Young lawyers well-placed to offer innovative solutions amid economic uncertainty: Chief Justice

SINGAPORE – In a time of economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic, lawyers who can come up with innovative solutions to improve efficiency and reduce costs to meet clients’ needs will gain a competitive edge.

In a speech on Tuesday (Aug 25), Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon encouraged new lawyers entering the profession to consider how technology can improve efficiency in the delivery of legal services.

“You are well-placed to offer fresh perspectives and creative ideas that may not occur to those of us accustomed to the old ways of doing things,” he said.

The Chief Justice was speaking at this year’s mass call to admit new lawyers, the first time the annual ceremony is being conducted via remote hearing.

A total of 528 applicants are being called to the Bar over four videoconferencing sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday.

In his speech, CJ Menon encouraged the newly minted lawyers to boldly confront the challenges brought about by the coronavirus pandemic and to take advantage of new opportunities that will emerge.

“While some of you may find that the commencement of your career as a practising lawyer is far removed from anything that you might have imagined upon your graduation from law school, you can be assured that this pandemic – like the numerous challenges you have already faced – will eventually pass.”

Law firms have implemented wage cuts and “concerning” figures indicate that recent law graduates may have trouble finding employment, he said.

Out of 373 new lawyers who responded to a survey, about 19 per cent reported that they are still looking for a job.

However, the Chief Justice said there are signs of opportunities for legal professionals in the midst of crisis.

In-house lawyers have reported growing demand for advice on matters related to crisis management, renegotiation of contracts and employment-related matters.

There has also been a reported surge in legal work in areas such as insolvency and restructuring, regulatory compliance, litigation and employment law.

He urged the lawyers to be prepared to turn to areas of practice that are experiencing a spike in demand.

Looking back at the financial crises of past decades, CJ Menon said the lesson to be drawn is that a future – usually brighter – lies beyond the storm.

Perhaps the most enduring legacy of Covid-19 for the courts and the legal profession, he said, will be the shift towards remote hearings.

Just a few months ago, many would have rejected the notion of non-physical courts.

Today, remote hearings have largely proven to be convenient and effective in maintaining a good level of access to justice during the pandemic.

Similarly, international arbitration is now mostly being conducted with counsel and arbitrators dialling in from different locations.

One of the lawyers called to the Bar this year is Mr Alexander Joseph Woon, 30, whose father is law professor and former attorney-general Walter Woon.

A President’s Scholar, he spent four years as a deputy public prosecutor working mostly on white-collar and technology crime.

He is now a senior assistant director with the Office of Transformation and Innovation, an arm of the judiciary that is tasked to coordinate and drive change.

He told The Straits Times that his father never expressed any desire for him to study law, although he reckoned there was some “passive influence” as he grew up hearing about his father’s work.

“My decision to study law was more a result of my interest in criminal law, which is a very different field from my father’s speciality area, company law,” he said.

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