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New lawyers to face competitive playing field: chief justice

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said new lawyers entering the industry will now find a competitive playing field, as the supply of lawyers is more closely matched to demand, and in some segments, exceeding it.

SINGAPORE: Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said new lawyers entering the industry will now find a competitive playing field, as the supply of lawyers is more closely matched to demand, and in some segments, exceeding it.

Speaking at a ceremony on Saturday (Aug 23) where new lawyers are called to the bar, the chief justice said the increase was due to Singapore's economic growth, and concerted efforts by the government to develop the legal services sector.

His comments came on the heels of Law Minister K Shanmugam, who said last week that Singapore could have too many lawyers.

Mr Shanmugam had said that lawyers with practising certificates in Singapore has leapt by nearly 25 per cent over four years, to more than 4,400 as of March last year. He also added that this year, nearly 650 graduates will compete for about 490 practice training contracts.

Still, Chief Justice Menon said there remains an undersupply of lawyers practising community law, compared to the situation in corporate and commercial practice, where it is expected to have an adequate pipe-line of lawyers.

Chief Justice Menon also hinted that the days of getting high starting salaries might be numbered. Previously, salaries are benchmarked against those in major firms in New York and London. But after the 2008 financial crisis, recruitment in those countries slowed down and many are now rebalancing their practices.

He added that Singapore is also competing in a Southeast Asian market where starting salaries are generally lower.

"It has been observed, for instance, that a newly-qualified lawyer in Kuala Lumpur would earn a fifth of what his counterpart in Singapore would receive," he said.

Due to the changing legal landscape, Chief Justice Menon said new lawyers should have sufficient understanding of these realities.

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