Why do I say this? Let me explain. Back in the early 90s, the government proclaimed that there were too many lawyers in Singapore. The government said that there was a legal glut, a serious problem of oversupply. Young Singaporeans were discouraged from studying law.
Since I disbelieved the government, I decided to study law anyway. As it subsequently turned out, Singapore suffered from a severe shortage of lawyers. The shortage continues today, and the law of supply and demand keeps my salary high.
Of course, the issues are multi-faceted, so let's now proceed to take a closer look:
AG Chao thinks that Singapore's vanishing young lawyers represent a "problem". Whose problem is it, then?
ST Jan 25, 2007
Law firms move to keep young legal eagles
By Ben Nadarajan
AT THE recent opening of the new legal year, Attorney-General Chao Hick Tin drew attention to the problem of Singapore's vanishing young lawyers.
He referred to the number who drop out of practice each year, and said it might be an 'early sign of an ailing profession'.
Law Society data bear out his concern. The number of young lawyers - with under seven years' experience - has shrunk by over a third in the last five years.
There were only 1,004 young lawyers in practice last year, down from 1,537 in 2001.
This should be seen against the steady flow of 240 graduates from the National University of Singapore each year, plus more who qualify overseas.
The young lawyers' category is the only one bleeding, causing the overall industry shortage and raising worries for the future.
Singapore has a total of 3,476 lawyers handling over 350,000 cases a year.
The issue of young lawyers quitting practice is not new. What is of concern now is the sheer number missing from action.
Those who quit usually leave in their third or fourth year of practice, opting to become in-house counsel in big companies or to work in foreign law firms.
Some quit law completely, including those who never intended to make it a career and viewed their training and experience as stepping stones to other less stressful, more lucrative jobs.
Those who have quit say pay and career path issues are a factor.
The shortage of young lawyers has seen starting pay rise, with big firms said to be paying between $4,000 and $5,000 for new hires.
To AG Chao, "young lawyers quitting practice" means the young lawyers who give up their practising certificate and stop working in a local law firm. Where do these lawyers go? Most of them end up working either in international law firms or as in-house counsel in large companies.
So it's all up to the young lawyers. If they want to stay in local practice, they can stay. If they want to quit, they can quit. They will consider all the relevant factors and decide. If they conclude that the best decision for them is to quit local practice, then obviously it can't be a problem for them to quit local practice.
Whose problem is it then?
I vaguely recall the ex-AG Chan Sek Keong saying something to the effect that the loss of practising lawyers is worrying because the business sector in Singapore would have fewer lawyers to rely on. This is a somewhat mistaken view. Ex-AG Chan probably made that mistake because he's never been in the business sector. He doesn't actually have any first-hand insight into how lawyers operate in the business sector.
If 200 practising lawyers in Singapore quit to work as in-house lawyers in Singapore, there is no net loss of lawyers. The same 200 lawyers are still providing legal services to the economy. The transformation of practising lawyers into inhouse lawyers does not deprive the economy of legal services. In fact, many MNCs have such a big need for in-house legal services that their in-house legal team is larger than the average law firm in Singapore.
So when young lawyers quit practice, it's not a problem for the economy. Whose problem is it then? This next excerpt gives you a clue:
Surprise. The problem of young lawyers quitting is actually a problem only for the senior lawyers (the firm's partners).
Courts and clients aside, young lawyers complain about long hours and fulfilling an 'unwritten expectation' that they must slog for long hours to prove their worth.
The problem is said to be worst for those in small- or medium-sized firms, which take in only a handful of fresh graduates each year.
Each young lawyer may have to do grunt work like research and filing for up to five senior lawyers, all of whom expect their assignments to take priority.
'Every partner says his work is more important and to do it first,' said a 25-year-old in a mid-sized firm. 'But other partners also set tight deadlines, so we end up working seven days a week.'
When all the young lawyers quit, guess who has to do the grunt work himself and work seven days a week? The senior partner.
When all the young lawyers quit, guess who loses his money-making workhorses? The senior partner.
Should the senior partner care, when young lawyers quit? Yes, of course.
But should the young lawyers care? Nope. Not at all. No logical reason to do so, as far as I can see.