The Young Lawyer

As the representative body for young lawyers in Singapore, the Young Lawyers Committee (“YLC”) focuses on issues relevant to those new to legal practice. Stay tuned to this monthly column for useful tips and advice, features and updates on YLC’s social and professional events.

Amicus Agony

Dear Amicus Agony,
I have been working in private practice for about four years now, and although I truly love my job, I’m finding it harder and harder to focus and feel the same level of drive that I used to. Also, I’ve noticed that I’ve recently begun to get more and more scatterbrained or forgetful – in fact last week I very nearly got into trouble as I totally forgot I had to attend a client meeting until the last minute! Luckily I got there in time though, or else I would most certainly be surfing online jobsites as we speak. Am on the verge of booking myself in for a medical check up to see if I’ve come down with early onset memory loss? Or could it be that all these years worth of adrenalin and late nights (spent at work, not Zouk ... ok well, both) have finally gotten to me? This can’t be normal, can it?
Yours truly,
Forgetful Sally
Dear Sally,                                                                                                      
Ah, that feeling we all know so well – the hazy days turning into long sleepless nights, that rush of blood to your head, your heart beating very fast when you see her … and by her I mean your boss’ secretary chasing you for that affidavit you completely forgot about and was due yesterday. I’m afraid you’ve got the “dreaded burn”, an affliction that makes you want to stay in bed watching bad television and eat potato chips all day in your pyjamas.
Other than suggesting you get an organiser to jot down all those meetings and important deadlines (and any other key dates in order to avoid the other dreaded malady that comes with burnout: forgetting significant anniversaries), let’s take a look at how we can arrest the problem at its root.
1.   Know your limits – Try to schedule your time effectively and know how far and for how long you can work. Don’t stay up all night to do a piece of work and then come to work looking like you were partying all night – it will affect your standing with your boss, your peers and your clients, especially if you nod off during a meeting and jerk awake to find everyone staring at the drool on your shirt. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. The closing bible wasn’t written in one day. 
2.   Take a break when you can – Go for Bikram yoga or take a holiday – whatever it is, schedule some time for yourself. There’s always too much to do and too little time to do it, even if you’re at your desk 24/7. You need that mental recharge. I know it’s hard to tear yourself away from things, but set an out-of-office e-mail to remind everyone you’re away and delegate your tasks to someone else. Don’t forget to discuss the timing and duration of the long break with your partner before you take it!
3.   Know when to do it yourself, and when to delegate – are you saying “yes” too often? Let people know that sometimes, you have too much to do – I’m not saying you should push work away but you should consider what’s on your plate first. Be assertive and know when to say “no” – otherwise, you will find yourself burnt out, exhausted, stressed and snapping at the poor hapless tea lady who has come to refill your mug for you.
Having a break and a KitKat,
Amicus Agony
Dear Amicus Agony,
Ok, so I know this makes me sound really boring, but I studied Tax Law at university and liked it so much that it ended up being the only subject for which I got an A+. Upon graduating, I decided that a safe and fulfilling choice of career for me would be to specialise in tax once I started practice. Now comes the not-so-boring part: having done nothing but tax matters for three years now, I’ve come to the realisation that I never ever want to look at the Income Tax Act ever again. At the same time, I’ve been watching a lot of Mediacorp and TVB serials, and have decided I’m very interested in media and entertainment law. In fact, I’m pretty sure that being a lawyer to the stars is my new calling, but have concerns as to whether it is feasible to switch specialisations at this stage – I have no experience in anything other than tax and I’m not sure whether or how embarking on such a change would affect my career. What are the issues I should be thinking about in coming to my decision?
Yours faithfully,
Glory Seeker
Dear Glory,
I’m sure doing tax law will make you a lawyer to the stars as well – just think of all the celebrities who live in Monaco to avoid tax. Still I understand your worries about specialisation – so let’s go through some of the boons and banes of being specialised in a particular field so early in your career.
When you specialise early, you gain industry knowledge and tips and tricks of practice which will take ages for your peers to catch up on should they wish to enter the field as well. Specialisation makes the junior lawyer the master of law as well as business in his chosen field.
However, if you specialise too early, the danger is that you may not be mobile and flexible enough to adapt to a new practice area should the need arise. For example, if the firm is short-staffed and needs you to go for due diligence, but you tell them you’ve only ever gone to Court – you may find yourself being regarded in a not so favourable light by the Powers That Be.
While there’s nothing to stop you from being a lawyer to the stars at this point of time and going for galas as their guest, why not try to do a bit of everything? After all, at such an early stage of your career, you can do general legal work, but also focus more on certain kinds of law that you are interested in. As a junior lawyer, it is more important to gain experience and knowledge in many different fields and then later on, specialise when you’re of an older vintage. Build up your profile first – at this juncture, it’s perfectly fine to be a jack of all trades and a master of none.
People do shift around and make different career leaps within the practice of law – I know of fiery litigators who have become corporate law gurus, as well as sharp corporate lawyers who have become formidable advocates. Good luck!
Finger firmly in every pie,
Amicus Agony

Young lawyers, the solutions to your problems are now just an e-mail away! If you are having difficulties coping with the pressures of practice, need career advice or would like some perspective on personal matters in the workplace, the Young Lawyers Committee’s Amicus Agony is here for you. E-mail your problems to [email protected]   

The views expressed in “The Young Lawyer” and the “YLC’s Amicus Agony” column are the personal views and opinions of the author(s) in their individual capacity. They do not reflect the views and opinions of the Law Society of Singapore, the Young Lawyers Committee or the Singapore Law Gazette and are not sponsored or endorsed by them in any way. The views, opinions expressed and information contained do not amount to legal advice and the reader is solely responsible for any action taken in reliance of such view, opinion or information.