The Big Read in short: Why young lawyers are leaving practice

21/1/2022 7:28:00 PM

The Big Read in short: Why young lawyers are leaving practice

Law Society Of Singapore, Lawyers

The Big Read in short: Why young lawyers are leaving practice

SINGAPORE — Like many sectors in Singapore, the legal profession was not spared the ravages of Covid-19 . As the coronavirus forced borders to close and battered economies worldwide, James, an associate at a law firm, was told by his bosses in 2020 that everyone would have to tighten their belts as they w

Ooi Boon Keong/TODAYTheir reasons ran the gamut from incompatibility in career aspirations, to toxic work culture.”“But when you’re sitting in your own room, working on the computer without any social interaction for that many hours, sleep for five hours and then rinse and repeat, it can get very mentally draining.”

Some of those interviewed by TODAY also brought up the toxic work culture in some law firms — an issue which was also discussed online recently in a Linkedin Post by Mr Jonathan Muk, an associate director at a law firm, who was spurred to do so by a Business Times article on the matter.

Read more: TODAY »

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Short answer is that young people are no longer willing to tolerate abusive behaviour. People are finally realising that opportunities are endless and if senior lawyers don’t change their ways, they’ll inevitably lead to the legal profession dwindling in talent.

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opening of the Legal Year 2022 ceremony earlier this month.LinkedIn WASHINGTON : Alphabet Inc's Google reported 27per cent higher U.Copy to clipboard https://str.LinkedIn WASHINGTON : The U.

In his speech, Mr Tan highlighted that a record 538 lawyers left the profession last year, most of whom were in the junior category of lawyers who had practised for less than five years. In the junior category alone, the Law Society saw a record high of 310 exits, making up nearly 60 per cent of last year’s resignations. lobbying expenditures for 2021 compared to 2020, spending $9. This coincided with a record low number of new lawyers being called to the bar in 2021, he added. The biggest technology companies, including Meta Platforms Inc's Facebook and Apple Inc, have been under pressure in Congress because of allegations they abused their outsized market power. Ooi Boon Keong/TODAY The issue of attrition among young lawyers in the legal profession was brought to the fore by new Law Society president Adrian Tan during the opening of the Legal Year 2022 ceremony earlier this month. That's far below the more than $20 million it spent in 2018 but more than the $7. The departures, said Mr Tan, came in the midst of the"great resignation" sweeping some parts of the world where some workers are said to be quitting after the pandemic caused them to re-evaluate their priorities. China's Tencent, which owns messaging app WeChat, would also be covered by the bill, according to one source.

In trying to understand what has led to this attrition, TODAY spoke with others like James who have recently either left practice or the legal sector altogether. Google spent $2. Republican Senator Ted Cruz said during the hearing that he spoke on Wednesday with Mr Cook, saying he"expressed significant concerns about the Bill. Their reasons ran the gamut from incompatibility in career aspirations, to toxic work culture. “ When you’re sitting in your own room, working on the computer without any social interaction for that many hours, sleep for five hours and then rinse and repeat, it can get very mentally draining. Google's lobbying spend dipped in 2020 as it restructured its government relations teams. David, 28, who left legal practice recently and felt that prior to the pandemic, the camaraderie of being in the trenches together with colleagues made the experience more bearable. "I had discussions with them and I made my case and I listened to them. ” For many, working from home, as a result of Covid-19 regulations, provided them with an opportunity to reflect on their circumstances.com Inc, Meta Platforms Inc's Facebook and Apple Inc, have been under pressure in Congress over allegations they abused their outsized market power. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Marsha Blackburn, is also on the schedule.

In the case of David, not his real name, the routine of working from 9am up to 4am in isolation at home took a mental toll on him. The 28-year-old said that prior to the pandemic, he would be working late into the night at the office “surrounded by friends”, and the camaraderie of being in the trenches together made the experience bearable. One of the bills, which would stop the platforms from giving preference to their own businesses, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday." The Cowen Washington Research Group said that despite the committee's 16-6 vote to approve the measure, enough of its supporters expressed reservations that it had less than a 50 per cent chance of becoming law. “But when you’re sitting in your own room, working on the computer without any social interaction for that many hours, sleep for five hours and then rinse and repeat, it can get very mentally draining.” David, who was a trainee at that point of time, stressed that he was not ill-treated, but felt that his superiors just did not know how to support their employees during the pandemic. “I just felt very alienated. The legislation aimed at Big Tech set off a firestorm of opposition from powerful business groups.S.

I had a good hard think about what I wanted to do, and this wasn’t it.” David eventually left the legal sector to work in investments in mid-2020. Some of those interviewed by TODAY also brought up the toxic work culture in some law firms — an issue which was also discussed online recently in a Linkedin Post by Mr Jonathan Muk, an associate director at a law firm, who was spurred to do so by a Business Times article on the matter. The advocacy group Consumer Reports supported the Klobuchar-Grassley Bill to"reset the power asymmetry between Big Tech, consumers and small businesses. An example from the article related to a junior lawyer who would get just less than four hours of sleep, and had to seek permission from her firm’s partner before doing anything. In his post, Mr Muk claimed the example was not unique or one-off, but a “pervasive norm in the Singapore legal industry”.S.

Speaking to TODAY, Mr Muk said that he could accept young lawyers leaving because of a mismatch in career expectations. “What I am not fine with is people (who leave because) they get burned by bad bosses and toxic workplaces,” he said. Mr Tan told TODAY that LawSoc has kicked off a nationwide conversation about the legal profession on social media, chat groups and private discussions. “We are hearing from those who have stayed, those who have left, and those who have returned to private practice,” he said. “ There is a bit of a survivorship bias.

