5 Things I Learnt From My Legal Attachment In London

The SAL Post-Qualification Overseas Attachment was an eye-opener for Danny Quah of Providence Law Asia LLC, showing him new ways of doing things. The 32-year-old shares five takeaways from his three-month stint at Fountain Court Chambers.

The author with Robin Barclay, a criminal lawyer. Mr Quah spent 2 weeks shadowing Mr Barclay, watching him and his team plan for, execute and finally achieve a significant victory at trial.

For written advocacy to work…

The higher the court, the simpler the submissions. QCs take great pains to ensure that their work:

  • is written in plain and simple English
  • has a meaningful and powerful introduction
  • provides sufficient but not overly lengthy context
  • are well sign-posted and logically ordered
  • clearly identifies the issues and the parties’ positions on them
  • are adequately referenced so that the judges can draw their own conclusions from the primary material if they disagree with the advocate’s submissions

The key was always to ensure that an uninformed reader could grasp the issues quickly and sieve through the often voluminous reference material in an efficient manner.

A keen eye for business development

Apart from doing the work well, I noticed that the barristers were keenly aware of the need to actively maintain business development initiatives to ensure a regular pipeline of good work. They keep relationships with their solicitors warm — by scheduling breakfast meetings, coffee catch ups, seminar meet ups and even hosting events. In one case, all it took for a QC to get a new piece of work was being nice to the opposing party’s junior solicitor! You truly never know where your next piece of work will come from.

Clerks? A peculiar profession

Over lunch with a clerk from Fountain Court Chambers, the author gained valuable insights into the profession.

Something peculiar to the English Bar is the existence of a parallel profession known as clerks. I had the chance to sit with the clerks for a day and had multiple chats with the clerking team to understand their roles better.

I came to understand that clerks are not mere support staff in the sense we understand in Singapore. They go beyond a mere support role by working together with the barristers in their professional development as well.

They undertake highly personalised business initiatives for their barristers, negotiate fees with clients and collect fees, manage their schedule and provide some litigation support. They also look out for their barristers and make sure they are doing well. It is a cross-disciplinary role that combines counsellor, marketer, paralegal and personal assistant into one. I found it very comforting that there was an in-built support structure for the barristers in the clerks, who took pride in their work as professionals of their own.

Pace yourself

As one barrister I met reminded me, the law is a long, long journey.

You start your career in your 20s and expect to let it run at least till 60. That’s a long time to make money, make your mark and still have a meaningful life outside the law.

Don’t rush it — enjoy the journey.

British people really enjoy Singaporean food

The author with his family towards the end of their three-month stint in London.

I had hoped to be a good ambassador for the young Singapore Bar and deepen my connection with and understanding of the English Bar during my time at Fountain Court Chambers. By the time I threw a Singapore-themed farewell party on the last day of my attachment, I had made many friends — from barristers and clerks to support staff as well.

But I can’t be sure that they were there for me — or for the food. We had quite the spread laid out: Old Chang Kee curry puffs, kaya toast, pineapple tarts, white coffee… the works, basically.

What surprised me the most was how much the Brits like teh halia (ginger milk tea).

I guess you learn something new every day.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Singapore Academy of Law.

Applications for the SAL Post-Qualification Overseas Attachment are now open. Click here to apply.

Introduced in 2011, the scheme offers attachments in leading London barristers’ chambers to young lawyers, to equip them with best practices in litigation and arbitration. Awardees spend up to 12 weeks on these attachments, during which they gain valuable international experience and exposure.