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Lawyers who move in-house have not left profession

I refer to the report, “Lawyers heading in-house for better work-life balance” (Jan 10). The Singapore Corporate Counsel Association (SCCA) shares some of the concerns expressed by Law Society President Lok Vi Ming at the opening of the legal year.

Taur-Jiun Wong, President, Singapore Corporate Counsel Association

I refer to the report, “Lawyers heading in-house for better work-life balance” (Jan 10). The Singapore Corporate Counsel Association (SCCA) shares some of the concerns expressed by Law Society President Lok Vi Ming at the opening of the legal year.

Indeed, the Bar must maintain its strength across all seniority levels. However, we see a silver lining. The SCCA believes that lawyers who move in-house should not be regarded as having left the legal profession.

In-house lawyers are still lawyers, though we have only one client, our employers. We work not only to further their interests, but to help them do the right thing. The legal framework, as passed by Parliament, recognises this.

Among other things, in-house counsel qualified in Singapore are required to maintain their membership with, and pay their dues to, the Singapore Academy of Law. Under the Legal Profession Act, in-house counsel now enjoy legal advice privilege, a progressive and welcome development in which the SCCA participated.

Multinational corporations looking to set up their regional headquarters in Singapore appreciate the ready pool of legal talent they can hire as in-house lawyers. From a corporation’s perspective, in-house lawyers are a cost-effective legal resource.

That there are an estimated 1,800 in-house lawyers or more compared to 4,549 practising lawyers — which is at least a quarter of the population of professionals doing legal work here — is testament that Singapore-based lawyers are highly sought after.

That perspective should bring cheer to our policymakers. Sizeable in-house communities are found in many G20 economies and Singapore may be witnessing its own progress along that evolutionary path.

There are myriad reasons lawyers would leave lucrative private practice to go in-house: Some for better work-life balance, but many for the opportunity to get closer to the business and do transactions round the world.

However, work-life balance is becoming a myth for in-house lawyers, as are cushy office hours. Many of our members are hired for regional positions, which means countless days away from home.

Many report to European or American headquarters, which means conference calls late at night or early in the morning, often both.

Your readers may have thought that the grass is greener on the other side and that those who cross over to graze are no longer cows. They may be pleased to know, from those who have been there and done that, that cows we remain, but greener the grass is not.

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