Thursday, 18 February 2016

UniSIM Law School to open in January 2017

It will specialise in family and criminal law, and 80% of the 60 places will go to mature students
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 Feb 2016

Targeting mid-career professionals thinking of becoming criminal or family lawyers, Singapore's much-awaited third law school at SIM University (UniSIM) will open next January.

Applications for the 60 places in the course will open next month, with 80 per cent going to mature students. The rest of the places will go to A-level school leavers and polytechnic diploma holders. The classes will be conducted in the evening.

Those who already hold a first degree will take up the Juris Doctor course, while fresh school leavers will be offered the Bachelor of Laws. Juris Doctor students are expected to take three to six years to complete the degree, while LL.B. students take four to six years.

Tuition fees have yet to be finalised but are not expected to differ much from those of the other two law schools, which charge $12,400 a year for the LL.B. course.

The Ministry of Law, which announced the details yesterday, said UniSIM is exploring the idea of setting up a campus at the State or Family Justice courts in Havelock Road.

Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah, who headed a 12-member panel to provide strategic direction for the school, said the UniSIM Law School, as it will be called, will address the looming shortage of lawyers in the fields of criminal and family law.

She noted that fresh graduates generally choose not to enter these fields and, among those who do, there are high attrition rates due to the long hours and emotional demands. The shortage will become more acute as senior practitioners retire, she added.

Currently there are about 1,600 lawyers practising in these two fields, though many do not practise exclusively in them.

Close to 170 are over the age of 65, said Ms Indranee, adding that an average of 30 lawyers will be retiring yearly over the next decade.

She said: "So there is a hollowing-out effect. If we don't do something, in the longer term, we are going to have a problem as there is a real need for practising criminal and family lawyers."

She said that the panel had recommended co-locating the law school at the State or Family Justice courts to support the emphasis on practice.

"If you want to be a practitioner, you have to be in the thick of things," she said, adding that the location also makes it convenient for the adjunct faculty, who will be practising lawyers.

UniSIM president Cheong Hee Kiat said the new law school hopes to draw mature individuals with experience in related fields such as social work and law enforcement who want to make a switch to a second career in law. Hence, students will be selected not just based on their academic ability but also their aptitude, attitude and interest in the practice of family and criminal law.

Besides looking at students' grades at the A levels or polytechnic diploma, selection will be based on scores on standardised law aptitude tests or scores on basic family and criminal law courses offered by the school. Students will undergo a six-month practicum at the end of their course where they will get hands-on exposure.

Senior Counsel Leslie Chew, who has been appointed dean of the school, said the hands-on training and exposure to cross-disciplinary areas such as social work and forensic science will prepare students for family and criminal legal work.

Mr Chew, a lawyer for 27 years, has also served as a Deputy Public Prosecutor, State Counsel and Senior District Judge in the State Courts.

THE UNISIM LAW SCHOOL – A Law School with a Difference to make a Difference The report of the Steering Committee on...
Posted by Indranee Rajah on Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Third law school at UniSIM a ‘healthy’ addition, say lawyers
Lawyers hail opening of UniSIM school next January with focus on family and criminal law
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 17 Feb 2016

Singapore's legal fraternity has welcomed the "healthy" addition of a third law school here, which will specialise in family and criminal law.

UniSIM Law School at SIM University will open in January next year, the Ministry of Law announced yesterday. It will have an intake of 60 students and applications start next month. Around 80 per cent will be mature students with the rest made up of A-level graduates and polytechnic diploma holders.

Mature students are those with work experience, seeking a mid- career switch to law. They could include paralegals, law enforcement officers and social workers.

"A lot of younger lawyers have gravitated towards the corporate transactional and dispute work, and if the trend continues, we anticipate that there will be a shortage of family and criminal lawyers," said Law Society president Thio Shen Yi. "Every year, we lose lawyers as people retire. For these two areas, we need more than replacement numbers."

The Senior Counsel said marriage disputes, including cross-border ones, could become more common and complex with rising property values affecting asset disputes. As Singapore develops, it becomes increasingly regulated, giving rise to more criminal regulatory breaches.

