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42% growth in foreign lawyers, but not enough jobs for local ones?

Shanmugam
Shanmugam

Law Minister K Shanmugam says he “is concerned there may not be enough training contracts and jobs” for Singaporean law graduates returning from overseas.

According to Channel Newsasia, Mr Shanmugam, who is also Foreign Affairs minister, said “the next three years will see some 1,500 new entrants join the legal market, which already has 4,432 lawyers with practising certificates.”

Compared to the 94 per cent of local graduates between 2009 and 2013 who received training contracts, “only about 70 per cent of overseas graduates secured such contracts during the same period", Channel Newsasia reported.

Mr Shanmugam, speaking at the Criminal Justice Conference at the Singapore Management University on Saturday, said, "I'm deeply seized with the issue, and we will look at the rules to see what we can do to try and make it easier for more students to get training contracts.”

In 2009, the government introduced a fast-track scheme which speeds up entry for foreign-trained lawyers who are Singaporean citizens and Permanent Residents to practise law here.

“The change allows law graduates who studied overseas and have at least two years of recognised legal experience to be called to the Bar, after passing what is known as Part A of the Bar examination,” the Straits Times reported.

Mr Shanmugam was reported to have said at the time that “although the exact number of Singaporeans who graduate with a law degree overseas each year is not known”, the government had “put in place several measures over the last few years to address the shortage.”

“According to the Singapore Ministry of Law (MinLaw),” the Asia Law Portal reported in 2013, “the legal services industry has grown 23% in the past five years, jumping from S$1.5bn (£787m) in 2008 to around S$1.85bn (£971m) in 2012.”

Singapore has also seen an increase of foreign lawyers practising in Singapore in recent years.

In 2009, the Singapore Institute of legal Education (SILE) proposed that the entry requirements for foreign lawyers to practise corporate law in Singapore be eased.

The SILE proposal said foreign lawyers should “be allowed to practise corporate law in Singapore in areas such as banking, finance, and Intellectual Property, irrespective of which University they graduate from or what law degree they hold.”

In January last year, the president of the Law Society of Singapore, Lok Vi Ming, revealed that “number of foreign lawyers here has grown faster than that of local ones in the last six years.” (See here: “Foreign lawyers' pool grew 42% in 6 years”.)

"The spectacular growth of the number of foreign lawyers practising in Singapore emphasises the need for our foreign brethren to lock hands with local lawyers, not in competition, but in cooperation and integration,” Mr Lok said.

He observed that in the six years period, “the number of foreign lawyers grew by about 42 per cent, from 804 to 1,142, while the number of local ones increased from 3,419 to 4,334 - a 27 per cent rise.”