non-recognised foreign universities graduates. I know that graduates from local Malaysian universities have a very hard time in getting an exemption and I have not heard of any London external degree law graduates having obtained an exemption as well. All these policies are of course subject to change and are discretionary.

In terms of applying for an exemption from the Permanent Resident requirement, it appears that this exemption is not granted any more or is at least very difficult to obtain. You therefore will likely need to obtain Permanent Resident status in Singapore if you are considering getting admitted to the Singapore Bar. I know of senior practitioners having successfully applied for exemption from the Part A requirement as well. For instance, I had a Malaysian lawyer friend with around 10 years of experience and she was exempted from Part A. But they still needed to become a Permanent Resident of Singapore.

Applicants who are intending to sit for the Part A Bar examinations will put in their exemption applications around the same time in April when applying for the Part A. More information on exemptions can be found on the Singapore Ministry of Law website.

PART B BAR EXAMINATIONS & TRAINING CONTRACT

Having now satisfied the prerequisites of being a “qualified person”, you will need to complete the Part B Bar examinations as well as the 6-month training contract.

The Part B Bar examinations are made up of a compulsory 5-month practical law course and exam, which in some respects, is very similar to the English Bar Vocational Course (now renamed to the Bar Professional Training Course) in that it teaches you practical aspects of Singapore law. The subjects covered include subjects such as Civil and Criminal Procedure, Conveyancing Practice, Professional Responsibility, and Family Law. More information on the Part B can be found at the Singapore Board of Legal Education website.

After successfully completing these examinations, you will then need to serve a 6-month training contract, which is akin to pupillage.

EXEMPTION FROM PART B AND TRAINING CONTRACT

You are allowed to apply for complete exemption from the Part B Bar examination as well as the 6-month training contract. To obtain such an exemption, you will need to already be a “qualified person”, and also been practicing in a common law jurisdiction for at least 2 years (and this period could possibly include your 9 months of chambering as well). If you do not fulfil any of the requirements of being a “qualified person”, or you have not achieved the necessary length of practice, you can also try to apply for exemption from such a requirement.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, if you are a practitioner in Malaysia, of 2 years experience or more, you can likely be exempted from having to take the Part B Bar examinations as well as be exempted from the 6-month training contract. You will however need to still pass the Part A Bar examinations and in order to qualify to sit for the Part A, you will need to fulfil the other requirements of being a “qualified person.”

Of Sunscreen, BlackBerries and Successful Lawyers

I highly recommend all lawyers, whether young or old, to read this very insightful speech by Brendan Navin Siva. This is taken from the LoyarBurok site.

Ladies & gentlemen,

15 minutes is hardly enough time to speak on any topic let alone to give a talk to pupils on how to be an excellent, ethical and successful lawyer and the challenges ahead in the profession.

By giving this talk, I am by no means proclaiming myself to be an excellent or successful lawyer. And by no means are you to blindly accept everything I say to you today as being correct or similarly applicable to you. “Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it.” These are words from The Sunscreen Song.

Who does not know The Sunscreen Song? It is a song made up of someone’s rambling advice about random things in life.

Wear sunscreen.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

I will dispense this advice now.

Look at yourself and work out what YOU want to do in life. Have a plan. Do not meander through life not knowing what you want. Wanting to be rich or wanting to make money is not a plan. It is the end result of a good plan but it is not itself a plan.

Work hard. Many people would have told you the same thing the last 9 months but it is true. There is just so much that you need to learn in the next 3 years – how to draft, how to speak, how to handle clients, how to handle judges, how to think, how to solve problems and, over and above all this, to acquire the knowledge of law in many areas of law. Put your head down for the first 3 years and set yourself a good foundation for your future whether or not you continue to be a lawyer thereafter.

Present yourself well. Dress sharp. Invest in good clothes. Always be well groomed. What you think looks cool or suave to your friends may not be the right image that the real world expects of a lawyer.

Deal with stress. Do not try to run away from it. Stress is a part of the life of any successful professional – whether you are a lawyer, doctor, engineer or accountant. Understand that stress is relative – whatever you find stressful today, I can assure you will not be stressful for you in 3 years time. And what is stressful for you in 3 years time will not cause you much stress when you are a senior lawyer of 10 years or more. But there will always be stress at all levels. It is part of the job. Find your own way to deal with stress. But never use stress as an excuse to give up pursuing something. Never use stress as an excuse for failing to do something. And never blame stress for producing sub-standard work.

Learn how to deal with people. You will be dealing with people a lot in your career. There are many different types of people. Some are nice. Some are not so nice. More often than not, you will not deal with nice people. The people you deal with will be demanding, irritating, annoying, deceitful and demanding in many different ways and forms. The key to success is learning how to deal with them all.