According to lawyer Ivan Cheong, who specialises in matrimonial and family law: "It takes a certain mindset and aptitude for people to want to practise criminal and family law."

Matrimonial law, for example, involves very personal and emotional issues. "Quite a lot of legal practitioners don't like to practise in this area as it can be quite acrimonious."

Family lawyers may have to act as "counsellors" when understanding their clients' position. This is where the life experience of mature students, as well as their passion for their field, will come in handy. Clients meeting them will feel more assured, said Mr Cheong.

However criminal lawyer Amolat Singh believes it may be difficult to ensure that graduates from the new school will stay in family or criminal law in the long run as some commercial lawyers earn two times more.

"If the problem is people not wanting to do family or criminal work, increasing the number of places may not solve it," he said. "Family and criminal law is where you find the least advantaged people in society. They don't have money and cannot afford to pay you well." He added that mid-career lawyers will probably need to support their family and might not stay on in the field even if they were idealistic at first.

But although some, like SC Thio, feel that the new school could add to an oversupply, others disagreed.

Currently, there are lawyers who cannot get a training contract, while some finish their training but cannot get a job, added Mr Singh.

Criminal lawyer Sunil Sudheesan said having a third law school is unlikely to add to an oversupply, as the Law Ministry could lower the intake of foreign-trained lawyers.

"These lawyers (from the third school) will also come out with a more practical skillset, which will complement the fact that they are mid-career professionals who have been exposed to the law," he said.

The #UniSIM Law School will commence classes in January 2017! Yes, we know many of you have been eagerly awaiting...
Posted by SIM University, UniSIM on Monday, February 15, 2016

UniSIM Law School: Why mature students are preferred
UniSIM Law School dean, Senior Counsel Leslie Chew, answers readers' queries on the programme and admission to Singapore's third law school, due to open next year. Mr Chew, a lawyer for 27 years, has also served as a Deputy Public Prosecutor, State Counsel and Senior District Judge in the State Courts.
The Straits Times, 14 Mar 2016

Q What specific academic qualifications are needed? National Univerity of Singapore (NUS), for instance, requires A-level holders to have good overall results and at least a B grade in H1 General Paper. Will UniSIM Law School have similar requirements?

A Two law programmes will be offered - the Bachelor of Laws (Honours) (LLB) direct honours degree, and the Juris Doctor (JD) degree. The minimum requirement for the LLB programme is an A-level certificate, diploma or International Baccalaureate, or their equivalent. For the JD programme, a bachelor's degree is needed.

Students will be selected based not just on academic ability but also aptitude, attitude and interest in the practice of family and criminal law. The majority of places will be offered to mature students with life and work experience and seeking a mid-career switch to law.

For example, a working adult with a diploma and who has worked for some time in related fields such as social work will be given preferred consideration. We will maintain some places for fresh school leavers with A levels or diplomas. While these applicants have no work experience, they must be able to demonstrate a strong interest in criminal and family law.

Q Besides academic qualifications, UniSIM will look for other attributes. What are these and how will you be able to tell if a student has them?

A One of the mandates of the UniSIM School of Law is to train lawyers with a heart for the community, and who will eventually practise primarily as criminal and family lawyers. Accordingly, we will give preference to applicants who have a fair amount of work experience in related fields such as social work, law enforcement, and the prison service. Other applicants who can show current involvement in community work connected with criminal and family law will also be given preferred consideration.

All applicants are required to undertake the Law National Aptitude Test (LNAT), a British admission test to assess the aptitude of candidates on the skills required for law. Students also have to provide a personal statement on aspirations.

Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed and attend a boot camp to assess their suitability for the rigorous demands of the programmes.

Q How will a UniSIM law education be different from law programmes at the other two local universities?

A The emphasis of UniSIM's law programmes will be on applied learning.

We will use a blended mode with classes conducted in the evenings and weekends as well as through e-learning. Students are expected to be engaged in self-directed learning via our learning materials and online platform, and come to class ready to participate in face-to-face discussions to augment what they have learnt. Our faculty will be drawn mainly from lawyers who have practised law for some time. Many of them will also have experience in training and teaching lawyers.

