Stringent training scheme for lawyers gets ‘in principle' nod

By 2023, bar admission will not qualify law graduates to practice law as they still need to undergo a year of professional training.

The recommendations made by the Committee for the Professional Training of Lawyers to implement a more stringent professional training regime for lawyers in Singapore has been accepted ‘in principle’ by the Ministry of Law (MinLaw).

Amongst the key points in the recommendation in the new system is that new lawyers need to complete their training first before practising the profession, as passing the Bar will only recognise them as lawyers but will not make them qualified to practice law. In addition, the said training program has been extended from six months to a one-year training contract.

“The committee views quality training as an integral process through which the truest values of the legal profession may be passed on to its junior members,” the body said in its report.

For the bar exam, the committee also recommended to raise the “standard and stringency” of the examination’s Part B.

“MinLaw will work with stakeholders, including the Law Society of Singapore and the Singapore Institute of Legal Education, on the implementation of the recommendations,” the body said in a statement.

According to the ministry, the key recommendations shall take effect from the 2023 session of Part B of the Singapore Bar examinations onwards so as to give leeway for the industry to adjust.

Aside from the key recommendations, the committee also posted some specific recommendations to make the training programme more stringent. According to them, practice trainees should be conferred with limited rights after six months of training and they should also be required to practice the training contract in just a single law practice, subject to limited expectations.

Some recommendations also provide leeways for those undertaking the training as the committee recommended to permit up to three months of the practice training contract to be completed at approved in-house legal departments of pre-qualified corporations. They also wanted to encourage the rotation of the practice trainees in contrasting practice areas.

In total, the committee’s 17 specific recommendations are made to address discrete issues within the training regime, MinLaw said.
“The implementation of these recommendations will help raise the quality of legal training and better equip law graduates with the necessary expertise to meet the demands of the future economy and society,” they noted.

The Committee for the Professional Training of Lawyers was set up by the Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon in August 2016 to conduct a root-and-branch review of the professional training regime and to make recommendations pertaining to modification with the aim to raise the quality and consistency of training standards across law practices.

It is currently headed by Justice Quentin Loh and comprised 14 other members including representatives from the Supreme Court, the Attorney-General’s Chambers, MinLaw, the Law Society of Singapore, the Singapore Corporate Counsel Association and various Singapore law practices.

In its report, the Committee acknowledged that the law profession has been facing challenges amidst ‘transformative changes from within and without’ which includes the rise of artificial intelligence that made some legal tasks ‘obsolete’, clients becoming more cost-conscious that are less willing to pay for legal fees, the emergence of less rigid forms of legal businesses, and the intensified competition in the field brought by ‘a more interconnected world’.

Amidst the more stringent training schemes awaiting a new generation of lawyers, the committee urged those who have plans to join the legal profession to ‘examine their motivations’.

“Indeed, those who are attracted to the practise of law purely for the perceived financial rewards or prestige are unlikely to stay in the course because of the inevitable struggle they will face to find fulfillment in their work amidst the sacrifices they will have to make.”

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