My first two years of practice were extremely difficult. At that time I was told it was difficult for me because it had been equally difficult for my predecessors. Mr Adrian Wee, director of law firm Characterist LLC ” WAYS TO IMPROVE RETENTION Some of the senior lawyers TODAY spoke to offered suggestions on how to retain young legal talent. Mr Adrian Wee, director of law firm Characterist LLC, said that while it is generally agreed that the profession is demanding, there is room to improve work-life balance in a young lawyer’s life, for example. “There is a bit of a survivorship bias,” he said.

“My first two years of practice were extremely difficult. At that time I was told it was difficult for me because it had been equally difficult for my predecessors.” He added: “They said if that was how they were trained, then this was how I was going to be trained too, and they would be damned if I turned out to be a 'strawberry'.” He said this culture of requiring a young lawyer to be prepared to suffer for the first few years of their career has now been passed down. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be so,” he pointed out.

Rather, he said young lawyers should be given a clear path to the future so that “when life gets tough, they are able to see ‘the point of their suffering’ ”, instead of just fearing a reprimand from their boss. Mr Mark Teng, the executive director of That.Legal LLC, pointed out that toxicity in a workplace is not limited to the legal industry. While he does not condone bad behaviour, he proffered possible reasons why some seniors lawyers behave poorly and drive young lawyers away “The work is quite intellectually vigorous and people are generally smart and academic," he said. “Naturally those who don’t leave, and become partners and directors at the end of the day are people who are exceptionally intelligent and they generally have less patience and tolerance for anything less than what they may consider an intelligent answer for a question.

" Lim Li Ting/TODAY Mr Mark Teng, the executive director of That.Legal LLC, pointed out that toxicity in a workplace is not limited to the legal industry. But good lawyers may not necessarily make good managers, said Ms Christine Low, the director of the Peter Low & Choo LLC law firm. “People are not born leaders. They need to learn how to be emphatic.

” Ms Low said that for lawyers to become junior partners or associate directors, they will have to undergo a compulsory legal practice management course where they are taught a range of subjects, from dealing with liability, anti-money laundering regulations to conducting an elevator pitch. She added: “I understand that the course has recently added modules on leadership and management, which is a good first step towards equipping these lawyers with the skills to be a good manager... Perhaps more regular training can be made available to lawyers, in addition to what’s included in the (course).

” Apart from “forcing training down their throats”, one concrete step senior lawyers can take is to have an annual work plan with young lawyers, said Ms Low. What her firm does, she said, is to hold an annual work plan conference where young lawyers state their personal as well as professional goals. The firm’s management then hold one-on-one sessions with them to discuss how the firm can help them achieve those goals. For instance, Ms Low said if an associate says they want more advocacy opportunities, or they feel that they want to get exposure to a certain practice area, then the management should help make that happen. "It is an investment that will pay off for the firm in the long run as associates will take ownership of their growth, and feel supported that the firm is supporting them in their growth," she said.

Mr Teng said the approach his firm is taking is to live by the mantra of “do not do unto others what you do not want others to do unto you”. Apart from encouraging his employees to spend time with their loved ones so that they “don’t miss out important moments in life”, Mr Teng said he tries to keep the number of hours worked daily between eight and 12. Paraphrasing the author Simon Sinek, he said: “Happy employees, happy customers, and happy customers, happy shareholders.” “ Aspiring law students must “disabuse themselves” of the hype in media and movies about the glamorous and exciting life in law, said Singapore University of Social Sciences law dean Leslie Chew. ” MISPERCEPTION THAT BEING A LAWYER IS 'GLAMOROUS' At the universities, some law academics also noted a mismatch of expectations among some students pursuing a law degree.

Singapore University of Social Sciences law dean Leslie Chew noted that many law students are “straight As” students and will have no trouble getting their degree, even if they have little interest in it. “But when that new lawyer enters the profession, he or she will find out in the first few years of practice that actually they have little aptitude or appetite for practice,” said Prof Chew. When these lawyers realise that “lawyering is not the trade they want to practise”, he said they typically leave it within the first few years of being in the profession. “That may explain the high attrition among lawyers having five years or less practice experience.” Aaron Low/TODAY Singapore University of Social Sciences law dean Leslie Chew noted that many law students are “straight As” students and will have no trouble getting their degree, even if they have little interest in it.

Furthermore, he said his faculty has received feedback from law firms noting that many young lawyers have an unrealistic expectation of law practice. He said aspiring law students must “disabuse themselves” of the hype in media and movies about the glamorous and exciting life in law. “Most of lawyering involves hard work and frequently disappointing outcomes. To be sure, there are exciting bits too. However, it is the routine and unglamorousness that sustains our work.

” To “militate against attrition among young lawyers”, he suggested that aspirants should find out if they really want to be a lawyer, that is, someone who will like the practice of law in both its mundane form with the usual routine, as well as the more exciting or interesting parts. National University of Singapore’s law dean Professor Simon Chesterman said that aside from the preparation for the practice of law, the studying of the subject is also “great training for other careers”, such as those in business, politics, arts and increasingly technology. “So I don’t lose any sleep over the fact that some of our graduates who chose law at age 18 later decide they want to do something else,” he said. Still, Mr Chooi Jing Yen, a partner at law firm Eugene Thuraisingam LLP, felt that the legal fraternity needs to look into why there is a mismatch between what law graduates expect and what legal practice is really like. “If there is indeed a problem with how practising lawyers generally work with and treat junior lawyers, then this needs to be addressed head on,” said Mr Chooi.

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