I Eat, Sleep and Breathe Integrity. As a Lawyer, I Have To.

You must have heard the news

Indeed, admittedly I am a little slow to the conversation and yet I feel a need to give my two cents. The story goes like this – one month ago, 11 lawyers made headlines in Singapore for cheating in their 2020 Bar examinations held online. They brazenly shared their answers through whatsapp, essentially participating in a group discussion that should never have happened. Their names are now in the papers. Alas, they will have a difficult time finding their way in this profession where integrity is worshiped for good reason.

We can agree to disagree

Did I expect such public interest and disdain? Not exactly. Rarely do we in this profession get such attention. Do I condone the actions of these young impressionable lawyers? Not in a million years. A person’s integrity cannot be traded for cheap. Such a compromise will always come back to bite you.

But do I agree with the decision to name them publicly? This is where I draw a line. You may be surprised but I stand with the minority who disagree with the public naming (and shaming). I am aware that this is a rather unpopular opinion but it is mine nonetheless.

Everybody needs a second chance

In my career of 15 years, if there were no room to try again, I may have been ousted prematurely. No doubt these 11 individuals have much to reflect on. They still have much to learn and their character leaves much to be desired. And yet, the weight of this public sanction may be too much to bear so early on in their budding professional journey.

Besides the burden of being “canceled” by peers, not to mention the crushing disappointment of loved ones, there is also the eternal blackmark pegged to their digital and physical names. Employers will naturally erect more barriers in the hiring process and some may have their careers brought to a standstill prematurely.c

Great lawyers make stupid mistakes too

Yes you read that right. No one is perfect and we all make mistakes. In fact, some of our stupidest mistakes actually help us become the best versions of ourselves. I dare attribute some of my humble success to my regular attendance at the “school of grand failures” early in my career.

So this is not exactly the end for them

If they take even this in stride, the rest of their story remains to be written. This bump in the road can actually be an awakening that leads to a necessary repositioning. Better now than when they make managing partners (imagine the stakes then).

Integrity is the bedrock of everything we do

The public knows this – in our profession, we are expected to not only obey the law but to uphold ethical, moral and professional standards that go above and beyond the law. This is why I eat, sleep and breathe integrity. As a lawyer, I have to. In fact, I have spent the last decade painstakingly building a firm where integrity is the backbone and trust is the currency of all the relationships we build.

My final thoughts

This is also why I steer clear of lawyers who only care about their own personal gains and use deliberate and dishonest strategies to get their way. You can do that too. But not just that. I hope you find the strength in you to also look kindly upon those who momentarily fail and are keen to get back up again. Like these 11 young lawyers and like the many others who do not make the headlines too.