Quitting law jobs for something 'risky': Young ex-lawyers on why they left the profession

Former lawyers Elias Tiong, 29, and Madeline Chan, 28, now run their own businesses.
Courtesy of Elias Tiong, Madeline Chan

SINGAPORE - Once a corporate lawyer at a large firm, he now finds greater fulfilment selling craft matcha.

Mr Elias Tiong, 29, the co-founder of Craft Tea Fox, entered law school in 2013 after doing well in his A levels.

"People around me then said studying law was a good option, offering flexibility and open doors," he said.

Graduating after four years, he went into training at a large law firm.

But it was after this training that he realised practice was not something he wanted to do for the rest of his life.

"To be clear, I didn't really dislike law itself," he said.

"But some aspects of corporate legal work felt less meaningful, and left me feeling like a paper-pusher. Part of me felt I wouldn't be able to find meaning in this work in the long run."

Mr Tiong co-founded Craft Tea Fox as a side hustle, building it slowly on weekends while he continued his day job as a lawyer.

But after about two years, he left the firm and decided to focus on his business full time.

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He told The Straits Times that his parents were initially worried, but have been supportive.

"No parent will tell you quit your law job for something so risky," he said.

"From our parents' perspective, it can be seen as a waste to study four years to get this degree and now you're not going to be a lawyer. It's risky and scary. But the risk is mine to bear, and it's normal to be scared."

He added that there have been challenges such as not having a fixed income every month, but it is something he is passionate about and happy pursuing.

The exodus of young lawyers like Mr Tiong from the legal practice here in recent years has raised concerns in the legal sector.

Law Society president Adrian Tan revealed earlier this month that a record number of 538 lawyers left the profession last year.

Of these, 310 were junior lawyers with less than five years of practice.

Mr Tan said the attrition rate would be studied, in an attempt to stem the departures.

One former lawyer said such departures may not be permanent if there is a door left open for lawyers to return after a few years of pursuing something else.

Ms Madeline Chan, 28, runs Mad Roaster, a coffee shop with a social aspect that helps refugees by commissioning and paying them for hand-coloured logos on their products.

She stopped practising law around the end of 2020 when she decided to start the business, which she says has been especially fulfilling even on challenging days.

"The firm I was at was very supportive, and has allowed myself and others to have part-time work arrangements to pursue other convictions," she said.

"And when the business got too busy to juggle with legal work, they also allowed me a no-pay leave arrangement so that at some point, I may go back if the business is more stable."

She said there could even be a benefit in having young lawyers who leave the legal practice but return after some time.

"Leaving helps with perspective, giving one greater appreciation for the law job itself," she said.

"If young lawyers are going out and starting businesses or social initiatives and stuff like that, they might end up coming back to law with a more nuanced understanding of it."

This article was first published in The Straits TimesPermission required for reproduction.