Law graduates in Singapore will face a more stringent professional Bar exam from 2023 as well as lengthier training before they can qualify to practise law. The move, which is termed a ‘significant restructuring’ of the professional training regime for lawyers, was announced by chief justice Sundaresh Menon during this year's mass call, a proceeding that formally admits lawyers to the Bar in Singapore.
Root and branch review
The recommendations, which have been accepted in principle by the ministry of law, were made by a committee appointed by the chief justice two years ago to conduct a root and branch review of how undergraduates are offered training contracts by local law firms, as well as how they are assessed to be suitable for retention and employment. The committee, chaired by Justice Quentin Loh, was formed against the backdrop of a shortage of practice training contracts in the industry. More than 450 lawyers will be called to the Bar this year over three sessions. According to MinLaw, one in five of those who were called to the Bar last year did not go on to practise law. About 690 law graduates, from both local and overseas universities, enter the job market each year. Last year, more than 90 per cent secured training contracts.
The new regime proposes to decouple admission to the Bar from the completion of the practice training contract. This means law graduates who pass Part B can be admitted to the Bar without the need to undergo practice training. These graduates can go on to alternative careers, while those who want to practise law will still need to complete a practice training contract extended from six months to one year. The exam standard will also be raised, and the scope is reviewed to include topics relevant to lawyers practising in the current environment, such as technology. Chief justice Menon said, ‘this proposal recognises that a person who has studied law can contribute to society without becoming a practising lawyer, and that it is not necessary for those who choose to pursue different pathways to first complete a period of practical training before they start work.’ In his speech, he also exhorted the newly qualified lawyers to be passionately curious about developments outside the law, to be courageous in treading new ground and to find creative solutions through technology.