Singapore

Law grads hit the barriers

Are there more new lawyers than jobs available for them? MARIAN GOVIN and HARIZ BAHARUDIN (tnp@sph.com.sg) find out

The dream of becoming a lawyer helped her persevere through law school's tough curriculum.

Miss Meryl (not her real name), with her eyes set on a future in the legal industry, has been applying to as many law firms as she could for the past year. She started doing so even before graduating.

But she might now have to shelve that dream.

The 24-year-old fresh graduate told The New Paper that all her applications were unsuccessful.

Miss Meryl, who graduated from the UK's University of Bristol in June, said: "I can only keep searching and if I find a training contract, then it is an opportunity to train.

"But if I don't, I will need to tread another path."

She has been unemployed since graduation, but she is not alone.

Law school graduates are finding it hard to land a training contract these days, resulting in what some are calling an "oversupply" of new lawyers.

Like the other law graduates and students we spoke to for this story, Miss Meryl declined to be identified as she was afraid that speaking out about her situation might jeopardise her chances at landing a job.

Training contracts, which typically last for six months, are an entry requirement to the Bar.

Some law students are awarded these contracts when they apply for jobs at law firms after graduation, while others receive one during an internship.

Another recent law graduate, who wanted to be known only as Mr Lim, said: "There just are not many jobs for us to go around. The number of law students keeps on increasing but the number of training contracts does not."

In the last five years, the number of new lawyers who have been called to the Bar has almost doubled.

In 2011, 257 law graduates were called to the Bar. During this year's Mass Call, which was held late last month, the number was 509.

At the event, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said this oversupply meant that of the 650 fresh law graduates here last year, around 100 did not receive training contracts.

Some firms retain only about one-third or half of their original intake of trainees, he added.

This challenge in securing training contracts - and consequentially, jobs in the legal industry - has prompted some law graduates to tweak their plans.

One such graduate is Mr Dennis, who declined to reveal his full name.

Mr Dennis, who graduated from the National University of Singapore (NUS) with a law degree last year, waited nearly 14 months before he was offered a job "with the right prospects and in the right company".

He turned to yoga, which he has been practising for eight years, in the meantime.

He said: "I worked as a yoga teacher for about 11 months because I needed to survive.

APPLICATIONS

"Even then, I sent out a good 20 applications but none returned with a positive offer. The only one or two firms I heard from could not offer me a decent salary."

Not everyone will be as lucky as Mr Dennis, and the fear of not securing training contracts has prompted many law students to take up multiple internships.

A second-year NUS law student, who declined to be named, said: "I will be applying to as many firms as I can during the holidays."

But he added that there is a limit to how many internships one can go through. "It is only feasible to do two or three internships as it usually lasts four weeks."

In a bid to solve the problem, it was announced at the Mass Call that a new committee will be set up to review the system by which new lawyers start their careers.

The committee will examine how law firms offer training contracts to fresh law graduates, make decisions to retain them, and later nurture them.

But it might be too late for Miss Meryl, who said she is getting increasingly discouraged by her failure to land a training contract.

"If I fail to do so, then I will have to choose an alternative path."

SingaporestudentUncategorised