The curriculum has four components: preparatory courses, compulsory courses, electives and practice-oriented courses. There will be a concentration on criminal law and family law and less emphasis on some academic areas such as jurisprudence. To better prime our graduates, it will be compulsory for students to take relevant non-law subjects such as social services and forensic science.

In the final semester, as an integral part of their programme, both JD and LLB students will undergo a compulsory six-month Legal Clerkship Programme (LCP). The LCP is a differentiating feature of the UniSIM programmes in which students will be placed in real firms to learn and work alongside lawyers. Students will be expected to contribute meaningfully to support lawyers on actual cases by putting their knowledge to practice. The LCP is an important hands-on training programme to prepare students to be competent lawyers, and it is important students commit time to take advantage of and benefit from it.

Q It has been reported that UniSIM Law School will take in both fresh school leavers and mature students. Will the course be run full time for fresh school leavers and part time in the evenings for mature students? Or only as a part-time course?

A The UniSIM law programmes are full-load programmes with lectures delivered in the evenings and weekends, but with flexibility to enable various speeds of progression. This is applicable to all students.

Q I am in my mid-20s and have a BA degree. I am considering doing the JD programme offered by UniSIM Law School as I am interested in criminal law but my concern is if I will be pigeonholed into doing just that.

A The UniSIM programmes will produce full-fledged qualified law graduates. The programmes will cover the core subjects found in any equivalent three-year law degree in the United Kingdom, for example. UniSIM law graduates will be "qualified persons" under the Legal Profession Act, eligible to sit Part B of the Bar Examinations for admission into the legal profession in Singapore.

Once admitted as an advocate and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Singapore, a member of the Bar is free to practise in any area of law. However, the UniSIM School of Law seeks to admit students with a view to them practising criminal law and family law. Accordingly, we aim to admit such students through our admission requirements.

Q I am interested in switching to a career as a family lawyer, but I do worry if UniSIM Law School will be seen to be second rate compared to the NUS and SMU law schools as these take in top A-level students.

A We expect our graduates will be viewed favourably by the industry and society. UniSIM law graduates will have the same core body of knowledge of law as other law graduates. Having gone through our applied curriculum, our graduates will have the advantage of being able to "hit the ground running" when they enter the legal profession. Our graduates will have training in criminal law and family law, and will be attractive to practices needing such lawyers.

Q Will UniSIM law students be required to go through practical law courses to be admitted to the Bar? Or can they forgo that since the degree programmes at UniSIM Law School also include a six-month LCP?

A The LCP is a unique and compulsory component of the UniSIM law programmes. The six-month training contract is separate and a requirement for all law graduates seeking admission to the Singapore Bar. Further, all law graduates seeking to enter the legal profession in Singapore are required under the law to attend the courses comprised in and sit Part B of the Bar Examinations. This is run by the Singapore Institute of Legal Education.

Q Will UniSIM law grads need to hold at least a lower second degree to be permitted to qualify for legal practice in Singapore?

A Yes. In UniSIM, the degree equivalent to a lower second honours would be a 3.5 grade point average.

Q I had heard about how difficult it is for law undergrads to get training contracts with law firms. Will UniSIM students be able to get training contracts? If the going gets tough, will the school be able to help?

A Training contracts are typically a matter between a graduate and the law firm. Universities do not get involved with these contracts, and they are a matter for the market.

However, for the UniSIM LCP which is compulsory, we are looking to collaborate with relevant private and public sector agencies such as the Law Society and the Legal Aid Bureau as well as suitable and interested law firms, to provide our students the opportunity to work with practitioners and State Counsel on actual cases. Through the LCP, our students are also likely to be exposed to future employers.

Q It is well and good that UniSIM wants to take in mature students. But will law firms be willing to take into account their experience in their past jobs, say as a social worker, and pay them more when hiring them? Or will they pay them the same salaries as fresh law graduates?

A Remuneration is a matter for the market to determine. However, it is not uncommon for law firms to hire newly qualified lawyers who have relevant work experience, at slightly higher levels of remuneration.

No conversion course for external law degree holders

New law school at UniSIM won't offer course, despite earlier recommendation to do so
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 2 Apr 2016

A group of law graduates anticipating a conversion course that would allow them to become full-fledged lawyers here were left disappointed when told the course would not be offered after all.

