Adrian Tan, the new president of the Law Society of Singapore, has called on the legal industry to modernize in order to staunch the flow of lawyers leaving the profession.

In his Opening of Legal Year 2022 address at Singapore’s Supreme Court on Jan. 10, Tan revealed that a record 538 lawyers left the profession last year, with junior lawyers making up the bulk of that number. This coincided with fewer new lawyers being called to the bar in 2021.

While the Great Resignation — a global trend that has seen employees leave in droves across various industries following the pandemic — may have contributed to the departures, Tan said even prior to 2020, young lawyers were complaining of burnout.

“It may be tougher to be a young lawyer now, than at any time in history. The hours are long, and clients are demanding. Thanks to technology, young lawyers are on call night and day… Many are exhausted,” he said.

Tan pointed to a generational divide bumping up against the demands of the profession and the immense expectations on lawyers.

While “boomers” had a chance to “grow into” their profession at a slower pace, their careers were also the central focus of their lives, said Tan, noting that many seniors describe themselves as “being married to the Law.”

“The 21st-century lawyers are different. They want to marry, not the law, but a human being,” Tan said.

While young lawyers work hard, they also want to have a life outside their profession, he said.

The legal industry globally has seen record turnover, despite drastic compensation hikes and reports of talent wars. A 2022 report by Georgetown Law and Thomson Reuters Institute suggested that compensation may not be enough for young lawyers, who may place higher priority on “intangible factors, such as feeling appreciated and recognized at work, as well as achieving better work/life balance and mental well-being."

Tan said it is possible for the industry to modernise to accommodate the next generation of lawyers, citing the rapid change law firms undertook as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and work from home requirements.

“By averting a Great Resignation, we may spark a Great Revival of the profession,” he said.