Last week, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon made an exciting announcement. An initiative that could revolutionise the legal profession in Singapore. CJ Menon called for there to be different routes into the Singapore Bar – whether that’s mid-career switchers from non-law backgrounds or students who study Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths students. He requested law schools to review whether a new 4-year degree could be launched to train these budding lawyers, which would comprise a year of accounting, computer science and business, as well as three years of studying the law and professional training.
CJ Menon is an advocate and practitioner of revamping legal education, and talked to members of the legal industry about how to make sure legal education is fit for purpose in the 21st century and “moulding the lawyers we need”. We await the news of whether a forum is to be set up to discuss the recommendations and plan how they can be implemented.
In this new year announcement, CJ Menon also spoke about the need to review whether opportunity could be opened up for regulation of alternative legal service providers. This could be a revolutionary point in history for New Law providers in Singapore and could address the need for wider skill-sets and knowledge from the legal profession.
What came first: the chicken, or the egg?
It is tricky to decipher whether the demand for New Law providers initially came from companies, or if New Law providers offered a product to companies they didn’t realise they could have. However, whichever was first, what it does create is a virtuous circle, where the demand and fulfilment of New Law legal services is growing bigger in Asia-Pacific and around the world. This is arguably down to the increasing globalisation and tech innovation which is closing boundaries in very positive ways but which also presents challenges. Around the world there has been an opening up of the profession, with legal education, law firms and new law providers as well as their clients realising that in order to address these complicated modern challenges, a lawyer / legal consultant with a wider skill set, expertise and experience is highly beneficial. For example in 2021, the UK will replace the LPC with the Solicitors Qualifying Examination. It is being introduced with the aim of hoping to attract a wider pool of candidates and increase diversity.
What do lawyers / legal profession with STEM expertise bring to the profession and how does it benefit clients?
Lawyers with STEM subjects are usually thought to enter the patent area of law, where a STEM background is necessary. However those with STEM qualifications can bring hugely beneficial skillsets to various different areas of the law – for example the ability to problem-solve, to break down complicated matters clearly and concisely as well as acute analytical skills and attention to detail. All important skills which can be transferable and are needed in the legal profession.
However knowledge and expertise in these STEM subjects is highly sought after by clients. For example many, if not all companies are having to develop and work with new technologies, such as artificial intelligence. Technical operations can be impacted by compliance and regulatory issues around the world, and protection is needed for companies’ products – for example cyber security. Having a lawyer or legal consultant who fully understands how this complicated technology works, as well as the legal understanding, instils confidence and the comfort that their legal advisors will foresee the niche legal issues which could arise down the line.
Vario lawyers come from a variety of backgrounds and experience, whether that is from STEM, entertainment or logistics, as we know that clients need legal expertise that takes into account the bigger picture. A good example of this is Will, a PhD student who joined Vario, bringing extensive experience from his studies as a molecular biologist. His PhD involved the commercial impact within the agriculture industry, dealing with intellectual property and patents, which led him into law.
CJ Menon’s announcement is an exciting development for Singapore business as well as the legal profession, and it will be interesting to see how these initiatives are implemented. This will undoubtedly benefit companies, the law firms they reside in and the New Law providers who are helping push this type of disruption.