Monday, December 10, 2007

Carrots for lawyers to stay in Singapore

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The "Today" paper, another state owned and controlled newspaper in Singapore in it's report "Carrots for Lawyers to Stay in Singapore" of Dec 07, 2007, says the Singapore government is now trying various methods to induce lawyers to remain in Singapore. Many of them are leaving the country for good.

The legal profession in Singapore is in a sad state. First, Singapore has the highest number of dishonest lawyers in the world, in relation to their size. The profession itself has not grown in the last decade, with numbers now still about 3,000. And yet, even with this small number, one reads almost every week that a lawyer has stolen his client's money, usually running into millions of dollars and absconded. In relation to it's size, and with such a staggering rate of embezzlement cases, there can be no doubt that it indeed has the highest number of dishonest lawyers for any country in the world.

The newspaper report in reference says the number of law firms have hardly increased, the number of lawyers have remained stagnant, the number of foreign firms have remained the same, and what is worst, more and more lawyers are leaving Singapore to work abroad.

This should come as shock, or should it? This is despite the fact that there is a serious shortage of lawyers in Singapore, which means very good salaries. And despite all the good news put out by the state controlled media of Singapore, as to how well the economy is doing, and a whole load of hogwash; foreign lawyers are not taking the bait, and neither are local lawyers.

And the deputy foreign minister who has had a legal education himself, Mr. Jayakumar, says he is going to fix the problem with paying more money, and permitting more foreign law firms to practice local law in Singapore, with the hope that they will hire more local lawyers etc etc.

Do we see a sign of desperation in the actions of Mr. Jayakumar?

I will say this to say to Mr. Jayakumar. The problem is not money or the lack of it. The problem is with him. The problem is in the law itself, or more correctly, the lack of it.

Singaporeans have lost faith in the law. They look upon the man who runs the country Lee Kuan Yew as nothing more than a crook himself. A man who will use all means available, especially illegal means to destroy his opponents, a man who uses suppliant judges to abuse the law to bankrupt his political opponents, a country where the ends justify the means, a country where Lee's orders are the law. In other words a lawless country. An unsafe country. A country where people live under the licence of the rulers.

Singaporean lawyers are well educated and well travelled. They know what is on the outside. They compare and contrast. In the end, regardless of the money, they feel a distaste in practicing law under such conditions. So they leave.

They leave Singapore not because they want more money; they leave because Singapore law, their judges and men such as the Deputy Prime Minister have been discredited. It has lost it's reputation and respect. So self respecting lawyers leave.

I can say this much to Mr. Jayakumar, the Deputy Prime Minister under Lee Kuan Yew. You can try as many carrots as you want. It is not going to work.

My advice to Mr. Jayakumar is this. If you want to retain good Singapore lawyers, you have to fix the rotting foundations first. Restore the rule of law. Restore the impartiality of judges. Ensure freedom of the press. Restore the independence of the civil service. In short turn Singapore into a democracy, which today it is not. And until you and your government is prepared to realize this, all the world's carrots will not make people stay. And neither will the stick.

For the moment, my prognosis of the state of the Singapore bar is bad. Very bad.

Gopalan Nair
39737 Paseo Padre Parkway, Suite A1
Fremont, CA 94538, USA
Tel: 510 657 6107
Fax: 510 657 6914

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