This has been a month of grieving for Secretariat staff as we come to terms with the loss of our beloved colleague, Ms Ambika Rajendram. She was with Secretariat for nearly nine years and headed the Conduct department with distinction. Not many of us can claim to have her EQ or wisdom in dealing with aggrieved members of the public or frustrated lawyers. When I first joined Secretariat, I had the good fortune of benefiting from her mentorship and advice as I transited from legal practice to Secretariat work. She refused to let illness rob her of joy, even till the last days. Her departure is still keenly felt by all of us at Secretariat, and I am sure by many of our members, even a month later.
Our Young Lawyers’ Committee held a Young Lawyers’ Lunch on 19 July. Members who attended had the opportunity to give feedback and ask President and Secretariat staff questions about the Law Society’s initiatives. The audience was particularly concerned about CPD matters and welfare issues such as workplace bullying.
Secretariat noted the feedback that some attractively-priced seminars and conferences particularly on topics of interest to members, such as the Future Lawyering Conference held on 20 and 21 July, were filled up very quickly and quite a few members failed to get a spot. We will work on getting larger conference spaces for some of these seminars and conferences, hopefully made easier if we acquire additional premises to expand our training facilities. We will also explore the use of technology such as video-conferencing so that we can scale up our capacity to provide training to more members at any one time. Do consider our e-learning platform so that you can chalk up some of your CPD requirements in the comfort of your own office or home at your convenience. The Future Lawyering Conference will be available on our e-learning platform.
On welfare issues, we sounded the audience out on the idea of a relational mentorship programme where senior lawyers could be matched with junior lawyers from other law firms to discuss welfare issues. The audience was receptive to the suggestion. Some of the lawyers also shared anecdotal stories of workplace bullying. This form of bullying may not always be physical, where it will often be obvious when the line that defines appropriate workplace conduct and civil behaviour is crossed. Workplace bullying may take the form of emotional and verbal abuse, such as social isolation or oppressive treatment from co-workers, setting unreasonable and non-negotiable deadlines and workloads by supervisors or public humiliation by shouting at a staff in front of other employees. Interestingly, my internet research tells me that the acceptability of workplace bullying is often dependent on social and cultural contexts. It appears that Asian countries were more likely to accept workplace bullying than Anglo, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa country clusters. If this is because of the respect and social standing Asian societies give to figures of authority, then it seems ironic that the respected persons should abuse this respect and trust by taking advantage of those under their authority.
The Ministry of Manpower has issued a “Tripartite Advisory on Managing Workplace Harassment” which is available at http://www.mom.gov.sg/~/media/mom/documents/employment-practices/guidelines/tripartite-advisory-on-managing-workplace-harassment.pdf?la=en. To foster a culture of civil and appropriate behavior in the law firms, it will be prudent to have employment guidelines governing the conduct of both partners and staff. A reporting line could be established to allow reporting of harassment cases so as to create a safe environment for reporting and ensuring that whistle-blowers will not be penalised. These measures empower affected employees to clarify and resolve potential misunderstandings before they intensify and send a clear signal to all individuals in the workplace that a culture of workplace bullying is not to be tolerated.
Staff also need to play a part in building a positive work environment. Sometimes managers are not aware that they are being unreasonable because their subordinates keep saying yes. Contrary to popular belief, asserting yourself does not have to involve abrasiveness and experts have advised victims of workplace bullying to focus on facts and stay away from making sweeping statements. “I” statements rather than “you” statements would be helpful – “I have three projects on my plate now and do not have the capacity to work on this fourth project” rather than “you are giving me way too much work”. It is also important to gather objective evidence of the offensive behaviour such as chat logs, e-mail records or witness accounts. Developing a strong social network at the workplace also helps victims deal with workplace bullying in the form of emotional support from colleagues and advice on how colleagues have dealt with similar situations effectively in the past.
If you need help to deal with such issues, the Law Society’s Members’ Assistance & Care Helpline (“MACH”) is just a call away. Members may call to speak confidentially to us at 6530 0213. Calls are generally accepted from 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday. Upon understanding the issue(s) you face and with your consent, we will help to refer you to the appropriate committee for advice/guidance or welfare scheme for assistance. If you prefer to e-mail us, you may also do so at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also find out more about other support schemes for Law Society members at https://www.lawsociety.org.sg/For-Lawyers/Services-for-Members/Membership-Benefits/Support-Schemes.
Last but not least, the Law Society’s wholly owned subsidiary, Law Society Pro Bono Services is organising the Just Jubilee fundraising carnival on 7 October 2017 from 3pm to 10pm at the NUS Bukit Timah Campus, Upper Quadrangle, as a triple celebration of the Law Society’s 50th anniversary, the Pro Bono Services Office’s 10th anniversary and the incorporation just this year of the Law Society Pro Bono Services. For more details, please visit www.justjubilee2017.com. We hope to see you there!
► Delphine Loo Tan
Chief Executive Officer
The Law Society of Singapore