SINGAPORE, 5 SEPTEMBER 2022 – A guide launched today will allow junior lawyers to chart their skills and progress in oral advocacy against industry best practices. Guide on the Development of Junior Civil Commercial Litigators in Oral Advocacy (“the Guide”)—developed by members of the Singapore Academy of Law (“SAL”) in consultation with members of the judiciary and the Law Society of Singapore—is intended to ensure that those who wish to pursue a career in litigation will have adequate opportunities to hone their skills.
In his foreword to the Guide, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said, “The renewal of the Bar is a matter of the highest importance because a strong and vibrant Bar is an essential component of our legal system. The Bar plays a vital role in the administration of justice, advising those who seek to vindicate their legal rights, supporting the efficient and effective operation of the courts, and serving as a pool of talent from which members of the judiciary may be drawn.”
He continued, “As cases grow in complexity and value, clients naturally prefer that senior lawyers have conduct of their briefs. This can present a problem if it results in fewer opportunities for junior counsel to take the lead, particularly since the advocate’s craft is one best developed through practice and hands-on experience.”
To address this issue, the Guide sets out qualitative milestones that junior lawyers should seek to achieve by the end of a three-year period, including getting exposure to a broad range of hearings as assisting counsel. Quantitative measures, such as the number of court attendances a junior lawyer should strive towards, are also provided. Law firms can use the Guide to finetune the level of exposure provided to their junior lawyers as part of their internal training and talent-retention objectives.
The Guide was launched by Justice Andre Maniam, co-chair of SAL’s Professional Affairs and Membership Committee. It is tailored to civil commercial litigation, a practice area where the lack of oral advocacy opportunities for junior lawyers is most acutely felt. A key contributor to the Guide and Managing Partner of Rajah & Tann Mr Patrick Ang said, “This is partly caused by clients in civil litigation matters having more choices amongst disputes partners in various firms, and therefore being unwilling to let young lawyers argue their matters in court. I think today’s young advocates are as competent as their predecessors from two to three decades ago, but unfortunately, they are relatively less exposed to handling more complex matters on their own in court or as the lead lawyer.”
Ms Monica Chong was inspired by her own experiences as a young litigator to contribute to the Guide. She said, “Without the benefit of an ‘industry level’ guide, I defaulted to mapping my own trajectory on the paths of mentors and seniors I was lucky to work with. But the confluence of good role models and good fit may not exist for everyone. The Guide enhances transparency, as young litigators now know how they are situated relative to industry benchmarks and, in a sense, empowers them to monitor and chart their own development.” Ms Chong is now a Partner at WongPartnership.
The Guide builds on other initiatives by SAL to widen opportunities for junior lawyers to represent their clients in court. In 2018, it spearheaded a pledge by 21 law firms to provide more of such opportunities. Following the scheme, senior lawyers from these firms gave their juniors a chance to advocate at all stages of a proceeding as lead counsel. In support of this, the Supreme Court Practice Directions were later amended to encourage senior lawyers to apprise the client of the benefits of allocating certain advocacy tasks to junior counsel, and to require, unless the court otherwise orders, that junior assisting counsel be tasked with certain advocacy tasks, such as delivering the opening statement in civil trials.
The Guide on the Development of Junior Civil Commercial Litigators in Oral Advocacy is available for free at https://www.sal.org.sg/Resources-Tools/OralAdvocacyGuide.
 Defined as those having between 1 and 7 years of post-qualified experience