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Shaking up law schools and firms

Shaking up law schools and firms

Source: Straits Times
Date Published: 07 Nov 2018
Author: K.C. Vijayan

While vested interests and other factors may slow the pace of change, there is a need to act now.

A radical shake-up of law schools and law firms in Singapore would be needed to achieve what Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon has set out in his strongest call yet for reform in the legal profession.

But it will be met with some resistance even as change looms from content and craft to consumption of services in the legal industry.

As CJ Menon described in a recent speech at the James P. White lecture at Indiana University's law school in the United States, the change required is "on the scale that causes too much disruption and is therefore shunned by many who fear its costs and do not see its benefits". 

While vested interests and other factors may slow the pace of change, there is a need to act now.

In his speech, CJ Menon described how globalisation, technology and market influences "will irreparably effect and alter the practice of law".

The advent of online dispute resolution technologies will allow automated settlements of disputes more cheaply, conveniently and quickly than in court, for instance.

"It is already the means by which approximately 60 million eBay disputes are resolved each year," he said.

Senior in-house counsel Dhamendra Yadav said there are now also online do-it-yourself facilities "like making wills which cut costs for the user, with no lawyer involvement". "Such moves will force lawyers to upskill to do higher-end work," he added.

Since January last year, CJ Menon has repeatedly spoken about the need to reform the legal profession. The same threats he spelt out will not only disrupt legal practice, but they will also outpace law school curriculum.

He spoke then of "major and unpredictable shifts in the global operating landscape around us" and urged "unyielding persistence" to adapt and innovate. He cautioned against being overtaken by changes brought by globalisation and technological disruption.

Law schools, he said in his US address, must change and adapt. A failure to do so "would be to do a disservice not just to their students but to the profession and society as a whole".

CJ Menon's speeches cast clarity on what the updated agenda should be to dominate collective discussion on the way forward in the legal community in general, and law schools in particular.

The need for urgency is also made clear. In a recent speech at the National University of Singapore law school presaging the CJ's address, Justice Aedit Abdullah said no system of administration of justice is immune from the disruption.

Societal drivers that disrupt, such as costs and efficiency, are meant for the good of the system, a salutary reminder that society does not owe lawyers a living, he added.

A task force of sufficient heft and broad import, involving all stakeholders, may be timely to draw up an imaginative road map to avert a potential fallout for dislocated lawyers and disenchanted new law graduates who face the prospect of obsolescence.

For now, a root-and-branch approach is needed to address the challenges - from a redesign of law schools to a reshaping of the skills needed for the profession.

The day when artificial intelligence potentially replaces the work of legal assistants or associates, will they go the way of stenographers of the past, as alluded to by Justice Choo Han Teck in a lecture last month?

When thought leaders flag concerns, the effectiveness test will be in how quickly others adapt and move to the same page. Will the trinity of globalisation, technology and commercialisation trump the tripod of service, honour and excellence that underpins legal practice?


For now, a root-and-branch approach is needed to address the challenges - from a redesign of law schools to a reshaping of the skills needed for the profession.

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

 

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