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Go East, Young Lawyer

While there are plenty of lawyers in the United States who can't find a job, 9,531 miles across the globe, Singapore faces a shortage, reports Jed Yoong in the Asia Sentinel.  Consider these statistics:

On balance, only about 75 additional lawyers have been added to Singapore’s legal system since 1999. According to the Law Society of  Singapore, some 3,401 lawyers were practicing in the island republic in 1999. By March 2006, the last year for which the Law Society maintains figures on its website, only 3,476 lawyers were practicing, a 2 percent increase despite an 11 percent rise in population to 4.4 million.  Singapore has only one lawyer per 1,136 people. By comparison, the state of California in the United States, with a population of about 38 million – a place many say is over-lawyered – has more than 200,000 lawyers, or 1 per 190 people, according to the state bar association.

Some of the factors that send young professionals running from the law include low pay, long hours and "boring stressful work."  For Singapore's Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong, the solution is obvious:   “Pay [lawyers] well,” Chan said. “Greed works most of the time, even for the large majority of people in affluent societies.”

Of course, there's another reason to avoid legal practice in Singapore: Apparently, it's impossible to win a case against the government.  According to one blogger, Gopalan Singh who blogs at Singapore Dissident.com:

The law is being routinely and blatantly abused for political purposes...Singapore has turned into a lawless country, a country run according to the pleasure of Lee Kuan Yew; not according to law. A legal system where if you knew the identities of the litigants, you can predict the outcome of the trial with absolute accuracy. That is if Lee Kuan Yew or his family were parties to an action, the outcome of the litigation is known even before you step into court! Lee wins. Hapless opponent loses.

Surprisingly, some lawyers dislike practicing in Singapore because the legal system is too efficient!  Singapore's court system puts some of our states to shame, with all filings made by e-mail at "lightning speed." Once an action is filed, the court may assign a trial date within two days.  Sounds too good to be true, right?  Well, be careful what you wish for -- apparently, the speed puts "fantastic stress" on Singapore lawyers, who complain that "justice rushed is justice denied." How often do you hear a lawyer in the U.S. utter those words?!   

My own impression is that with the exception of complaints about corruption in the Singapore legal system, most Singapore lawyers' unhappiness stems from the same source as their U.S. colleagues:  a mismatch of expectations.  Singapore lawyers spend two to five years in school in hopes of a lucrative, stable career, only to wind up earning far less and working far more, than their counterparts in finance and business.  And it's the discovery that you didn't quite get what you bargained for that universally breeds discontent, whether you're an associate at a large firm in New York or a Singapore lawyer halfway across the world.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on March 19, 2008 at 11:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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