I never thought that I would want to study law. I never considered applying for law school when I got my A-level results. I was always more interested in Economics and Mathematics. It was then a natural choice for me to major in Economics in my first degree in NUS. I did relatively fine throughout my initial schooling years and I would say that if I could turn back time, I would have done the exact same thing. Looking at numbers was something that I always found I could do decently well. Looking at past performances and making predictions of what the future might turn out to be. Then it dawned on me that what I’ve been doing is not too far off from looking at precedents in legal cases. I got to know really good lawyers. One of my companies had a matter and we hired an extremely capable lawyer who would eventually become a senior counsel. I became very good friends with his first associate when he started his own law firm and this good friend mooted the idea of me doing a second degree in law. I am now once again an undergraduate and I would like to share some thoughts with anyone who is looking to embark on a law degree with SUSS.
1) You must want to study law
I say this in the context of an applicant to the programme. There are about 280 people vying for about 70 places. When asked “what if you do not get in this year” during the interview, there were some who replied that they applied to other courses as well. If you thought about this well and hard, you would know that this should be the sole option that you are vying for. The few people who know that I applied to read law in SUSS asked me why I would want a change in what I do when I am doing fine. To me, this is a challenge and it is not too late at the age of 40 to finally make a decision to do something for a change. I’ve always been interested in community work and I would like to undergo the rigours of legal education to be able to solve problems better.
2) Don’t expect a full undergraduate experience
The course, and the university, was designed for working adults. So if you want to have extra-curricular activities, join the varsity team or stay in a university hall, then this is not it. A large proportion of the students are doing their Juris Doctor while working full time. This means that they already have a first degree and have jobs. Some, like myself, have a family to take care of. We are laser-focused on obtaining our law degree, clear the bar exams and get admitted to the bar to practice as lawyers.
3) Time is an extremely scarce commodity
I personally manage my company and I spend a lot of time at work. I start my day at 7 am and I usually end at about 7 pm and I volunteer on Tuesday evenings. I do not have time to spend doing the required readings on weekdays. Over the weekends, I have to carve out time to spend with my family. I love to exercise but I reduced my involvement in weekly football games and cut down the number of times I work out at the gym by about half. I believe many of my course mates are in similar predicaments. I spend about an hour every day before going to bed to catch up on school work. I try to catch up on sleep and readings on weekends.
4) Don’t waste your time if you don’t want to practice law
Since we are on the topic of time, a wise man once said, “no amount of money ever bought a second of time”. If it weren’t for Tony Stark, half of us would be still reduced to ashes so I think his words do mean something.
The reason for this course is to produce law practitioners. If you are looking for an intense discussion on jurisprudence, this will not be it. The course material is extremely focused on preparing its participants for practice.
5) Don’t waste your money if you don’t want to practice law
This is not cheap if you do not have a government subsidy. Personally, I’ve used my MOE grant on my first degree in NUS and I’ll be paying about $165,000 for my law degree in SUSS. Time should be the primary consideration but money comes in at a close second. I’ve personally made sacrifices but I believe that the money invested in my legal education will be worth it over time. I’ve had people come up to me and ask me what investments they should make in the equity or property markets. I’ve come to the realisation that investing in your own business or your own education are two of the finest investments you can make. I am extremely fortunate to have the finances to fund my second degree at full cost but I still think that it is a significant cost and it should be thought through carefully before application.
6) Leave your pride behind
I used to do decently well in my formative years in terms of grades in school. Law school has reduced me to feeling a sense of relief when I receive grades in the region of 60s over 100. At work, you may have people who report to you. You may have to make decisions that can cost large sums of money. You may be the decision-maker at work or at home but when you attend law school in SUSS, all that goes out of the window. There are individuals from all walks of life and we all start from the same starting point, the SUSS law school boot camp. No one cares how much money you’ve made or whether you’re the regional director of some multi-national corporation. When you start to learn how to think logically, you’ll look back at prior decisions that you’ve made over the course of your life and realise that you could have done much better.
7) The lecturers are extremely helpful (and qualified!)
It is one thing to be good at what you do as a lawyer but being able to communicate it to others is another kettle of fish. I had the extreme privilege to be tutored by the dean and vice dean of the law school during the boot camp. Our Dean, Professor Leslie Chew, is a Senior Counsel and our Vice-Dean, Professor Darren Koh is an extremely experienced tax lawyer. I cannot tell you the number of times where they reduced seemingly complex issues into something so elementary that all I could do was go, “what the heck?” At times heck was reduced to profanities. The more mind-blowing the solution, the more extreme the reaction was in my head.
I looked like this on a couple of occasions in class…
The lecturers are knowledgable and approachable. They are all invested in create practicing lawyers especially in the field of criminal and family law. We as students have to reciprocate their efforts. I do believe that if you put in the time and effort, guidance is always an email away.
8) Find your study and support group
Grades are not issued subject to the bell curve. There is no requirement for a certain number of As or Bs so your fellow coursemate doing better than you will not have a bearing on how you score. This is the beauty of the system in the law program in SUSS. NUS and SMU may be more experienced law schools. SMU is just over a decade old and it took time for the industry to accept that there was a second law school in the country. Past batches proved their mantle in the profession, performing well to pave the way for future batches. This is how law schools build their legacy over time. A judge, senior counsel or someone prominent as an alumni helps to build the reputation of the law school. I am currently the 4th batch of students from SUSS Law. It is up to us to work together, build better alliances, work together to become better at our studies and eventually make a name as practising lawyers. I have a study group of about 12 people. We keep each other updated when it comes to assignment deadlines and we debate and share ideas when it comes to our school work.
So are you still up for it, I can tell you that it will satisfy your quest for deeper knowledge and the rigours of law school is something that I am starting to enjoy. I hope I can keep my enthusiasm and energy going for all 4 years!