Shortage of real estate lawyers during boom time

By Leong Wee Keat, TODAY | Posted: 28 May 2007 1115 hrs

The contrast cannot be more stark: The property market here is riding a wave but conveyancing work is seen by some in the law profession as "a sunset industry". The result has been a shortage of real estate lawyers, as young legal eagles shun what they see as a "dead-end job" that is not lucrative enough.

"They have an impression that litigation is more stable while corporate work pays better and is more glamorous," said Mr Mark Chua, a conveyancing partner at Tito Isaac and Company.

But the trend may soon change. Touching on the shortage of young conveyancing lawyers on Saturday, as 233 new lawyers were called to the Bar, Law Society president Philip Jeyaretnam noted how conveyancing work was hit by the Asian financial crisis in 1998 when activity in the retail property market fell. As a result, young lawyers left for other areas of practice.

Now, however, with the recent property market boom and major deals being struck, Mr Jeyaretnam said: "For the first time in a long while, you will see first and second-year lawyers wanting to become real estate lawyers."

The new batch of lawyers admitted on Saturday will boost the size of the Bar, which had stood at 3,233 as of May 10. Notably, the number of women practicing law rose from 1,349 last year to 1,439 this year the highest number in at least seven years.

Senior Counsel Indranee Rajah, a director at Drew and Napier, expects the trend to hold true for the future. She told Today: "Law is an egalitarian profession and the strengths you need are intellectual. It is not a profession where physical strength is needed or where guys have an advantage."

The number of new lawyers being called to the Bar increased from 202 last year to 233 this year. Despite this, Mr Jeyaretnam said there was still a shortage of lawyers as "law firms have been reporting more work than they can do". The Singapore lawyer is also in "strong demand" from foreign law firms and other professions, he noted.

This year, 329 lawyers did not renew their practising certificates 183 of them junior lawyers, with some moving on to join law firms in the region or to other professions. The number of non-renewals has remained fairly constant, at 318 last year and 325 in 2005.

Supply is expected to be boosted by the opening of a second law school at the Singapore Management University in August and an increased intake at the National University of Singapore. - TODAY/sh