Yi Siong graduated with a LL.B from Singapore Management University in 2014 and is currently a legal associate at Harry Elias Partnership LLP. His practice is in civil and criminal litigation, with specialist experience in criminal appellate issues and medical disciplinary proceedings. Yi Siong is also a moot coach with his alma mater and hopes to nurture the next generation of young lawyers.
This Letter is addressed to his younger self in the third year of law school, who was then struggling with mediocre school results and failing to secure a training contract.
Dear Yi Siong of 2012,
If we ever get to meet, I don’t think you’d recognise me. We look somewhat the same, yes, but the four years which separate us will change you irrevocably. For the better or worse, you ask? I can’t say. Maybe the Yi Siong of 2020 will write to us one day.
Speaking of which, hindsight is 20/20. What I can tell you is that, contrary to your current neuroses, you will definitely become a better student by the time you graduate. Your experiences in law school will shape your practice as a lawyer, and you will have picked up important hard and soft skills that will make your life as a junior associate easier. The process to get there, however, will not be very pleasant. It will even be painful sometimes. But the payoff at the end will be worth it.
Where do I begin? Not having a training contract in the middle of your third year is a good place to start. You will, with the arrogance of youth, have only applied to join a certain firm even though the rest of your friends have sent their CVs to at least five firms. You will then pin all your hopes and dreams in joining said firm and refuse to consider anywhere else. And when you inevitably get rejected, you will feel that your entire world has collapsed. You will float through the corridors of school, listless and depressed, afraid that you will never be a lawyer now.
As your future self, I can safely say: grow up. In 2012 there was still a shortage rather than a glut of junior lawyers, and the worry was not getting your first-choice firm rather than not being hired at all. Not getting a training contract on your first try will turn out to be a minor setback. Especially since you brought it upon yourself when you applied to one firm only. This incident will teach you the importance of always having a contingency plan, and not to put all your eggs in one basket.
But I suppose I ought to be more sympathetic, especially since you are my younger and not so smart self. You will realise that it was a blessing in disguise not to have gotten into this firm. Top management, which so eloquently won you over with their high-minded ideals of integrating philosophy and practice, will have departed by the time you graduate. This firm will instead become like any other: long hours, limited autonomy over your work, and leaders divorced from the realities on the ground. It is not a place in which you would have flourished.
Another hard-earned lesson concerns your academic results. At this point in time, you will still be floundering right smack in the middle of the bell curve. You will still be convinced of your own superior reasoning and writing skills, and will blame your lack of ‘A’s on your professors and a grading system that rewards quantity over quality. But really, no one owes you a good grade and your results are meant to be an objective reflection of your skill level. You are not entitled to a perfect GPA, and if you want it then you will jolly well have to earn it the hard way. You will soon realise that maybe you’re not that smart after all, and the bookworms squatting in the library you once mocked do actually know something that you don’t. If you’d gotten off your high horse earlier you might have graduated with better results, but hey, at least you will realise the importance of self-awareness. By eating humble pie, you will understand another one of life’s important lessons: it costs nothing to humble yourself and learn from others.
I could go on and on about the other harsh truths you end up learning in between now and your entry into the working world. About how grades are ultimately just one aspect of good lawyering, and how your legal philosophy class turned out to be highly relevant when dealing with clients. But sometimes the best way to learn is to make your own mistakes. So, until the Yi Siong of 2020 gets back to us on whether we make it in the legal world, I bid you farewell. Try to remember that there is a bigger world outside of law school. Get out of the library and smell some roses. There is more to life than just law reports and journal articles.
Yi Siong of 2016