Reflections from an Intern to an Associate

It’s been 3 years since I conducted an interview with Ms Susan Tay on practice, pupilage (or TCs), and pro bono. Since then, I’ve joined OTP Law Corporation as a trainee and now, an associate. This interview looks at the changes since then and our reflections.

On training

EK: OTP Law Corporation went from having 1 trainee last year to having 3 this year. What was one lesson (or two) that you’ve learnt from having to mentor 3 trainees at one go?

ST: I think it is like having 1 child as opposed to 3? Splitting my time with 3 and then 3 very different personalities did mean some compromises. There were less focused one on one conversations; even lesser conversations about life, love and the universe.

But having 3 who then have each other, also meant that I can leave them to support each other more. I like that bit very much.

Mentoring, training and supervising a trainee into a lawyer who shares the firm’s vision of client care, professionalism and professional standards requires time, patience and loads of explanations.

I have a short fuse and year after year, I have the same resolution to lengthen that fuse. The lovely thing about my experience with the 3 trainees is that I have learnt to let my short fuse go away faster.

ST: How would you sum up your experience with us as a trainee?

EK: The best part about OTP Law Corporation are the working hours (leaving beyond 7pm is unheard of unless there’s something urgent/ important to handle) and colleagues (friendly and capable paralegals and senior, along with great fellow trainees).

In terms of work, I mainly get to do what I’m interested in: family law. I also get to try my hands at other areas of work (civil, corporate) after expressing interest. The learning curve in how best to respond to clients or figuring out the next step can be steep, but it’s also part and parcel of training/ practice. 

EK: The last time we spoke about TCs, you mentioned your 2 cents on how to get them. Let’s talk about advice you’d give to trainees.

For me, it’s that work isn’t just about meeting expectations, but also how you communicate and work with colleagues and bosses. My advice is to cultivate and maintain these relationships.

Another thing I’d say (something understandable in theory versus in practice) is that failure and mistakes are part of the training. Not that mistakes are excusable, don’t be intimidated by not being good at what you’ve been assigned. That can prevent you from trying their best and learning as you go. If you’re fortunate, you’ll also have great seniors/ colleagues that you can turn to for advice or feedback whenever you’re stuck.

What advice would you give to those going through their TC/ internship?

ST: Emelia, one thing that has worked really well between us is the one to one, candid conversations we have with each other. So advice no. 1, the harder things are for you, the more we must try and communicate and understand. Sometimes, the sad thing is the fit is just not right (nicer way to say this person or place or job is not for me) but very often you will find that a good HTH (heart to heart) may be key to understanding expectations and what is still found wanting.

Remember that your boss or senior has been doing this a lot longer than you have, you will therefore definitely fall short in terms of experience and knowledge. So trust that the bosses know that’s part of the deal when they decide to train a new lawyer.

On the other hand, there is always room to improve for everyone, even the bosses. I have been learning to try lengthening my fuse for the past 30 odd years. Still baby steps.

Now how then do we communicate with each other on expectations and how else we can improve?

For any communications to be effective, there must also be respect.

Some of the toughest times during training may be when your bosses/ seniors “tell you off” for something you have done or you felt you were given the “cold shoulder” or you were made to feel like you are not good enough. Many times, these may just be your perceptions. Ask. What do you feel are my strengths after you ask what are my weaknesses?

Every other generation feel the next generation is softer or weaker. For me, it’s just a case of not communicating enough.

On being a practitioner

ST: What difference has there been between being a trainee and an associate?

EK: For me, the main difference is surprisingly administrative – I actually sign off documents now and can (obviously) be held accountable for them. It really forces you to take more ownership (maybe 120% over the 100% from before) and make sure what you’re doing is sound.

Being able to attend PTCs and hearings alone is a frightening but welcome change. Everyone needs the chance to do these things to fully come into their own as an associate so… as much as it makes me nervous (for now), I’m glad to do them.

Otherwise, I’d say that there isn’t much of a difference yet. I was already heavily involved in the research and drafting process of work, as well as learning how best to handle clients during training.

On OTP Law Corporation

EK: One of the interesting things about OTP Law Corporation is that there’s always a new project on the horizon (e.g. Project Mediate, PF Restructure, Relocation). What was the inspiration behind these projects, and what more can we expect in the near future?

ST: OTP Law Corporation prides itself always on being creative. We also like doing things differently (without compromising the Firm’s vision of course)

If I may say this, all 3 directors, in particular, Mylene, are creative. One past time we all share is throwing “harebrained schemes” at each other. The crazier, the funnier, the better. But beneath all that is our sincere belief to do better for clients, that many of the people who need our help really deserve better.

Also, being part of an advisory with so many different professionals and as many different ideas and expertise, enriches our initiatives and projects.

We don’t think the current way legal services are rendered is in any way close to the best way. So together with the affiliates in their respective industries (e.g. mental health/ financial/ business), we want to keep coming up with projects/ programmes to help resolve issues, preserve rights, keep relationships. These projects/ programmes are rolled out only after hundreds of conversations we have with each other, with clients, with colleagues, with you young lawyers, families and friends.

The other thing is OTP Law Corporation’s founders were just in our 20s when we started the firm; that verve and personality we brought to the firm when we were that young never really went away. Of course, we have our knocks and after that we went into hiatus and maybe did a little crying (ok, a lot of crying) but we almost always bounced back. By the way, that’s why having young lawyers in OTP Law Corporation is something we take very seriously. I think people underestimate the resilience of the youth.

That energy combined with the wisdom and knowledge acquired after so many years of practice and dealing with so many cases, plus that burning belief that we can do better for clients gave us the insights required when PracticeForte and us designed the projects/ programmes.

EK: What have been the highlights of being part of this Advisory (besides the great parties)?

ST: Definitely the fact that unity is strength. It is like we are part of a big set up but yet with the nimble of the small. So many different professionals coming together lend so much more depth to the level of services we can provide to client. We can truly say we are cross functional.

I really love and believe in the twin pillar focus of the advisory, of Building Peace, Building Expertise (which you can read more about here.

AND DEFINITELY THE PARTIES 🙂

EK: For me it’s been the different workshops we have, where we hear different perspectives on the same issue. Take divorce and adultery – I think the legal process is pretty standard. But hearing from counsellors (Mr Lai Mun Loon) and private investigators (PrivateEye) on their role in such cases was enlightening. While this is fact dependent, I find myself considering more carefully the impact divorce has on parties and their children as individuals versus simply what their legal rights are.

Plus, the other attendees are the different affiliates as well, which makes for great discussions with their perspectives/ knowledge. [Note: I’m not trying to hardsell PracticeForte here but as most affiliates are also friends, the discussion can get quite candid and lively]

With that, I think we have come to the end of this interview. Until next time! Thank you Susan.

ST: Thank you Emelia. Now back to work!