Never ever be beholden to any client. Never put yourself in a situation to be totally dependent on any client financially. Always be in a position where, if your client asks you to do something that you know is not lawful or ethical, you can stand up and politely excuse yourself and walk out of the room without compromising your integrity and morality.

Speak and write English well. There is no way out of this one. English is the language of commerce and it is the language of the common law. Our courts will not abandon English any time soon. Our clients – local and international – will judge you as a lawyer on how well you speak and how well you draft – in English.

Take steps to improve your English, regardless of whether you think your English is good or bad. In particular, you must acquire the ability to say or write something in a concise and comprehensive manner. To do this, read English newspapers online (most of them are still free), read magazines (Newsweek, Economist, The Far Eastern Economic Review), watch CNN or BBC at least an hour a day. See and learn how they package and present large amounts of content into a concise and compelling 5 minute newsreel or one page article.

Embrace technology. Blackberries are not evil. They are not your enemy. They save time. They save a lot of time. When you are waiting in court, when you are waiting for a meeting to start, when you are stuck in a traffic jam, when you are waiting for friends for dinner, when you are watching TV and the advertisements come on – emails can be checked and responded to – this is time that you do not otherwise have to spend in the office answering emails. Embrace Change. A lawyer is nowadays only one part of a transaction. If the clients are all on blackberries, you do not have the luxury of saying “It is 6pm. I am out of the office and I cannot answer your queries.”

Set aside 1 week in the first half of the year and one week in the second half of the year for a holiday. Book these dates well in advance so your boss cannot say he did not know about it. Better yet, book tickets to fly somewhere so your boss cannot expect you to reschedule your plans (without feeling guilty). Downtime is very important. The more senior you get, the more difficult it will be to take scheduled time off.

Travel. See the world. See what is out there. It gives you perspective and it opens your eyes to things you never would normally think about. It matures you.

Find a network of friends who are similar as you in thinking, in ambition and in character. There is nothing unhealthy about a group of lawyers socialising together on the weekend or after work. There is nothing wrong with a group of lawyers talking about law all the time. You will grow together and you will become better lawyers together.

Lastly, do not blindly accept everything you are told by someone more senior and supposedly better than you. We are not better than you. We have just been here a little bit longer than you. Challenge the logic of what we say. If it does not make sense to you, don’t accept it.

Young Legal Eagles’ Great Expectations

I was forwarded an article from the Singapore Business Times with the above title and it really struck a chord with me. I think the first part of the article really rang true. The writer is a partner at the Singapore law firm ATMD Bird & Bird LLP. Rather than having a younger lawyer write the article, which may then be dismissed by more senior lawyers as another whine and gripe from a Gen Y lawyer, at least the article was written from the perspective of a managing partner.

I’ve set out the first part of the article below:

When I started working as a lawyer in Singapore in the 1980s, there was a lovely senior English gentleman lawyer whose office was in the building next to ours in Fullerton Place. I would quite often see him strolling to his office, newspaper under his arm, well after 9 am.

I knew other senior lawyers who strolled out of their offices into their chauffeured cars at about 4.30 pm to get in 9 holes of golf at the club before it got too dark.

I thought with approval that these relaxed hours were the prerogatives that senior lawyers had earned and deserved, and they were career role models who made becoming a partner something to strive for. I had the impression that good lawyers who remained with one firm throughout their professional lives were fortunate, and that too was something to aspire to.

But times changed, and by the 1990s, it was evident that partners in law firms could not rely only on their seniority to retain their position in their firms. Partners must continually demonstrate their value to the firm – seniority and longevity alone were not enough.

Very long work hours became a matter of course. Partners stayed in the office as late as, if not later, than their lawyers. In addition to being technically good at the law, stamina and toughness were valued.

By the early 2000s, when I was managing partner of our firm, we began to notice that quite a number of our younger lawyers were leaving legal practice.

It was not that they were working inordinately long hours – we had a reputation, and still do, for being a ‘family-friendly’ law firm that values work-life balance.

At first we thought that perhaps the younger generation of lawyers were ‘soft’.

It eventually dawned on us that the younger generation of lawyers were making lifestyle choices that had nothing to do with being soft.

They simply had options – they had financial resources (usually from their parents), that meant that they did not have to earn a living as professional lawyers if they did not want to.

We became aware that partners were not necessarily good career role models any longer – partners continued to work too hard, and did not enjoy the lifestyle choices of the younger generation.

Outstanding younger lawyers who were on track for partnership baulked at the prospect of becoming partners, a status that was previously so sought after.

We eventually realised we were not looking at individual quirks, but at a trend. The younger generation was a different breed, and the old assumptions as to what attracts, motivates and retains lawyers did not necessarily apply to them.

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