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Longer practice stint, tougher Bar exams to secure industry's future

But uncoupling of Bar exams and practising cert will benefit law grads not keen on practising

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Law graduates in Singapore will face more stringent Bar examinations and a longer practice-training period - but also greater flexibility when it comes to their career paths.

Singapore

LAW graduates in Singapore will face more stringent Bar examinations and a longer practice-training period - but also greater flexibility when it comes to their career paths.

The Ministry of Law (MinLaw) said on Thursday that it has accepted, in principle, recommendations made by the Committee for the Professional Training of Lawyers on strengthening the professional training regime for lawyers in Singapore.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon - in his address on Thursday at Mass Call 2018, where over 450 newly appointed advocates and solicitors will be called to the Bar - called the recommendations "a set of conceptually innovative and yet highly practical measures to secure the future of our profession".

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He explained that the recommendations are aimed at raising the quality and consistency of training standards here, at a time when "new technologies have prompted the 'disaggregation' and 'commoditisation' of legal services".

"These trends have upended old ways of practice, and it is on these shifting sands that you must now find your feet. It is important that we safeguard ourselves from being overrun by the rapid changes that are taking place around us," CJ Menon said.

The key recommendations made by the committee are:

  • The raising of the standard and stringency of Part B of the Singapore Bar Examinations (taken by all law graduates; Part A needs to be taken, additionally, by graduates from approved overseas universities);
  • The lengthening of the practice training period from six months to a year; and
  • The uncoupling of admission to the Bar from the completion of a practice training contract.

MinLaw said it felt the recommendation to raise the standard and stringency of Part B of the examinations was necessary to "maintain the high standards of the Bar and ensure that new lawyers are equipped to meet the challenges of the modern professional environment".

In his speech, CJ Menon said: "These examinations are the gateway to admission to the Bar, and the standard must be set at an appropriate level to ensure that new members are equipped to meet the challenges of the modern professional environment. This will be even more important if admission to the Bar is no longer contingent on the completion of a practice training contract."

Uncoupling admission to the Bar from the practice training contract will allow law graduates - who fulfil the requirements to be qualified persons - to be admitted to the Bar without the need to undergo practice training; it will benefit those who intend to pursue alternative careers, such as being in-house counsel, practice support lawyers, law academics, public servants and legal technologists.

Those who wish to practise law would still need to complete a practice training contract before they can obtain a practising certificate. CJ Menon said: "This proposal recognises that a person who has studied law can contribute to society without becoming a practising lawyer; and that it is not necessary for those who choose to pursue different pathways to first complete a period of practical training before they start work."

Lengthening the practice training period - for those who do wish to practise law - will allow practice trainees to develop a strong foundation from which they may then carve for themselves a sustainable and fulfilling career in legal practice, MinLaw said.

The ministry added that, in comparison, the practice training period for solicitors in the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Hong Kong is two years.

MinLaw said it has also accepted, in principle, 17 other recommendations made by the committee, which relate to training standards as well as the processes involved in applying for and obtaining practice training contracts.

The ministry will work with stakeholders, including the Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc) and the Singapore Institute of Legal Education, to implement these recommendations.

In response to MinLaw's announcement, LawSoc president Gregory Vijayendran said: "The ground-breaking structural and specific recommendations propounded in the committee's report have been well thought through and talked through. The LawSoc is persuaded that the committee's recommendations will undoubtedly strengthen the training framework and strongly root a professional training culture among our law firms."

MinLaw said the three key recommendations will be implemented from the 2023 session of Part B of the Singapore Bar Examinations onwards, to give the industry time to adjust - with the majority of students currently in law school not being affected by these changes. The remaining 17 recommendations will be implemented over the next five years.

The committee was set up by CJ Menon in August 2016, and chaired by Justice Quentin Loh. Its report was submitted for MinLaw's consideration earlier this year.

Professor Simon Chesterman, Dean of the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Faculty of Law, said of the recommendations: "The new regime will enable such students to complete their legal training, get called to the Bar, and then choose the path that suits them ...

"For those students who do wish to enter a life of practice, the more stringent requirements should ensure that (they) are prepared for the challenges and opportunities that await them. At the same time, law firms should use the longer training period to offer a solid grounding for the next generation of lawyers, with diverse experiences and supportive mentorship. If all these aspects can move in concert, tomorrow's legal profession will be in good hands."