Singapore law firms sign anti bullying and harassment pledge with Law Society of Singapore

Twenty-one of Singapore’s largest law firms have signed the Law Society of Singapore’s Law Firm Pledge on Preventing Bullying and Harassment in Singapore’s Legal Profession, in a virtual signing ceremony. Demonstrating a strong commitment to combatting these issues in the profession.

The pledge seeks to:

i) promote and maintain professionalism;
(ii) respect human dignity; and
(iii) respect the inviolability of every employee’s person and privacy.

By signing the Pledge, the signatories committed to implementing the Law Society’s recommendations to maintain a work environment free from the toxic culture of bullying and harassment. These include:
(i) availing or accessing the Law Society’s Workplace Harassment in the Legal Profession: A resource guide for members (June 2020) to all staff;
(ii) informing lawyers and staff of the law firm’s bullying and harassment policy and workplace grievance handling procedures;
(iii) providing training for staff; and
(iv) ensuring appropriate training for senior management and executive law firm leadership.

President of the Law Society, Gregory Vijayendran SC, said: “I know we are all on the same page, every one of us, on zero tolerance towards any and all forms of bullying and harassment in the legal profession. As representatives of the largest employers in the profession, your standing together in solidarity with other large employers to sign the Pledge will give it gravitas. It will send the strongest of signals to the entire legal profession and to other law firms to ensure that law firm staff and colleagues are treated with courtesy, respect, dignity and decency to promote and sustain proper standards of professionalism. By putting pen to paper and purpose to pledge, we are saving the lives of our lawyers and staff from the death of a thousand cuts of bullying and harassment.”

Read the Law Society’s full statement and the pledge here. 

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Law Society of Singapore Releases First Report on Gender Diversity in the Profession

The Law Society of Singapore has announced the release of “Levelling the Playing Field”, its first-ever report into gender diversity and inclusion in the Singapore legal profession.

The data for the report has been gathered over the course of the past two years and examines the experience of female practitioners across the profession,

The data involved was collected from over 500 female members of the Singapore legal profession, as well as a series of roundtable sessions with participation from (i) female lawyers across all seniority levels; (ii) managing partners, hiring managers, and recruiting partners (both male and female); and (iii) male lawyers.

The report also includes recommendations from the Women in Practice (WIP) Committee on mentorship and sponsorship; flexible work arrangements; training and awareness of unconscious bias; and addressing sexual harassment and bullying.

WIP Committee Co-Chairperson, Simran Toor, says: “More can be done for women lawyers in Singapore, at all levels of seniority and experience. While the data did not reveal any prevalent problems with harassment or bullying, which is encouraging, it did reveal that unconscious bias remains a deeply rooted issue within the legal practice. There are still strong misperceptions that an equal playing field is available to both genders, that progression is purely a function of merit, and that the larger number of male lawyers at senior levels is due to independent choice-making by female lawyers to leave the profession, rather than any form of unconscious bias or inequality.”

Felicia Tan, Co-Chairperson of the WIP Committee, adds: “There is also a lack of understanding on how diversity in the workplace and embracing flexible working arrangements could translate to commercial benefit; with many still believing that diversity initiatives are rooted only in altruism or inconsistent with the ideals of meritocracy. This pandemic has also shown how flexible working arrangements need not undercut productivity. We hope that the contents of this Report will raise awareness of the issues amongst members of the legal profession so that the Singapore legal profession can attract and retain the best talent, both male and female.”

Read the full report here. 

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Singapore Ministry of Law public consultation on Committee for the Professional Training of Lawyers proposals

The Ministry of Law (MinLaw) has launched a public consultation on the proposals to implement the recommendations of the Committee for the Professional Training of Lawyers (“CPTL”).

In August 2018, MinLaw announced that it had accepted, in-principle, the CPTL’s recommendations and that implementation of the key changes would take place from the 2023 session of Part B examinations onwards. The CPTL made three key structural recommendations:

a. Uncouple the call to the Bar from the right to practise as a lawyer.
b. Raise the standard and stringency of the Part B examinations.
c. Lengthen the practice training period from six months to one year.

The full CPTL report is available on the Singapore Supreme Court site (PDF).

Full details of the consultation are on the Ministry of Law site.

