Thursday, March 04, 2021

Failing your way to Fame - My speech at a Rotary meeting

Coming out with a Law degree and not getting into legal practice is not a badge of honour. 

In Singaporean society, there are basically three career options :

a) Doctor
b) Lawyer
c) Disgrace to the family 

Folks will challenge you if you study Law and decide to do something else with your life. I find particularly kuai lan are the Boomers with children who are lawyers - they think I am chickening out and love to ask whether my degree went to waste.  

So I was kind of surprised that the Rotary Club would invite me to speak to young Rotarians on pursuing alternate career paths for law students. In spite of one half of my family having proud Rotarian roots, I never developed any Rotarian ties, so giving a speech to the Rotary Club was a very novel experience for me. 

I had about 40 teenagers who probably scored really well for their A levels and the host's Linkedin profile displayed an intimidating array of H3 humanities subjects. More surprising to me is that session's main speaker was none other than Prof Tan Cheng Han who authored the company law textbook I used throughout my days in SMU. 

With a Senior Counsel as part of the panel, I realised that I'm not in a "Toastmasters Table Topics" session. Rotarians are a serious bunch of do-gooders who can muster quite a number of resources to assist their student members. 

So I delivered my speech which lasted about 15 minutes on these main topics.

a) My dishonourable intentions behind my law school application

I spoke candidly about legal departments and how they can ruin and slow down IT projects and why I felt a legal education, a reward for my financial independence, would allow me to fight back against my ignorance on contractual and compliance matters. 

b) The difference between theory and practice 

I gave glowing feedback on my days in SMU and showed why the law is an inter-disciplinary subject that appreciates input from multiple domains. Then I contrasted it with the primitive legal work practices that often involve reams of paper, verbatim note-taking, and the emotional burden of dealing with divorcing couples. I told students that going to a field that grabs the lions' share of GEP students is like bringing a knife to a gun-fight, and most of them will not end up remotely close to being a Harvey Specter of Suits. 

Finally, I said that there are parallels between the IT Sector in 2005 when CECA is signed and the current state of the legal industry that is coping with a surge in supply from overseas universities.

c) How to get out if the industry does not suit you

I said that law school is not a bad place to find out what your strengths are. My exam and research paper grades were mediocre but my investment training career was built from the idea that I rarely get below A for group work and class participation. 

Basically, I won't starve if I use my mouth and Powerpoint slides to earn a living. 

d) The resistance if you choose an alternative path

I spoke about resistance from family if they pursue a different path since parental investment must have been huge to get them into law school. In this section, I was deeply influenced by my readings on involution and why Confucian societies build mental risons for folks in all strata of society.

My only regret is not making a quip about lawyers becoming struggling artists. After all, the worst National Day song came from one.

Anyway, you can fail your way to become famous. I'm grateful to my pals who thought of me when they wanted to showcase possibly the least-lawyerly alumni from their JD program.

So what's next ?
  • On 10th March, I will be doing a special segment on the Graduate Employment Survey of 2020 with MissFITFI. This will be an unusual collaboration and I sense that she can be a rising star in the financial blogosphere. So uncle just want to be hip, ok? 
  • On 13th March Saturday afternoon, I will be conducting a community event to talk about how dividends investors can incorporate some marketing-timing DNA when building portfolios. It will be a fairly advanced talk for my students and really cool for intermediate TA investors. The link to book a slot for members of the public is here.
  • Finally, on 1st April, I will be recording the Seedly event and I have to contend with Cathie Woods and Jamus Lim as fellow speakers. It's the biggest event in Personal Finance and you'd probably don't need a link for that if you read my blog.



  1. Would have loved to listen to your speech. Must have been fun.
    P.S. I am a Rotarian too.

  2. It was fun not to talk about finance for once.