Saturday, April 25, 2009

Younger Lawyers Respond To Senior Lawyer

In the past week, I have received a range of reactions from different sections of the legal fraternity in relation to the AWARE coup.

Firstly, there are those who consider themselves "God's Children" and see it as their religious mandate to do all that they can to endorse the work of those who wash away their sins and of those around them.

Secondly, there are others who are absolutely appalled by the intolerance and immaturity displayed by some very senior members of the profession. The letter below is one example of those in this category.

Another lawyer is going further and initiating a customers' revolt. He writes, "I am going to call up DBS and terminate my credit cards. The DBS person on the line will ask me why (they always ask for that kind of customer feedback). And I am going to say that it's because of their Head of Marketing, Josie Lau. I will say that I have a very poor opinion of her behaviour in the Aware saga, and that for that reason, I have decided to stop using DBS credit cards. Furthermore I will request for my feedback to be given to DBS's senior management. It's a matter of principle. I am only one customer. But I will do what I think is right."

Thirdly, there are others who ask me, "Why should I care?"

Of the three categories of persons above, the third worries me the most. To these persons, I respond with a poem by Pastor Martin Niemöller:

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

Then they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
I did not speak out;
I was not a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out for me.

It is important to care about what happens around us although I wouldn't go as far as the late Winston Churchill. He said, "You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life."

Another young lawyer, Sivarajan Sivalingam, has best summed up the importance of being taking an interest in such issues: "Be AWARE lest you be caught unAWARE."

Dharmendra Yadav

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I write in response to the article titled “Lawyer's key role in Aware coup” (ST, 24 Apr 2009) detailing Dr. Thio Su Mien’s involvement in the AWARE saga. I was disappointed with the contents of the report, and what Dr. Thio had to say on certain issues.

She feels that AWARE has given too much precedence to what she naively calls “promoting a homosexual agenda” – i.e. the fact that “homosexuality is regarded as a neutral word, not a negative word” in AWARE’s secondary school sex education programme. I think this misses the forest for the trees.

Dr. Thio (given her credentials) must be familiar with the ordinary linguistic difference between the passivity of a neutral stance and the element of “activeness” involved in "promoting a homosexual agenda" (quite frankly, a tired turn of phrase). More significantly, it ought to be noted that during the heated debate early last year surrounding the Petition to repeal section 377A of the Penal Code, AWARE unlike the Law Society did not comment on the matter. Most importantly, the examples Dr. Thio cites are all premised on hearsay and carry an element of scaremongering – i.e. “The suggestion is that in this programme, young girls from 12 to 18 are taught that it's okay to experiment with each other. And this is something which should concern parents in Singapore. Are we going to have an entire generation of lesbians?” This undeniably is nothing but hyperbole, and as such, I find it impossible to agree with Dr. Thio’s view.

Her insistence that AWARE “seems to be only very interested in lesbianism and the advancement of homosexuality” is a fallacy that does a great disservice to the previous committee, whose past reports to the CEDAW Committee have been comprehensive in addressing the discrimination that women in Singapore face, and how this can be addressed have been nothing short of impressive. Dr. Thio seems to fixate on the work of one of AWARE's sub-committees thereby effectively ignoring the wide-ranging support AWARE provides to women in Singapore. This is not only inaccurate, but unfair.

It has been repeatedly said that AWARE is a secular and non-partisan NGO premised on the equality of women and furthering the best interests of women. As a woman, I cannot condone an organisation that claims to speak for me while in the same breath claiming that all women are equal, but some are more equal than others.

Puja Varaprasad
25 April 2009

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Educational Art From Family Doctor

In December 2008, I visited my family doctor. My family and I have been seeing him for over a decade now.

He's one of those doctors who takes great pride in what he does. He also likes to empower his patients with knowledge so that they may exercise greater personal responsibility about their health.

It is therefore normal for him to give little nuggets of information for his patients to take back and digest. Many of my family members or friends have had similar experiences with him.

During this visit, I inaccurately described my onset of sinus as a flu bug.

