At the time of writing, Juyuan is the Programme Manager for the Singapore Academy of Law’s Legal Technology Vision. He graduated from the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 2013 and was called to the Singapore Bar in 2014. While he was in litigation practice for 4 years between 2014 and 2017, he focused largely on community law.
This letter is addressed to his 26-year old self, who has just been called to the Singapore Bar in August 2014.
Finally you have done it. You are now officially an “Advocate and Solicitor”, and officer of the Singapore Courts. But are you really enjoying what you are currently doing, and what you will be expected to continue to do?
Right from the start of law school, you made a conscious decision not to start your career in a big law firm. “Why?” You were asked this question by friends and family while in law school, during your term as a practice trainee, and will still be asked this question in years to come. But your response has always been the same – you want to be able to freely practice in an area of law that interests and excites you, and by choice, not “only if assigned to you”.
You know the answer.
This is not exactly a “money-making” area of law. You know and appreciate that. But you enjoy helping others. And you always enjoy talking to and working with people, not for them.
You will come to see that within 2 years of practice, you have friends earning twice your salary as a corporate counsel. You will wonder if that could have been you. You will hear how many, if not most of them, work 16-hour days, coming into work at 8am and leaving after midnight (if they are lucky enough to not have to pull an all-nighter). You will also wonder if that could have been you.
I know that you may not be getting the types of cases you want at the moment (circa September 2014), but just hold on a little longer - an exciting opportunity will soon come your way. You will one day join a team of 5 very dedicated and very enthusiastic lawyers, and deal exclusively with criminal matters, representing the underprivileged. The first team of its kind. Trailblazers even.
You will meet the person leading that team, and boy will you be in for a shock. He was the person who made you interested in practising community law in the first place. I cannot begin to describe your surprise and excitement when you see him on your first day of work.
You will also meet accused persons from all walks of life, some truly in need, others perhaps faking it, some who will truly appreciate your help and cry even when they get a long sentence, and others who will curse and swear at you even when you manage to secure a mandatory minimum sentence for them. One will even threaten to “hunt you down”, but I’ll let you experience that yourself. That’s going to be a funny story.
You will thoroughly enjoy your time in that team of 5. You will even get to handle your own trials (yes, plural) next year, in 2015! And there will be wins. What an experience that will be as only a 2nd-yearer. I guess you (or we?) will say that this was why you wanted to be a lawyer – to provide legal help to those in need, and to those who have been wronged.
And despite the contract being non-renewable and lasting only for a year, this stint will only reaffirm your love for community law and motivate you to continue practising in that field for another 2 years. You will even join a law firm that is run as social enterprise, and conduct talks, seminars, and workshops for the public on community law!
That said, while your love for community law will never change (and has not changed), circumstances eventually will. You will at some point, leave practice. But your role will be one which will affect the entire legal industry in Singapore. It will be a different experience from practice altogether, but you will love it.
My parting words to you, before I let you go have the life I did, is really this:
“You must always, always enjoy what you are doing.”