Insights on Legal

By Lin Zongkai and Tiffany Tay

Discovery+ is a series of online industry panels which give students the chance to interact with working professionals and learn about the careers they aspire to enter. These panels provide youths and working professionals with the opportunity to better understand industry trends, hear first-hand perspectives from industry professionals, and gain valuable advice on entering or navigating these industries.

On 7 June 2022, Advisory hosted Discover+: Legal, the 59th edition of the Discovery+ series. Speakers on the panel included:

  • Meryl Koh (Moderator), Director, Drew and Napier LLC 
  • Andrew Wong, Product Manager, Innovation and KM Solutions, Dentons Rodyk & Davidson LLP 
  • Hannah Lim, Head of Rule of Law and Emerging Markets, LexisNexis 
  • Sheila Ng, Partner, Rajah & Tann Singapore LLP
  • Simon Schmeing, Transformation Manager, Norton Rose Fulbright

Below are some key points shared during the session:

A law degree teaches you various skills such as active communication, and critical thinking, as well as how law shapes business and society at the same time. These skills can be applied in many ways, even outside legal practice.

If you study law as your first degree, you can get into the legal industry a lot faster. However, studying something else as your first degree helps open your mind to other things. That is important because the law does not exist in a vacuum. It is also about regulating relationships in society. Beyond that, it is important that you know yourself, including your strengths and weaknesses to help you navigate your career.

It depends on the kind of law that you end up doing. For most practising lawyers who are looking at applying the law to a particular issue, a political science degree might not be very relevant. 

But, it might come in more handy when considering the policy thinking behind how a piece of legislation is crafted. Understanding general political science and governance would always be a plus point. At the end of the day, lawyers are just trying to solve a problem and if you can look at a problem from different vantage points, it would be helpful.

Students always think about which subjects they should take in law school, but you should really just choose those that you enjoy and do well in. Ultimately, you will learn everything you need on the job. Just enjoy university! Do what really feeds your interest and your passions. Furthermore, do not limit yourself to what your university offers. Instead, you could go to online platforms like Coursera to explore your interests. 

The law does not operate in a vacuum, and it always helps to be a T-shaped lawyer. However, do check with the university on whether taking the law and computing degree would allow you to have all the necessary qualifications to be called to the Singapore Bar. 

It really depends on what you want to do at the end of the day. If you want to go to court in Singapore, you need to be called to the Singapore Bar. So, if you are looking to study overseas, you will have to check whether the university that you are going to is an approved foreign university. 

However, if you want to do alternative legal work, like in-house or transactional work, you do not necessarily need a degree from a local university. 

Having said that, there is not really any preference for either local or foreign degrees. Apart from very select schools that may boost your chances, hiring standards are really about your full package. The degree is only one part of the consideration during the entire interview and selection process.  Other parts may include whether or not you fit into the firm, how well you prepared for the interview, your ability to articulate properly, and if you can structure your answers in a logical way. 

A foreign university education will help you to build your perspective with exposure to another culture. When you return, you would still need to learn Singapore Law (Part A of the Bar Exams), to be called to the Singapore Bar. This would take a year. 

On the other hand, local degrees are definitely world-class. There is also a focus on court work in local universities which is more substantive and technical. Friendships and connections you make within the legal community would also differ depending on where you study. 

There are many other considerations you have to take into account when you decide where you want to study. At the end of the day, it is really about the candidate and their experiences. 

It is important to do the readings – there will be a fair bit of material to get through. Doing readings, case notes and summaries in a study group of friends will be useful, as cases are very long. However, university life should still be enjoyed, such as participating in hall activities and other events, before the responsibilities of adulting emerge.

The traditional roles in a law firm, besides lawyers, include legal executives who do much of the research and reviewing of documents. There is also knowledge management which plays an important role to ensure a good database of updated knowledge for all lawyers in the firm. 

Another role is risk management, which ensures that there are no conflicts within the firm. This is especially important in a large firm, which has many clients, to ensure that the lawyers are not acting against each other’s clients.

It is possible, but it depends on the time of the year as well. During summer (May to August), there will be a lot of undergraduates looking for internships. So, the capacity to take up interns who are not in university will be lowered. The off-seasons may be better for pre-JC students. You could reach out to law firms – through email or their website – to find out their practices for taking in pre-JC interns. 

Non-traditional legal roles are nowadays very common in the UK and US, and I think they are becoming increasingly common in Singapore. It can be helpful to spend a few years in practice first, as non-traditional legal roles (if not a paralegal one) are more about solving problems lawyers face. Spending some time in practice will help you in understanding the problem first-hand. This can thus provide experience, though not a requirement, for non-traditional legal roles.

Criminal trials demand a lot in terms of emotions and may not be for everyone. However, it is very rewarding, especially for schemes that help those who are unable to afford criminal representation. The establishment of the Public Defender’s Office is a new and very exciting development in Singapore. If you have the heart and the health for it, please do it, because Singapore needs more criminal law practitioners. 

Mediation is greatly encouraged in Singapore courts. A win-win situation can always be pursued. Sometimes, a lawsuit can be avoided by getting parties to the table and focusing on logic and common sense while in search of a settlement. This generates value in getting a solution in a cost-efficient manner.