4 Things Legal Practitioners Wish They Knew Before They Joined the Practice
- 20th November 2017
- Education and careers
We wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve decided to study law because of the American legal drama Suits or the popular Hong Kong drama Ghetto Justice. The main protagonist in these dramas, the lawyer, is oftentimes portrayed as the know-it-all. They fight to defend those who can’t defend themselves. Most of us are mesmerised by their passions to bring justice to the world, while they continue to lead a glamorous life outside of court. Even one of Singapore’s most well-known lawyers, Dr. Michael Hwang, was inspired to pursue a legal careerafter watching Perry Mason.
But no matter what the television dramas or novels have painted the legal profession to be like, there are several things you should be aware of before embarking on the long journey to join the industry. Heed the advice of these accomplished lawyers:
“My advice is to hold on tight and enjoy the ride”
While we wish that our lives are characterised by suits and after-work parties, it is often not the case for a lawyer.
A huge part of a lawyer job consists of reading, writing and getting through a mountain load of paperwork.
As one lawyer puts it, “a huge chunk of a lawyer’s day – when we aren’t arguing cases or talking clients out of doing unlawful things – is taken up with writing pleadings, memos, and letters about what the law means and how it applies”.
Behind the time spent in court are long periods of researching, looking through past case studies and finding ways to break through the deadlock. Even court proceedings are not as 'exciting' as what you see in dramas.
Dr Hwang recalls his experiences in court, “the lawyer’s brilliant cross-examination of the witness on screen is replaced by a slow and steady interrogation to exploit weak points made in evidence and destroy the credibility of witnesses”.
It is a profession that demands a lot of grit and perseverance. There will be wins and losses. Most importantly, you will not be basking in limelight all day. Just like sitting on a roller coaster ride, the journey involves its ups and downs. And the key to success is to be able to enjoy the ride.
“Life has two rules: #1 Never Quit, #2 Always Remember Rule #1”
When many young lawyers first join a law firm, they are shocked by the number of hours they have to work and the common occurrence of going overtime in the industry. A 12 hour-workday is not uncommon. Sometimes, holidays are also sacrificed.
Those who are drawn to the industry by the allure of good money typically find it hard to justify the long hours. In fact, the arduous work environment has driven many local lawyersto leave the practice.
However, nothing beats helping someone who is going through a difficult time. Every part of our civilised society is affected by the law today, and you never know when your knowledge can change the life of a loved one or friend.
A thank-you notefrom MK Thu to a lawyer, Low Boon Liang goes: "Without you, I wouldn’t be able to go through this dark tunnel. You earned my trust and respect. Thank you so much, Mr. Low!"
There isn’t one career that is free of vices. If you could look beyond the long working hours, and find fulfillment in helping someone figure their way out of the maze of law, the legal profession might be the right one for you.
“Change is the only constant”
The legal sector is no exception to today’s technological disruptions, with many law firms looking into technological solutions for their businesses.
One of the biggest law firms in the world, Clifford Chance, harnessed artificial intelligence and cognitive computing to improve work efficiency, where the amount of time spent reviewing documents has been reduced significantly.
The advances in technology have also opened up more doorsfor law graduates to specialise in areas such as intellectual property, privacy, and software and business method patents. The legal industry is seeing a trend of hiring tech-savvy lawyers, who have a good understanding of technological issues.
Fortunately, the millennials (yes, you!) are a group of digital natives who have been exposed to the digital world early enough. Be prepared to translate your familiarities with technologies into the legal work you do in the future.
“Anyone can do my job, but no one can be me”
Even within the legal industry itself, not everyone is a lawyer. As a respectable lawyer in Singapore, Walter Woon puts it, “Anyone who chooses to read law must understand that he or she is not guaranteed a job as a lawyer”.
Before you lament about the wasted effort spent with the hope of becoming a lawyer, the good news is that there are many career options out there apart from being a lawyer in the legal industry. For instance, Diploma in Law graduates can move on to become paralegals and legal executives. Many law firms in Singapore are hiring more paralegals and legal executives to improve the efficacy of the management of the firms.
Paralegals and legal executives are especially crucial in growing a law firm. In fact, it is said that the shifting legal service structureis opening more doors for paralegals by allowing them to perform a wider range of legal tasks.
The importance of paralegals has been experienced by one of the leading law firms in Singapore that specialises in mediation, RajanChettiar LLC, who viewed them as “specialised staff that plays an integral supportive role in the firm”. Recognising the roles of paralegals, RajanChettiar LLC maps out the career plan for paralegals and consistently provides professional training to help them achieve their goals.
“It’s going to happen because I’m going to make it happen”
At the end of the day, law requires more than just knowledge – it demands a strong sense of justice. If you possess the latter, no amount of work or difficulties should hold you back from entering the legal practice to help others.
In Singapore, however, one has to get past a relatively high academic bar in order to qualify as a lawyer, which impedes the noble dreams of many young hopefuls. To their misfortune, many do not realise that there is more than one road that leads to Rome.
A legal practitioner could start off as a paralegal and obtain practical experience in providing legal assistance to clients. To get started on the legal journey, one simply requires a specialised law diploma. Practical experience coupled with academic training will pave the way for a successful law career.
For those who are genuinely interested in law and undeterred by the unvarnished truths of the profession, hesitate no more in taking the leap to make the world a better place!
[Quotes are taken from American legal drama Suits]