SENIOR COUNSEL 2022: COMMON THREADS
SAL members Mr Tan Puay Boon SC (honoris causa), Ms Marina Chin SC and Ms Koh Swee Yen SC were unveiled as this year’s Senior Counsel appointees. The trio represent various segments of the legal profession: Mr Tan is a Legal Service Officer through and through, having spent some three decades in the Singapore Legal Service. He currently serves as the chair of the Competition Appeal Board and is only the fifth Senior Counsel (honoris causa) appointee to date. Members of the legal profession may be appointed Senior Counsel (honoris causa) to recognise their outstanding contribution to the development of the law. No application needs to be made.
Meanwhile, Ms Chin has cut her teeth in dispute resolution and is the founding partner of TKQP. She has also written extensively on litigation and arbitration. Ms Koh, the youngest of the three, is also a disputes lawyer and previously served as a Justices’ Law Clerk to Chief Justice Yong Pung How before joining WongPartnership in 2006.
Despite their unique career paths, today’s appointees have quite a lot in common. Scaling the heights of the legal profession has not dampened each of their enthusiasm to continue giving back. Ms Koh would like to tackle the profession’s attrition rate by mentoring younger peers more closely. It’s something that Law Society President Mr Adrian Tan highlighted in his OLY address too, noting that last year saw the greatest number of people leaving the profession than ever before.
Said Ms Koh, “(The attrition is) a worrying trend. I remember looking at Senior Counsel and senior judges and aspiring to be as good as them. I hope to serve as a source of inspiration for the next generation as well and reignite their passion for the law.” She adds that this shouldn’t be limited to younger practitioners, but also extended to law students through regular engagement.
For Ms Chin, it’s more specifically attrition among female lawyers. “I always keenly feel the loss of female lawyers who are capable of such good work but have to give it up for one reason or another. If it’s a personal choice, then it’s fine. But if it’s because you’re hampered by certain circumstances, then it can be unfortunate, because you can work around some circumstances. I hope to be a role model to my fellow female lawyers to stay the course if they can. Thankfully, the profession is no longer what it was when I first joined 30 years ago and I hope that this conversation continues. To be clear, we’re not asking for affirmative action for women; just for a more level playing field.”
When asked about the most memorable moments of their illustrious careers, the appointees also chose cases that touched people’s lives, rather than those that dealt with companies or corporations. Recalling his time on the Bench, Mr Tan said, “I spent many years in the State Courts and some time in the Supreme Court. Besides civil cases, I have also done family and criminal cases. Throughout all these years, I’m glad I have been able to help parties resolve their disputes and in some cases, bring closure to difficult chapters in people’s lives.”
Agreeing, Ms Chin said, “There’s a different kind of satisfaction when you help an individual. I remember helping a young lady who was being harassed. Being able to help her was very meaningful to me, even though it was a lot of work to do it quickly and urgently, because I have three daughters of my own. I imagined myself as the mother of the victim and that shook me to my core. Cases like that are the most meaningful to me.”
Ms Koh had a similar anecdote, recalling a murder trial she was assisting counsel on as part of the Legal Assistance Scheme for Capital Offences. “Having gone through the process: interview the accused in prison, look at the evidence … we were about to go to trial but at that point, the prosecution decided to reduce the charge to one of culpable homicide not amounting to murder. That was a special moment—it made me realise the mettle it takes to be a criminal lawyer. Don’t get me wrong, commercial lawyers put in a lot into their cases too … but I think that the outcome of a criminal trial, whatever it is, is going to impact you so much more.
Finally, they all share deep gratitude to their family and loved ones for being pillars of support throughout their careers. Concluded Mr Tan, “I’m here today thanks to the strong support of my wife throughout all the years of my career.”