Megan graduated from the National University of Singapore (NUS) Faculty of Law in 2012 and is currently an associate in the Corporate/Mergers & Acquisitions Practice of WongPartnership LLP. Prior to joining the legal profession, she taught English and Literature for several years, first at Raffles Girls' School and subsequently at the School of the Arts. Apart from an LL.B from NUS, Megan also holds an M.A and a B.A (Hons) in English from the University of Pennsylvania and was valedictorian of her class in 2005 at the National Institute of Education where she obtained her Post Graduate Diploma in Education. Megan sometimes jokes about going back to school again.
This letter is addressed to her 28-year-old self in the first year of law school under the Graduate LL.B Programme, having left one career path to start another.
You're in school again – nearly thirty and starting over.
I know how risky it all feels. A lot rides on the success of your decision to change career paths. To top that off, every lawyer you've spoken to before deciding to enter law school has told you not to go into law. Notwithstanding all of the foregoing (a phrase you will use frequently when drafting contracts in the future), you've gone and done the dastardly deed and are now banking on your legal career post law school to take flight so that all the opportunity cost is worth it.
Having been through it I can tell you that, starting over as a graduate law student, you will feel out of time; time, which you do not have to meander around the legal profession. You will want to make the most out of every school break there is and start interning as soon as possible, even when they are only two-week stints. You should, if you can, explore various structures of law firms – the big firms, the medium outfits, the boutiques – and test out the different brands within those tiers to see with which office culture you will be most comfortable. It's good that you already have an inkling you want to practice corporate law and if you don't, trust me, moots in law school will clarify this for you swiftly. Even so, because I understand you're one to cover all bases, you probably will still give the litigation department a shot as an intern, just to be sure. The extent of planning that you go through in this respect will help you to know on which electives to concentrate and to which law firms (and their respective departments) to apply when the time comes.
Starting over, as a mature junior associate, you will also inevitably feel out of place. Most of your peers will have already been made partners in the law firm where you work and most of your fellow associates will be a decade or so younger than you. This will throw you for a loop – looking around, you will find it difficult to gauge your professional progression or success. To whom can you compare yourself? The thing is, you're simply on a different track from everyone else now and the only competition that matters is with yourself. It may take you a long time to come to terms with this but you will. If that still does not convince the sceptic in you, fortunately deal volume will be high when you join the firm and you will be too inundated with due diligence exercises to worry about it.
Yes, it's true. The long hours are real. Starting over, I imagine you're wondering how on earth you're going to keep up with younger colleagues who have ambition and the energy to go along with such drive. I thought I couldn't either but you know what, the fear of having some 20-something year old senior associate yelling at you over some proof-reading mistake makes for some very powerful motivation; if not that, you'll be amazed at how adrenaline works to trigger the body's fight-or-flight response. In the end, you'll survive but beware, burn out is gradual. You, like so many before you, will indubitably experience it. You may not know it now but when that happens, you will be blessed enough to have a senior partner who recognises the signs and cares enough to orchestrate some downtime for you in the office. Make use of it to recharge and then get back in the game.
Your new career path in the legal profession is a marathon not a sprint. Pace yourself and try to be the last man standing and not the first to drop out. In fact, you can't really afford to change careers another time, can you? You just have to push on whereas young associates will knock on your door seeking advice on switching careers mid-way as they struggle to find that elusive 'work-life balance'. They will ask what life is like as a teacher; some wonder if life could be better 'on the other side'; others are genuinely curious why you would choose the life of a lawyer. (Really, why did you?)
Down the road you will question countless times the decision you've made but you will be reassured each time by the fact that your decision will have opened more doors for yourself than there were before. You should be proud of that. In the meantime, while you're still young – okay, relatively young – work hard and learn as much as possible while you can. One last thing: Humility is important. Accept correction from young and old alike with grace. Do not think that your maturity entitles you to being treated differently from other associates. On the contrary, there may be greater expectations placed on you.
Starting over is not easy and going through law school will be one of the hardest things you've ever made yourself do (that, and being a lawyer) – but change is exciting.
Will you have any regrets?
– only that you should have done it sooner.