Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Monopoly, Moratorium, Minorities

In about 2 weeks, I will begin a process, which will last about 2 years and will eventually see me being called to the Singapore Bar.

After that, I will be able to represent another person in the Singapore courts.

As part of that process, I need apply one year in advance for pupillage in a law firm. This usually involves shadowing a senior lawyer, who helps you achieve certain learning outcomes.

Competition for pupillage is very strong in the top firms and it is very much like applying for a few lucrative positions, with thousands of other graduates.

The only difference here is, because of the caps the Singapore government imposes on law school demographics, you compete with far less applicants and have a better chance of success.

Places in these top law firms usually get snapped up very fast.

I understand the only local law school imposes a moratorium on such applications, that is no student is allowed to apply before a certain date. Those who break the moratorium usually face a penalty.

An excerpt from the directive local law school, according to one blogger, reads as follows: "In order to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity when applying for pupillage, students will have to sign a Letter of Undertaking stating that they agree to not apply for a pupillage position until the class imposed moratorium has been lifted... Any student found to be in breach of this Undertaking before the Moratorium Date will likely jeopardize his/her pupillage position in the Law Firm. As such, students are highly encouraged to apply for a pupillage position at the Law Firm of their choosing on the Moratorium Date or soon after."

I am told that, because of the moratorium, the human resource teams of several large law firms are forced to work a lot harder.

Interviews and offers for places need to be made within days or valuable talent will be lost to other firms.

I also learnt that from a lawyer working in one law firm that her firm held back interviews and offers for places this year. What happened was something I would personally consider unprofessional as much as it may be well-intended - some law students turned up at the door demanding to be interviewed.

To me, such a moratorium smacks of anti-competitive practice, and I hope a local law student will consider having this practice escalated to the Competition Commission of Singapore for a view.

Of course, one could argue that it's not anti-competitive since the whole process is voluntary and students are always entitled to opt out. Some students, who form a minority of the law school population, choose to opt out -- bravo to them!

Fortunately, the moratorium does not apply to law graduates, who studied overseas.

But what it sometimes means is that, by the time some overseas law graduates apply, pupillage vacancies have already been taken by local law students.

Dharmendra Yadav

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