SINGAPORE: In a first, 115 lawyers were called to the Singapore Bar via Zoom video-conferencing on Wednesday (May 13).
The advocates and solicitors attended the hearings in six sessions by two judges, and are now newly minted lawyers.
Lawyers are usually called to the Bar in court every month, with the largest sessions in August where the Chief Justice presides over a mass call.
But COVID-19 has changed the way hearings are conducted, turning many of them to remote sessions especially during the "circuit breaker" period which goes on until Jun 1.
The two judges presiding over the call on Wednesday gave separate speeches.
Justice Choo Han Teck, who spoke to 60 of them, addressed the coronavirus situation directly, saying that COVID-19 "conjures the image of pestilence, lockdowns, social distancing, and many more images in this complex milestone".
"The full meaning of what it signifies remains to be seen, but you are the first lawyers to have been admitted to the Bar by means of video communication," said Justice Choo. "That is itself another signifier. It signifies, paradoxically, remoteness as well as connectedness - you are all at home and yet in court."
He said that the practice of law "will change from this point on", and told the new lawyers that they are "the vanguard of a new order".
"You are the batch of lawyers admitted in the midst of the pandemic. You are not resetting to a new era. You are present at its birth," he said.
New lawyer Jason Hong, 27, a litigation and dispute resolution associate at TSMP Law Corporation, told CNA that he felt "very proud to be part of this batch of lawyers to be called in this unique way".
"It was seamless," he said. "It was almost as if we were actually in the court room. The usual court rules apply - we will make our declarations to the judge who was presiding over the call."
Mr Hong was called to the Bar after undergoing a training contract at TSMP Law Corporation, which he credited for helping him pass.
He had spoken to CNA in 2018 about hoping to retake the Part A exam and pass it, when it was announced that the bar would be raised for Part B exams.
Calling his new status "surreal", Mr Hong said the hearing was very formal despite being conducted on the Zoom platform.
"I don't think it was easy to organise such a huge hearing ... and I think it's really a testament to the versatility of our court system that we can conduct such a massive hearing remotely," he said.
Fellow lawyer Quek Liuyong, a litigation associate at IRB Law, said "everything was very smooth", with the actual process over within half an hour.
"I think it's something that you would definitely remember," said the 35-year-old who was in the legal industry for years before deciding to become a lawyer.
"It's still very significant. You look at the screen, you can see that all of your other colleagues are at home as well, and it gives you the feeling that technology has already advanced to such a stage that almost everything is possible," he said.