The public consultation will run from 15 November to 27 December 2019.

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Singapore Minister for Law signs legal cooperation MOU with China

During his recent visit to China, Singapore Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law K Shanmugam held a bilateral meeting with Chinese Minister of Justice Fu Zhenghua. Both sides emphasised the progress in legal cooperation that has been made over the past few years.

In accordance with the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s agreement in November 2018  to bring legal cooperation to a new and higher level, the two ministers signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Ministry of Law and the Chinese Ministry of Justice, establishing a Singapore-China Legal Cooperation Council that will convene biennially at the Vice-Minister level, alternating between Singapore and China.

The MOU follows past agreements and programme launches that we have covered in past newsletters.

Read more about the official visit and the agreement.

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Law Society of Singapore advice on managing legal and ethical risks in cross-jurisdictional transactions

The Law Society of Singapore has released its opinion on legal and ethical risks in cross-jurisdictional transactions, drawing upon the example of the Panama papers, as well as the 2019 IBA-OECD report. The article also reports on the discussions from the July 2019 Law Society seminar, chaired by the Chairman of the IBA-OECD task force, and concludes with advice to lawyers engaging in international practice.

For the full opinion see the Law Gazette of Singapore site.

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Singapore launches ‘China-Ready Programme’ to deepen legal services cooperation with China.

The Ministry of Law (MinLaw) in Singapore, has recently launched a new programme targeting the legal industry. The educational programme is designed to help Singaporean legal professionals understand Chinese culture, business environment, legal systems and laws, as well as improving their understanding of Mandarin used in a legal context.  The programme, as well as a series of secondments and networking events, is part of MinLaw’s three-pronged strategy helping to increase opportunities in the legal services market between China and Singapore.

The programme hopes to meet the growing Chinese market for legal services. China has been Singapore’s largest trading partner and Singapore has been China’s largest foreign investor for six consecutive years since 2013. Whilst in 2018, Singapore was the largest foreign investment destination for China along the Belt and Road, capturing close to 23% of total investment flow from China to Belt and Road countries. Whilst the launch is well-timed to meet the signing of the Singapore Convention on mediation.

More information on the programme, which will be developed and delivered by the Han Culture & Education Group (HCEG), which is a subsidiary of Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) is available here.

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Singapore’s Ministry of Law Accepts Recommendation to Strengthen Professional Training of Lawyers

The Ministry of Law (MinLaw) announced on 30 August 2018 that it has accepted in principle the recommendations of the Committee for the Professional Training of Lawyers on strengthening the professional training regime for lawyers in Singapore. The key recommendations include: (a) uncoupling admission to the Bar from the completion of a practice training contract; (b) lengthening the practice training period from six months to one year; and (c) raising the standard and stringency of Part B of the Singapore Bar Examinations. The Committee also made 17 other specific recommendations to address discrete issues within the professional training regime. The implementation of these recommendations will help raise the quality of legal training and better equip law graduates with the necessary expertise to meet the demands of the future economy and society.

MinLaw will work with stakeholders, including the Law Society of Singapore and the Singapore Institute of Legal Education, on the implementation of the recommendations. The three key recommendations will be implemented from the 2023 session of Part B of the Singapore Bar Examinations onwards, to give the industry time to adjust. The majority of students currently in law school will not be affected by these changes.

Read more in the MinLaw Press Release

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Singapore Academy of Law launches programme to create a vibrant ecosystem for legal tech

The Singapore Academy of Law has now formally launched its Future Law Innovation Programme (FLIP) and will work with the Singapore Management University (SMU), among others, to drive change.

 

FLIP initially will run a two-year pilot programme to encourage the adoption of technology, drive innovation and ‘create a vibrant ecosystem for legal technology‘ in the important SE Asia legal and business hub.

 

As a good model for other countries to follow, FLIP comprises three components:

  • a Legal Innovation Lab located at the Collision 8 co-working space across the road from the Supreme Court.
  • a virtual collaboration platform called LawNet Community.
  • South East Asia’s first legal tech accelerator to groom promising legal tech start-ups, (which will be launched in April 2018).

