Speech by Ms Indranee Rajah, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, Second Minister for Finance and National Development, at the Graduate Session of the First Batch of Juris Doctor Graduates from the SUSS School of Law, on 8 Dec 202008 Dec 2020
Professor Cheong Hee Kiat, President of SUSS
Professor Tsui Kai Chong, Provost of SUSS,
Professor Leslie Chew, Dean of the SUSS School of Law,
Faculty and Staff,
And Graduands of the Class of 2020,
1. Good evening.
You know, I can't tell you how much pleasure I get to see the very first batch of graduates from the SUSS Law School. It really marks the culmination of projects which started as an idea, and some were not quite sure it could even get off the ground. But get off the ground, we did! And here we are, today.
So tonight, marks a very special time in the annals of your university. You are the first batch of law graduates from Singapore’s third law school.
You are testimony to our multiple pathways approach in Singapore. A decade ago, we as a society were concerned about defining life paths too early. We embarked on and initiated lifelong learning, the ASPIRE programme and SkillsFuture. The Government’s commitment is to create opportunities for Singaporeans at all stages of life. Here you are today, a living and visible demonstration of that commitment made real.
So, let me once again congratulate you on your success. You have worked hard for it. Enjoy the moment!
It is also a special occasion for me personally, because as Leslie mentioned, I was involved in setting up of the SUSS School of Law when I was the Senior Minister of State for Law and Education and I am really delighted to see that work come to fruition. I should also mention that in a very real sense, this is a law school of the legal community, because the initial report which came out with the idea was chaired by VK Rajah. The Government accepted the idea, but we then had to find somebody to lead this initiative. And that’s when I had lunch with Leslie and he is still working off that lunch now. He has done a wonderful job!
The whole design of the Law School and the thoughts that went into the Law School was the fruits of the combined labours of many different people in the legal profession. Certainly not just myself, Gloria and the rest at the Ministry of Law. At that time when we set the curriculum sub-committee, it was Valerie Thean who was at that time the Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of Law. She designed the interview process. We've got practitioners’ input. We sought feedback from the judges as to what should go into the curriculum. We sought feedback from clients, on what they wanted. And so in a very real sense, this is SG Together, even before SG Together was even conceptualised. It's the product of the ideas of many different people. And that's why I believe it's a really good product and really good outcome for the results.
“Lawyer to the Community”
I have been told that all 11 of you, who are graduating, have just completed your Part B Examinations and you are currently awaiting the results due early next year.
I am also told that you have all secured your Practice Training Contracts. And that is an affirmation of your achievement and the potential that your employers see in you. It is also a recognition of the value of the SUSS law degree.
More importantly, I understand from the Dean that almost all of you will be practising in family or criminal law. You are taking the next step in your journey to becoming specialists in these practice areas. That is important as that is what the whole intent and design of the third law school was.
You have worked very hard to get to this moment. Let me highlight a few of your stories which the School has shared with me:
First, Rajoo, the eldest in your batch. He recently retired from the Singapore Police Force after serving more than four decades. During that time, he pursued the LL B degree from University of London and graduated at the age of 45. When the SUSS Law School was set up, he leapt at the opportunity and applied for a place in 2016. He was admitted to the programme and here he is today, a proud graduate.
Adrian too has an interesting story. He was not from the legal industry. His education was in Commerce and I understand he had varied work experiences ranging from advertising, marketing and public relations to becoming an entrepreneur in the food and beverage sector, then childhood education and even aesthetics! His only connection with the law was that his great-great-grandfather was a magistrate in Hainan, China. Today he has not only topped the class, but will train in one of the top Family Law practices in Singapore. Clearly, he must have the law in his DNA!
Through all of you, the first batch, the objectives we set out for the School has begun to bear fruit. I look forward to the School building on this success and producing a strong pipeline of family and criminal lawyers who will be the vanguard of change in our society.
As you continue your journey as a lawyer, you will face challenges. I hope that, during those moments, you will remember the reasons you chose to be a lawyer and the meaningful role that you play in our society.
Serve the Cause of Justice
As a lawyer, your first and most important role is to serve the cause of justice.
You have a critical role to play in the administration of justice.
In his speech at the Opening of the Legal Year in 1993, then Attorney-General, Mr Chan Sek Keong observed that the ‘administration of justice rests on three legs’. The three legs he referred to are the Judiciary, the Law Officers of the State and the Bar.
You are key members of the third leg, the Bar. This triumvirate can only function effectively if each of its components also function well.
As a lawyer and a member of the Bar, it is your duty to ensure that you uphold the rule of law not only in your work, but also through your personal conduct. Being a lawyer calls for the highest integrity and commitment to professionalism.
Be an honest lawyer of high integrity, serving the cause of justice and the law, and ultimately, our fellow countrymen and our nation.
You also serve a much higher calling. As specialists in criminal and family law, you will regularly be called upon to be the voice of those who need help. I encourage each one of you to, not only be good professionals, but also to be lawyers of the highest integrity and compassion.
Strive to be the Best
Second, it is also your duty to continuously strive to be the best lawyer that you can be, so that you can make the best impact on people’s lives.
As a family or criminal lawyer, you will often be in a position when your clients in the community are in crisis. As Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon has observed, in Family Law practice, lawyers like you are the ‘first responders’. Your role as a lawyer in Criminal Law practice is similar.
How you perform will have a direct effect on your clients, their families and the community and our society at large.
The key to better performance is to continue to learn. Learning comes in many forms, be it professional development courses, from seniors and mentors and sometimes – painfully – from mistakes.
Learning also includes learning from developments in the broader context. For example, economic developments can affect family relations – COVID-19 is an example of how financial stressors can strain relationships at home. Long-term trends, such as technological disruption and increasingly complex and sophisticated demands from clients, will continue to shape the legal landscape and how lawyers practise law.
How many of us had even heard of Zoom before this pandemic? Yet within months, we have adapted tech solutions in law at unprecedented speed and scale.
Before COVID-19, we would have thought this was not possible. But now we know that it is. So be open to innovations, keep adapting and have a growth mindset.
Embrace a spirit of excellence and lifelong learning. These are the things that will set you apart, and keep you ahead.
Give Back to Society
Finally, I encourage you to give back to the community.
Pro bono work is a cornerstone of our legal fraternity. The Law Society, government agencies and various voluntary organisations have many schemes through which you can offer your help.
As part of your law studies and in order to graduate, you had to perform the required 20 hours of pro bono work. We made sure we put that into the framework. I am heartened to hear that many of you have done considerably more than the required 20 hours.
You have contributed to many commendable initiatives, including partnering the Family Justice Courts to provide accessible information on divorce processes, the Community Development Councils to provide free legal services to youth in need, and the Law Society Pro Bono Services to assist on criminal legal aid cases. These and other projects will have given you first-hand experience of the difference that you can make in someone else’s life through pro bono work.
I hope that you will build on this and continue to find ways to help fellow Singaporeans through pro bono or other initiatives.
In closing, let me once again congratulate all of you and wish you the very best in your future endeavours and new careers.
Thank you very much.