It was earlier recommended that Singapore's third law school, at UniSIM, offer the course to those with external law degrees or law degrees from universities not on the list of approved overseas institutions here. The course was expected to take one to two years.

But UniSIM told The Straits Times last month that the law school, which opens next year, will not offer the course. It said it has received "a handful" of queries on the course since the law school was announced in February.

In 2013, the Fourth Committee on the Supply of Lawyers headed by then Judge of Appeal V.K. Rajah, now Attorney-General, had proposed that the course be provided at a new third law school.

The Government had welcomed the recommendations. Law Minister K. Shanmugam said in a 2013 Facebook post the third law school "will also offer conversion courses for those with external and non- scheduled degrees to qualify for admission to the Singapore Bar".

Legal counsel Jean Gan, 28, one of three people who had set up a Facebook page and petition in 2012 urging the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) to allow holders of external law degrees to gain admission to the Singapore Bar, said they are "disappointed and surprised".

There are 350 participants on the Facebook page, and the petition, which has since closed, has nearly 300 signatures. The other two organisers are legal manager Hannah Angsana, 27, and contracts manager Liyana Rahim, 27. The trio hold external law degrees from the University of London.

There will be just two courses at the new law school - the Juris Doctor (JD) programme for degree holders, and a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) course for A-level or diploma holders. The JD course takes three to six years, while the LLB programme takes four to six years.

But the petition organisers said the JD programme would take two to five years longer for them to be fully qualified as lawyers.

"The conversion course is the best way to efficiently address the shortage of community lawyers since a number of graduates are already in the community law field doing everything but advocacy," they said.

MinLaw told ST last month the UniSIM Law School Steering Committee had recommended that those with external or unscheduled law degrees seek admission to the Singapore Bar via the JD programme. It said this would avoid duplication of law programmes at the new school, while ensuring that only the most suitable applicants with prior degrees can gain admission to the Singapore Bar.

It added that a JD programme would ensure "high standards in mastery of our own local laws", given that "family and criminal law are largely domestic and that many aspects are specific to our jurisdiction and social context".

But the petition organisers said courses such as the Part A Bar Course, conducted by the Singapore Institute of Legal Education - a conversion course for overseas graduates from approved universities - "would have been the yardstick for one's knowledge and application of Singapore's laws".

Legal executive Sheryl Keith Nuqui, 26, who has a University of London law degree, wants to apply for the JD programme at UniSIM despite being "a little let down" about the lack of a conversion course. "Having said that, I'm actually quite happy for the opportunity to refresh my legal principles under the JD programme," she said.

* Offer of Juris Doctor route for external law degree holders

The UniSIM Law School (ULS) Steering Committee, which comprised broad representation from leading family and criminal law practitioners, the Singapore Institute of Legal Education, the Law Society of Singapore, the courts and law academics, had considered the recommendations of the Fourth Committee on the Supply of Lawyers ("No conversion course for external law degree holders"; last Saturday).

After careful deliberation, the ULS Steering Committee concluded that the most suitable pathway for graduates with an external or unscheduled law degree would, in fact, be through the Juris Doctor (JD) programme.

The ULS is a specialist law school, focused on producing lawyers specialising in family and criminal law. Its pedagogical approach is practice-oriented and multidisciplinary.

Many aspects of family and criminal law are unique to Singapore's domestic context. The JD programme would ensure high and consistent standards in mastery of our own local laws, regardless of the student's first degree.

It would also serve as a quality sieve by ensuring that only suitable applicants are able to gain admission to the Singapore Bar.

Finally, offering the JD route to external law degree holders would avoid duplication of law programmes offered by the ULS.

The ULS JD programme is shorter than the ULS undergraduate Bachelor of Laws programme.

In addition, ULS JD law graduates will qualify for admission to the Singapore Bar by the local route. This means that they will not need to spend a year completing Part A of the Bar Examinations and the relevant legal training which overseas law graduates need to go through.

Part B of the Bar Examinations and the practice training requirements applicable to all law graduates will continue to apply.

Praveen Randhawa (Ms)
Director, Corporate Communications
Ministry of Law
ST Forum, 5 Apr 2016

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