Friday, April 21, 2017

My JD aftermath #1 : Was it worth it ?

Ok, I've got sometime to blog before I head to Bangkok over the weekend for some serious shopping and eating.

A couple of days after my last paper, some headhunters have started talking to me and I had a serious chance to ask myself what would be my desired price tag to postpone my legal ambitions. I have since calculated a number and have gotten back to them and they still seem interested.

So drastic changes might be afoot.

It might be a good time to reflect upon the past 3 years.

a) General message for aspiring JDs - Don't do it.

First of all, most professionals looking for legal conversion are probably doing it out of pragmatism so I don't expect most JD aspirants to be financially independent and studying for a degree out of sheer vanity like myself.

Anyway, I caught up with some class-mates last night and we all agreed that our decision to take the SMU JD was not rational in hindsight. None of us would recommend this course to others for now.

I will elaborate further...

b) The headwinds in the legal sector may become persistent.

The largest negative is actually out of SMU's control.

We have no idea how long the legal industry would face this situation of oversupply as families send their kids overseas to get a law degree from an English university. Local graduates have a reason to be angry and disgruntled because these foreign graduates are mostly not from the Oxbridge elite universities and probably never had to do community service to graduate. Also a First Class in a UK University is 70%. In SMU, this nets you a B grade.

Even if the government has tightened the overseas universities that can be accepted into the Bar, the legal industry is also facing a lot of disruption from better search tools and use of AI to reduce the workload of associate lawyers. I think companies are also wizening up and will be looking at cheaper forms of dispute resolution like mediation and arbitration in the future. Collectively, this will hurt law firm revenues over time.

This will be the primary reason why many of classmates regret making this life decision.

If they do not get retained after their training contracts, what would have been the point of the past three years ?

Speaking of which...

c) Three years is a long time.

Three years is simply too long for a postgraduate qualification because the opportunity costs is too high. More importantly,  it is harder to foresee industrial trends beyond a year or two. Had an engineer in my similar situation were to decide to spend 1 1/2 years to become a data scientist, there is sufficient reason to believe that the tide would not turn against data science so soon when he graduates.

Ditto for MBAs because the INSEAD MBA is so short, you can target an industry and move in after graduation with a much lower risk.

Perhaps the JD should be retooled into a 7 year part-time program. This would make more sense to me. Prior to transitioning into legal work, we can remain gainfully employed be roped into working with legal departments to resolve sticky corporate law issues.

d) Some facets of JD life are completely unnecessary.

Overall, the course was, for me, a positive experience. But there are persistent negatives faced by generations of JD students.

I cannot think of another postgraduate qualification which has a pro-bono requirements which has been enforced in such a stringent manner. Me and my classmates have expended a lot of energy to get this aspect of our course done right.

Finally, group projects which should have been designed to get people to work together and build camaraderie has been turned into a process to make people from the same teams really hate each other. As it stands I'm not even sure if we will ever have a full class outing again as we've factionalised so badly over the past three years.

Of course, my personal experience for the past 3 year may be a result of changing trends in adult education in Singapore. This has stopped becoming a joke and anyone who wants to maintain a decent career trajectory would have to keep finding ways to pick up more skills. Skills upgrading, similarly, would need to become more modularised so that students would not enter an industry which has been disrupted too drastically after investing years in a qualification.

In the future, a law degree has to stop being a licence to someone to work in a highly protected industry. Instead, some of us may have to find ways to monetise our legal thinking skills within other industries in Singapore.

Anyway, I am off to Bangkok.

Next week : I will talk about the people I met in SMU and it will be FUN! FUN! FUN!


  1. Pardon me, what is JD?

  2. JD stands for Juris Doctor, a post graduate law degree

  3. Nice to know you read my blog, Sampson !

    One day I may have to make a submission to you !

  4. Hi Christopher
    Thanks for your sharing. Currently, I'm particularly interested in your experience at SMU. My daughter is currently deliberating over her choice among the offers from NTU, NUS & SMU. Could you enlighten on "group projects ... turned into a process to make people from the same teams really hate each other"?
    Thanks in advance.


  5. Derrick,

    Your daughter will do fine. My next few blog posts will elaborate on the various characters someone will meet in the JD programme.