Skip to main content

Advertisement

Advertisement

Over 30% spike in number of lawyers who quit in 2021, mostly those with under 5 years' experience: Law Society

SINGAPORE — A record 538 lawyers left the profession last year, most of whom were in the junior category of lawyers who have practised for less than five years, said Law Society president Adrian Tan on Monday (Jan 10).

 Over 30% spike in number of lawyers who quit in 2021, mostly those with under 5 years' experience: Law Society
  • In the junior category, there were a record high of 310 exits in 2021
  • This made up nearly 60 per cent of last year’s resignations
  • 2021 also saw a record low number of new lawyers called to the bar
  • Law Society president Adrian Tan said the departures come in the midst of the "great resignation" sweeping some parts of the world

SINGAPORE — A record 538 lawyers left the profession last year, most of whom were in the junior category of lawyers who have practised for less than five years, Law Society president Adrian Tan said on Monday (Jan 10).

Among the junior category alone, the Law Society saw a record high of 310 exits, making up nearly 60 per cent of last year’s resignations. This coincided with a record low number of new lawyers being called to the bar in 2021, he added.

Speaking during the opening of the Legal Year 2022 ceremony, Mr Tan said the departures came in the midst of the "great resignation" sweeping some parts of the world where some workers are said to be quitting after the pandemic caused them to re-evaluate their priorities.

Mr Tan had raised this in a previous interview with TODAY, where he cited the “great resignation” as among the biggest challenges confronting the legal profession. 

On Monday, he noted that the number of departures has hovered between 380 and 430 lawyers a year in the last four years. But the number last year represents an “alarming” year-on-year increase of over 30 per cent.

The departures are also concentrated among younger lawyers. 

“In summary, the junior category might be facing a perfect storm: A record-high number of departures coinciding with a record low number of entrants. The Law Society is concerned.

In summary, the junior category might be facing a perfect storm: A record-high number of departures coinciding with a record low number of entrants. The Law Society is concerned.
Law Society president Adrian Tan

“New lawyers rejuvenate the profession, providing the nation with advocates, solicitors, prosecutors, registrars and judicial officers. It’s important that, after investing so much to train them, we find ways to retain them,” said Mr Tan. 

Highlighting a recent survey commissioned by global jobs portal Indeed in early December which suggested that nearly a quarter of Singapore workers were planning to quit in the first half of this year, Mr Tan said the Law Society would carry out studies to understand if the "great resignation" would disrupt the industry here, which comprises about 6,000 lawyers. 

VIRTUAL LAW FIRMS MAY BE THE SOLUTION

While an obvious question would be whether the pandemic is to blame, Mr Tan said that young lawyers had already been complaining of burnout even before 2020.

"It may be tougher to be a young lawyer now than at any other time in history," he said. "Email and instant messaging mean that young lawyers operate at a far more intense pace, compared to previous generations. Many are exhausted. Mental wellness is becoming a concern."

And while the Law Society has introduced several support schemes, which include providing mentorship and counselling services for lawyers, Mr Tan acknowledged that these are reactive solutions that address only the symptoms, not the cause of the problem.

Given that the current generation of young lawyers is different from their predecessors, Mr Tan made a recommendation on how the legal profession can adopt a new working approach: Allow young lawyers to work from home by paving the way for more “virtual law firms”.

This has been made possible by the pandemic, when lawyers had to adjust to the idea of conferencing through a laptop or making court applications through a web camera, he said. 

“We understood that not every law firm needed a reception area or permanent meeting rooms," he said.

"We learnt that commissioning affidavits could be done online. We discovered that court applications, appeals and even entire trials could be carried out virtually. We figured out ways to cross-examine a witness a thousand miles away.” 

For young lawyers, legal practice is also a question of sustainability.

“There must be a way of catering to the demands of the 21st century client, the 21st century court and 21st century society, while having a fulfilling family life,” he said. 

Mr Tan painted the picture of the future of lawyering, where executives work from a laptop, use technology to collaborate with other lawyers, meet clients virtually and are not bound to a physical office.

In working from home, lawyers may also require a different leadership style, where the culture may be less top-down and more grassroots, with juniors trusted to carry out tasks and pursue ideas with light supervision. 

"The point really is that the profession is at an inflection point. Questions about what lawyers do, and what law firms will look like, are fair game,” said Mr Tan. 

With support from the Government, the Law Society has initiated a four-month-long programme to help small- and mid-sized law firms here innovate and transform their business to be more digital-savvy.

Mr Tan said: “The aim is to spark innovation and re-invention in Singapore firms, so that they are ready for the future. We might see a future where traditional and virtual law firms compete for legal talent based on, not just salary, but the availability of hybrid arrangements and varied career paths.”

Related topics

Law Society of Singapore lawyers Adrian Tan Covid-19 resignation

Read more of the latest in

Advertisement

Popular

Advertisement

Stay in the know. Anytime. Anywhere.

Subscribe to get daily news updates, insights and must reads delivered straight to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, I agree for my personal data to be used to send me TODAY newsletters, promotional offers and for research and analysis.

Aa