So far 23 entities have signed up for FLIP. These range from large law firms (such as Rajah & Tann Singapore LLP and Dentons Rodyk & Davidson), small law firms (including ECYT Law LLC and Consigclear LLC), to local and international legal tech enterprises like SingaporeLegalAdvice.com, LexQuanta, MyLawyer and Zegal (formerly Dragon Law), as well as in- house counsel from Discovery Networks and BNP Paribas.

Participants may enrol in a maximum of three tracks:

  • Lighten-up! – for smaller law firms that want to leverage technology to operate a lean back-end.
  • Ideate! – which brings together lawyers and technopreneurs to collaborate on legal innovation.
  • Accelerate! – a 100-day acceleration programme to help promising tech-based legal enterprises start-ups scale up their business.

For more information about this initiative see the FLIP website.

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Singapore: unclaimed Money Fund to fund pro bono services

Recent amendments to the Legal Profession Act, passed in Parliament on 20 March, have provided a practical solution to unclaimed client money. Currently, if a client becomes uncontactable, the legislation does not provide for what happens to unclaimed client money, and a law practice would have to continue to hold such money. The amendments to the Legal Profession Act introduces a new framework to deal with unclaimed client money – a practitioner or law practice may transfer such money to a new Unclaimed Money Fund, maintained and administered by the Law Society.

The Law Society may invest or use the money in the Unclaimed Money Fund to fund pro bono services provided by the Law Society or through Law Society Pro Bono Services (a registered charity and Institution of a Public Character), which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Law Society.

Currently, law practices in Singapore are required to hold client money in a separate account, known as a client account, until money is returned or paid out according to the client’s instructions. A practitioner who holds or receives client money is required to submit an accountant’s report to the Law Society together with his application for a practising certificate on a yearly basis.

If a client becomes uncontactable, the law practice concerned would have no other option but to continue to hold any unclaimed money. In respect of practitioners wishing to retire or cease practice (in particular sole proprietors), unclaimed client money has caused inconvenience as only a practitioner with a practising certificate is permitted to operate a client account of a law practice. The only direction the Law Society has been able to give to retiring practitioners is to find another practitioner in practice willing to act as legal manager to hold the unclaimed client money. The legal manager would have to account to the Law Society for such moneys with an accountant’s report on a yearly basis.

With the recent amendments to the Legal Profession Act, practitioners and Singapore law practices will now be able to transfer unclaimed client money into the Unclaimed Money Fund, provided that they satisfy certain requirements (prescribed by the Law Society) and the Law Society approves the transfer. These requirements would include making reasonable efforts to return the money to the client.

Should the lawful owner of the unclaimed client money resurface, there is a mechanism for such persons to apply to the Law Society for the transferred money to be returned. Such applications must be made within a six-year limitation period. Nevertheless, Law Society will have a discretion to make ex gratia payments from the Unclaimed Money Fund to claimants who apply after the limitation period.

The new framework covers unclaimed intervention money as well. The Law Society has the power to intervene in a law practice in specified circumstances, including where a sole proprietor has died. As part of the intervention, the Law Society may take over the administration of the client account. Client money in these client accounts is called intervention money.

Intervention money is transferred into a special account held by the Law Society. If the intervention money is unclaimed after six years, it is credited to the Law Society’s Compensation Fund, which is a fund to compensate those who suffer financial losses due to a practitioner’s misconduct.

The amendments to the Legal Profession Act provide for intervention money that has been unclaimed for 6 years in the special account to be transferred to the Unclaimed Money Fund instead of the Compensation Fund.

Article first published on the Law Society of Singapore website.

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Help for Singapore lawyers to venture overseas

Earlier this year the Ministry of Law (MinLaw), the Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc) and International Enterprise (IE) Singapore launched a new programme to help Singapore lawyers and law firms venture overseas. Called “Lawyers Go Global”, the programme will connect Singapore legal expertise with global opportunities, through overseas mission trips, training, and branding and marketing.  The “Lawyers Go Global” programme implements the recommendation of the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) Working Group on Legal and Accounting Services and is aligned to the Professional Services Industry Transformation Map (ITM) to catalyse the internationalisation of local law firms. It is part of MinLaw’s broader effort for Singapore to capture a greater share of international demand for legal services and enhance Singapore’s position as an international legal hub.

Read more about this initiative

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