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Feedback sought on overhaul of training for law grads

Feedback sought on overhaul of training for law grads

Source: Straits Times
Article Date: 16 Nov 2019
Author: K.C. Vijayan

Introduction of title of non-practitioner lawyer among moves up for consultation.

The Ministry of Law is seeking public feedback on moves to implement the recommendations of a committee that conducted a thorough review of the professional training regime for law graduates.

A key move is to introduce the title of "lawyer (non-practitioner)" for graduates who will be admitted to the Bar without completing practice training, under a proposed new regime.

The suggested title - reflected as "lawyer (NP)" in qualification - recognises that such individuals have the necessary academic qualifications to be part of the legal profession, but are not qualified to practise.

This term also most accurately describes legal professionals who work as in-house counsel, academics and policymakers, says the consultation paper.

The new title is among the issues for public consultation as the ministry seeks to implement recommendations by the Committee for the Professional Training of Lawyers (CPTL).

Another issue is whether lawyers (NP) should be allowed to provide pro bono legal advice which would increase access to justice and encourage the pro bono culture within the legal fraternity. Safeguards can be put in place if there are concerns.

The committee, chaired by Justice Quentin Loh, was appointed by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon in 2016 to conduct a root-and-branch review of the professional training regime to determine how it might be modified to raise the quality and consistency of training standards across law practices.

CJ Menon, at a Mass Call event last year for newly appointed advocates and solicitors, had described the recommendations as "a set of conceptually innovative and yet highly practical measures to secure the future of our profession". He had said that they are aimed at raising the quality and consistency of training standards, at a time when "new technologies have prompted the 'disaggregation' and 'commoditisation' of legal services".

"These trends have upended old ways of practice, and it is on these shifting sands that you must now find your feet. It is important that we safeguard ourselves from being overrun by the rapid changes that are taking place around us," he added then.

The CPTL had proposed key changes including uncoupling Bar admission from practice training.

This will allow graduates who fulfil qualifying requirements to be admitted to the Bar without completing the practice training period (PTP). The change will benefit those who seek alternative careers such as in-house counsel, practice support lawyers and law academics.

Graduates who wish to qualify for a practising certificate and practise as an advocate and solicitor of the Supreme Court will have to complete the PTP.

Other moves include raising the standard and stringency of the Singapore Bar Examinations, and lengthening the practice training period from six months to one year. The committee also made 17 other recommendations to support the new professional training regime.

The proposals were accepted in-principle in August last year by the ministry, which said the changes will be implemented from the 2023 session of the Part B exams onwards.

The public consultation period began yesterday and ends on Dec 27. Key issues identified by a working group for feedback include: the nomenclature for the individuals admitted to the Bar without having completed practice training; the privileges and obligations to be conferred on this new group; and the rights conferred to trainees under the new practice training regime.

Law Society president Gregory Vijayendran said public feedback is important in terms of access to justice perspective and "telling us where the gaps are in terms of expertise and competencies".

"We have been involved and have been engaged in the committee and working group and we will continue to be engaged via the consultation process," he added.

• Interested parties may provide their input at https://go.gov.sg/cptlconsult

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

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