What ensued was something I least expected. He gave me an artistic lesson on the subtle differences between a flu, cold and sinus. Then, he kindly allowed me to take his art piece back royalty-free:


Based on what I can recall, this is how we read my family doctor's illustration:


Usually caused by a virus. Symptoms may include fever; body ache muscle ache (BAMA); sore throat (itchy, scratchy, pokey); running nose; cough; and phlegm.


Usually caused by a virus. Slight fever or BAMA, but less likely. Other symptoms may include sore throat (itchy, scratchy, pokey); running nose; cough; and phlegm.


Usually caused by an allergy, which may lead to an infection. No fever or BAMA. Symptoms may include sore throat and cough (dry and ticklish); running nose; and phlegm.


But please do read what I have shared here with some caution. This may not apply to your individual circumstances. It is in your interest to seek independent medical advice.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Reader's Question: 2009 Salaries For Newly Qualifed Lawyers


In relation to this:
A. Wonder if there is any truth or merit to the figures posted?
B. Are young lawyers really willing to sacrifice all their waking hours for a few hundred/thousand dollars more?

Read more about the above question here.


In the past, the United Kingdom Singapore Law Students Society used to publish detailed statistics about the salary and benefit packages offered by law firms to pupils offered retention contracts. This was useful not just to law graduates or pupils admitted to the profession but employers within the profession. I don't think the UKSLSS does so any more. I intend to write to the Law Society of Singapore to see if their Young Lawyers Committee can look into doing so. I think it is important to give young lawyers access to such information, at least in the first three years of legal practice.

The figures provided by me earlier are based on information received from current pupils at the firms or announcements made by these firms at public events. This is a developing story. Some of these figures were revised by the firms and an update was given here.

Most firms are paying their newly qualified lawyers between $3,500 - $4,500 per month. Successful boutique practices lead the pack in paying such lawyers more than what they would get in a large firm, since these practices will not be able to match the additional benefits that large firms provide. An exception is Tan Peng Chin LLC, which I understand is offering its newly qualified lawyers $3,200 per month.

I stand by my earlier position. A young lawyer receiving offers of less than $4,000 should consider alternative careers in public service or other positions in the private sector. They will probably be paid similarly, and will also be in a better position to pursue their respective interests.

They should also ask themselves if law is really what they want to do. If they do wish to court the law, a lower starting salary is a good trade-off to make for the experience to be gained. However, they should not let employers offering legal work experience exploit them, since there are several employers in the profession that appear to have no qualms doing so.

This year, I understand the Legal Service has received unprecedented applications from young lawyers. It is likely that these young lawyers have chosen this option because it has now become a good substitute to a career in the private sector. It will be interesting to see if they choose to remain public servants when the market picks up.


Firstly, it's not a "few hundred/thousand dollars more". It is not unheard of successful practices to pay between 3 - 9 months in bonuses, if not more. Based on current figures, this works out between $12,000 and $48,000 per year.

Plus, these firms provide a range of benefits including annual leave of over 21 days; medical and other health benefits such as use of a fitness centre; memberships to exclusive clubs like Zouk; and various other allowances for mobile phone, clothes, etc.

Having a strong firm name on your resume also helps if one is thinking of future career progression like joining an offshore law firm or an employer of similar standing.

Naturally, this attracts many persons into the law and to these firms. Some may argue that these are the wrong reasons to join the profession and that law graduates should look beyond the material. But I don't see this trend changing. The longer I am in the legal profession, the more I realise that this has to do with the kind of persons that our law schools admit and the pragmatic indoctrination that a Singapore education system provides.

Secondly, despite the carrots that successful practices offer, there are young lawyers who join the profession for something more or who opt not to "sacrifice all their waking hours for a few hundred/thousand dollars more".

Unfortunately, these young lawyers are in the minority.

These lawyers more often than not join the public service or a law firm that offers lower perks and better working hours. If they do join the latter, they tend to go to a law firm with a track record for valuing and taking care of their young lawyers. But what a pity it is that these other law firms are not doing enough to reach out early to such young persons joining the profession.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

When the employer drops by


Very rarely does a private sector employer comment publicly about what its employee does in his or her personal time. It is even rarer for a private sector employer to express disagreement about its employee’s voluntary commitments.

