CDotD: You Are NOT “Qualified” For Admission to the Singapore Bar, Unless…

This CDotD is highly related to my posts on overseas lawyer qualification as it is about another hot legal market — Singapore.  Indeed, I happened to randomly lunch with some American lawyers today, who recently arrived to Hong Kong.   They both recently encountered random e-mails from strangers who reached out to them, interested in practicing law in Hong Kong.

Having been successfully admitted as a solicitor in Hong Kong, I had some thoughts, obviously.  One lawyer asked if I’d taken the PCLL, and I immediately answered a hearty NO!  Though taking the OLQE is also no walk in the park, a full year taking the PCLL is definitely not the preferred option, plus, there would be no guarantee I’d get admitted into a PCLL program in Hong Kong. 

And for all its toughness, we all agreed that having Chinese language skills, particularly Mandarin, has become so critical in the legal market in Hong Kong at this stage, that fewer and fewer foreigners, especially junior lawyers, would likely find success here — at least not easily.

I offered that Singapore seems to be the hot spot for foreign lawyers these days.  I’d heard that throughout my own job searches, and may have considered it as a next frontier.  I also met a young law student who just got placed at a top law firm in Singapore as a newly qualified lawyer — that would definitely be close to impossible in Hong Kong.

On top of that, Singapore is known for its talent shortage, which has even led to some very interesting recent changes in its regulation of foreign lawyers and law firms.  In 2009, 6 foreign law firms were granted licenses to allow its Singapore-qualified lawyers to practice local corporate law for a period of 5 years.  More may be considered if the program is a success.

Another recent proposal from this year would allow a limited number of Queen’s Counsel or Senior Counsel (this is a super-title for highly accomplished barristers) to be allowed a sort of ad hoc admissions in Singapore as well.  This would be particularly interesting since litigation, of all things, has always been particularly sheltered in Singapore (not even foreign law firms in Joint Law Ventures could practice litigation).

But as my curiosity led me to dig around further, I found that it is nearly impossible to be considered a “qualified person” fit to apply for admission in Singapore! 

To be a “qualified person,” one must:

  1. Be a Singaporean citizen or permanent resident;
  2. Have received a degree from a list of very limited law programs in U.K., Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and the U.S. (+/- a few other routes, such as having qualified in U.K. via one of the qualifying exams, but only pre-1993 or something like that)
  3. Take a few exams
  4. Undergo a trainee program for a number of months!

Talk about onerous!  But check this — only FOUR U.S. law schools are considered good enough for Singapore — and they are Harvard, Columbia, NYU, and University of Michigan.  I’d like to say I still just might qualify, but I also had to have been in the top 70% of my class academically, and I’m honestly not sure if I was (though I guess chances are that I was).

INSANE!

So I guess for all the blood, sweat, and tears expended on the OLQE, I should be particularly grateful that I had it this (relatively) easy!

BTW, this info was not all that easy for me to find – so below you will find some of the links I consulted (but not all):

http://app2.mlaw.gov.sg/UsefulInfo/PracticeoflawinSingapore/AdmissiontotheSingaporeBar/tabid/262/Default.aspx

http://app2.mlaw.gov.sg/UsefulInfo/PracticeoflawinSingapore/AmIaQualifiedPerson/UnitedStates/tabid/505/Default.aspx

http://app2.mlaw.gov.sg/UsefulInfo/PracticeoflawinSingapore/AmIaQualifiedPerson/tabid/497/Default.aspx

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5 responses to “CDotD: You Are NOT “Qualified” For Admission to the Singapore Bar, Unless…

  1. As a foreigner currently studying for the Singapore bar, just wanted to clarify that foreign graduates will require a full year of traineeship and two sets of bar exams (13 exams in total) in order to qualify. Not sure how this compares with the qualification process in HK, but it has been quite onerous so far…

    • Hey Vanessa — thank you so much for this comment! That is really interesting and definitely helps put into perspective how little of a “hardship” the HK process is relative to other jurisdictions (where there are still many where foreign lawyers don’t even have the option to localize period!). Good luck with your law career!

  2. Well, if we try and compare Singapore with other jurisdictions (including US and UK) one will see that it is not uniquely difficult. Mind you, in most countries on earth, the lack of citizenship papers alone would have barred one from qualifying.

    • I can’t say much about many other jurisdictions, but I do know that neither England & Wales nor the US require you to be a citizen.

  3. You don’t need citizenship papers to qualify – you need only be a PR (see requirement 1 for “qualified person”), but unlike HK, PR eligibility is not dependent on continuous stay. It is also possible to seek exemption from requirements 2, 3 & 4 if you’re commonwealth qualified with PQE, in which case you need only to sit for selected modules. Speaking from experience.

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