Types of Lawyers in Singapore
Introduction to the Legal Landscape in Singapore
Currently, there are around 4,500 practising lawyers in Singapore. Law practice is a fused profession in Singapore. A lawyer admitted to the Singapore Bar can be both a solicitor (someone who does mainly advisory, corporate and conveyancing work) and a barrister (someone that does primarily litigation-related work in court).
Specialized Fields of Law
As law is a very wide field with diverse areas such as Civil Law, Intellectual Property, Family Law, Commercial Law and Securities Law, most practising lawyers usually specialize in one or two key areas. Of course, in the small firms, due to lack of economies of scale, the lawyers have to function as generalists. They do all aspects of legal work ranging from conveyancing to civil litigation.
Conversely, lawyers in large law firms are more likely to be specialised. Most of the lawyers there only do a very specific type of work. (e.g. Corporate Real Estate or Finance) An exception may be litigation, where lawyers are expected to exercise their advocacy skills for a wide variety of cases.
Hierarchy in Law Firms and Legal Departments
In a law firm, there is usually a hierarchy, ranging from associate to partner.
Typically, the legal associate does a lot of the entry level work such as digging out the relevant case law or fact-finding. The senior associate usually drafts legal documents, supervises the junior associates and takes direction from the partner.
After several years, the senior associate will get promoted to salaried partner level where his job becomes more strategic in nature. Common tasks include deciding on the most advantageous legal position to take in the case of corporate deals and the best arguments to put forward in the case of litigation related work.
Once the salaried partner learns the ropes of taking on a case or deal and has more connections within the industry, he may get promoted to equity partner. In his role as equity partner, his job involves doing business pitches and bringing in new clientele. His primary key performance indicator will be the amount of revenue he brings to the firm.
Apart from joining a law firm, some lawyers also take the in-house route. As in-house legal counsel for corporates and other organisations, they manage the legal work of their employers. This means doing basic legal work such as conveyancing and routine corporate contracts, and managing the hiring of external law firms where necessary. Sometimes, they even double up as the company secretary. Typically, the in-house route is only available for lawyers with a few years of experience in a law firm.
There are also some lawyers that work for the government either as a legal counsel in the various ministries or in the Legal Service as judges or prosecutors. Some lawyers are also hired by the government to help draft legislation.
Day-to-Day Life as a Lawyer
Law is a profession whereby one gets the opportunity to interact with people from all walks of life. If one specializes in the field of criminal law or family law, he is likely to deal mainly with people from broken homes, the indigent and the less affluent segments of society. Conversely, if one specializes in a field such as Corporate Mergers and Acquisitions or Capital Markets, he is highly likely to deal with corporate honchos and high-flying executives during the course of his career.
Typically, a lawyer is only allowed to practise in a jurisdiction in which he has been called to the Bar. For instance, if a lawyer takes the Singapore Bar exams, he is qualified as a lawyer only in Singapore. At the same time, in Singapore, there are 840 foreign lawyers. While these lawyers may not be called to the Singapore Bar, they usually work in local branches of foreign law firms or local law firms and give advice in the area of cross-border transactions or international arbitration matters.
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