DBS did both when it came out to express its view on the personal and voluntary work of its vice-president of credit cards, Josie Lau, who was appointed this week the new president of the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware).

Employers generally restrain themselves not because it may come across as downright unprofessional but for other sound reasons. As indicated by DBS’ statement on Wednesday, in which it said the bank requires all employees to obtain approval before running for or taking on an external appointment, most employers have internal policies about such matters.

An internal policy usually allows an employee to do most things with his or her personal time so long as these do not create a real or an apparent conflict of interest by interfering with officially assigned duties.

A 1993 study, ‘The employer as social arbiter: Considerations in limiting involvement in off-the-job behaviour’, by the School of Labour and Industrial Relations at Michigan State University encouraged an employer “to act conservatively in invoking mandatory policies that affect employees’ personal lives unless there is a clear individual employee performance problem or the personal behaviour imposes harm on employees or customers”.

Such internal policies tend to encourage employees to consult their immediate supervisors when in doubt about their out-of-office activities. Legal advice can be sought from relevant counsel where necessary.

In the financial sector, there are governance requirements that require employees to disclose their activities or sources of income outside work on a regular basis.

Employees are often trusted to act in a manner not prejudicial to the interests and reputation of their employers. For example, some years ago, I was involved in a constitutional matter outside work. I knew that my then employer, a cooperative of the National Trades Union Congress, would not tolerate my participation in opposition party activities, as the NTUC unwaveringly backs the governing party.

But certain individuals alleged that I was helping an opposition party. Questions about such involvement naturally flowed from my bosses. It turned out I had in fact helped a politician from the ruling party.

To the credit of my former employer, I was never questioned about my personal activities again. I would like to think my actions had assured them that I had their interests and reputation at heart.

Similarly, cases such as Ms Lau’s are usually privately dealt with by well-oiled internal checks and before they become a public relations nightmare. Thus, when Sylvia Lim of Temasek Polytechnic or Brandon Siow of Singapore Airlines Cargo joined the Workers’ Party before the last elections, no equivalent performance concerns were raised by their employers.

What then are the options available to Ms Lau, now that her employer has said its piece? She can prepare for a baptism of fire. Her employer will scrutinise her more closely to ensure her Aware presidency does not affect her performance at work.

By ignoring DBS’ advice, she appears to have signalled that her presidency at Aware is more important than her work at DBS.

One of my personal advisers best summarised my position when I was subject to unusual scrutiny as such: “You should ask yourself if the values of your organisation complement your own values. If they don’t, the honourable thing for you to do is to resign.” Indeed, if Ms Lau is not prepared to rough it out or finds her personal values diverging from that of DBS, she should leave the bank.

The easy way, of course, is for her to conduct herself like nothing has happened. Arguably, some may submit this is a foolish thing to do.

Over time, however, this incident may pass. But it may be opportune for employers to review their guidelines for the personal activities of their employees. It may also be a good time to revisit one’s personal closets, just in case the employer drops by.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Man Bank

Seen on the back cover of the December 1962 edition of the Malaya Law Review.

Imagine what would happen if this same advertisement were to be carried by a publication of similar standing today?

Dharmendra Yadav

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Reply: Help with Full Subsidy of Compulsory Qualification Expenses

The reply below was received from the Law Society of Singapore regarding matters raised here.

On a related issue, other law firms have announced the following monthly salaries for their newly qualified lawyers or reviewed their earlier announcements:

1. Drew and Napier - $4,000

2. Shook Lin & Bok - $4,000 (reduced following review)

3. Allen & Gledhill - $4,000 (increased following review)

It confirms my earlier observations about how the legal sector in Singapore has reacted to the changes in the economy.

Dharmendra Yadav

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The fees you have stated (i.e. PLC, EFS, dining and other compulsory filing fees) are usually governed by the letter of offer of pupilage, and therefore amount to legally enforceable arrangements or legal rights. The Law Society is not in an appropriate position to tell the law firms not to follow those rights or to disregard the letter of offer of pupilage.

On the other hand, the Society understands the predicament facing the pupils in the current economic crisis. The President will include a message in his next President’s message in the Singapore Law Gazette to encourage firms, who can afford and are not retaining the pupils, to reimburse the fees stated above.