Closing Remarks by Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Ms Indranee Rajah SC at the Singapore Legal Futures Conference
8 Jul 2015 Posted in Speeches
Distinguished judges, speakers, lawyers and panellists
To the young gentleman who asked the question just now about his friend being asked to take notes in manuscript, I just want to say two things. Recently I had the chance to speak to a fairly senior partner from one of the large law firms – not my previous law firm! She said she went off to do a postgrad with some university students and had these young ones sitting next to her. As she was writing on her yellow legal pad, and they were all typing into their iPads, one of the young lawyers looked over at her, writing her manuscript on her yellow pad, and said “Wow, that’s so retro!” It strengthened her determination to master, new technology.
When I was in practice I have to say that I found the younger lawyers’ mastery of technology extremely useful, especially when doing cross examination, in trial, because contrary to what I thought, they were not actually merely surfing the internet. They were actually checking the witnesses’ answers against the witnesses’ Facebook, to see whether or not what the witness was saying that they did on a particular day, accorded with what was on Facebook. This was tremendously useful.
The point is that there was much to learn from the younger lawyers’ mastery of technology, and there is much that can be done, through the use of technology as a tool - a tool, but not as an end in itself.
So to the young lawyer who was concerned about older lawyers or senior lawyers, not being willing to embrace change, the short answer is, actually that is what this conference is all about. That is the reason why the Ministry of Law organised this conference. It is really to ask our lawyers here, to focus their minds, on what the future might bring, and to understand that you either have to change or be changed. And you can do it, painlessly or painfully, and we would much rather it is done painlessly, where you are actually ahead of the curve, and going with the flow, rather than to have it forced upon you.
Looking to the Future
- What will the future bring? Well, we cannot predict the future, but as we have heard today, we can try and anticipate what change might bring and prepare the best we can for it. I would very much like to thank the speakers as well as everyone who has contributed, because the discussion has yielded valuable insights into what the future may hold for our legal industry. The technological, economic and social driving forces that we discussed will influence and shape the future of our society, commerce and trade, and consequently the future of the legal industry and the profession.
- The presentations and discussions in the past few hours have covered wide ground. I think they help us better understand the driving forces. But obviously, these driving forces are not cast in stone. Other trends and forces will come into play. And how everything develops and impacts us, will remain to be seen.
Preparing for the Future
- The developments that the driving forces herald are not only going to affect how firms organise their work, but also society’s expectations of what the law should be and what it should do for people. And all these changes mean that there will be a need for lawyers with different skillsets and new ways of delivering legal services.
- As I have mentioned before, Singapore is positioning itself to be a legal services hub in Asia. We have already made a move to be a dispute resolution hub. SIAC of course was set up some time ago. We have just set up SICC, and we recently also launched SIMC. We have also taken steps to position ourselves as an IP hub in Asia. All of these things are going to need new ways of delivering legal services and new innovations. And all of you being in practice, and teaching and academia, and other ways of being involved in the law, will have to embrace the changes that are to come in order to help this vision to be a reality. To get ready for the future, the industry and the profession will need to focus on understanding these changes, not just in the local, but also the global context. We are going to have to open our minds to new possibilities, and think about how to deliver services to clients more efficiently, and how to leverage advances in both technology as well as business and organisational models. We cannot stand still and let events overtake us.
- On this note, let me just mention a couple of things. Professor Nanda talked about learning being life-long. That is in fact something which we are doing in Singapore, throughout whole of government.
- Last year, I had chaired a committee, which prepared a report, on this year’s ASPIRE report, but it is really about education as a whole, and how it used to be thought that you go to school, you go to university or polytechnic, and when you leave school, that was the end of your learning as it were, and the beginning of work. But in reality now, when you leave school, that is just actually another step along the entire continuum of learning, which will continue for the rest of your life.
- That is the shift we are making, and that is the shift I am not sure everyone has fully understood. It is something that is in the process of taking place. So for lawyers for example, let us say you are a criminal lawyer, when you leave law school, you would have learnt about criminal law. But it does not end there. Nowadays, a lot of crime takes place through or via the internet, or through technological means. You may have to go back, not to law school, but to some institution where you can learn computer forensics, where you are going to have to understand technology. As the New York District Attorney said, “The internet is the new crime scene”, and if you are a criminal lawyer, you are going to have to understand that crime scene if you are going to either prosecute, or defend your client. So the learning does not stop when you get your law degree. The journey is just beginning.
- As a government, that is something that we want to encourage. You would have heard of SkillsFuture. SkillsFuture is really about life-long learning. It is about acquiring skills, not just having the knowledge, not just having the paper, but really understanding what we do and what we can do in an environment that is dynamic and constantly changing. So do pay attention the next time you hear myself, or anybody else, usually DPM Tharman, talking about SkillsFuture, because there will obviously be aspects of it that you can tap and leverage on if you want to, either acquire new skills or deepen your knowledge in particular areas of law.
- I would encourage the profession to continue to invest in continuing professional development and skills upgrading, keep up with new ways of thinking about legal practice, and most especially how lawyers can provide value to clients.
- Please be aware of what is happening globally, regionally, locally, and continue to monitor developments in the international legal services market.
- But merely studying the implications and monitoring developments will not be sufficient. Practitioners and firms need to devise strategies for dealing with change and capturing opportunities.
- The profession will need to stay resilient in the face of change and make a concerted effort to stay ahead of the game, not only for itself, but also for Singapore, for your clients and everyone in society who put their faith in our legal system and expect it to deliver just outcomes.
Ideas for the Future
- Last but not least, education and our future begin with our young. Educators would have to think about structuring their curricula to equip law students for the new and exciting legal landscape. The many talented students of the law among the audience can learn from the discussions today and consider how they will affect your future.
- To encourage budding lawyers to think in this direction, I am pleased to announce a competition that the Ministry of Law is launching to provide students with an opportunity to say, in your own words and in your own way, what you think of what the future holds for Singapore’s legal profession, its laws and our legal system.
- We would like to hear from you the vision you have of our future and how we can get there. You have all heard how tomorrow’s lawyers need to be able to harness technology. So we are inviting entries to be submitted in a video format, with few restrictions on the way you present your ideas apart from the duration, which is three minutes.
- If you cannot get across what you need to say in three minutes, then you should not be lawyering! I took a bit longer in this speech, but that is fine!
- The details will be published on the Ministry’s website, and you will also hear more about it from your respective student law clubs and associations. So do consider taking part — there are attractive cash prizes and an internship to be won.
- I hope that today’s discussions have opened your mind to the many possibilities that the future can hold. Everyone has a part to play and to be ready for this future. So, I would like to encourage everyone, even after today, to continue thinking about the future, and to discuss it.
- The Government will do its part and work together with all stakeholders to prepare for this future and to further Singapore’s position as a premier legal hub.
- We have reached the conclusion of the Singapore Legal Futures Conference. This event would not have been possible without the support of our co-organiser, the Singapore Academy of Law, and the speakers and panellists. I would also like to thank Linklaters and the SAL for sponsoring the attendance for some of the students.
- Thank you very much.
Last updated on 15 Jul 2015