Reflections of Ex-Intern, Tan Su

Selling shoes at clearance prices to ‘aunties’ for a week felt like an eternity, so when I received an email from Sandra informing me that my internship at OTPLC was 2 months long I felt almost aghast at the prospect – what, a quarter of my blissfully long holiday cooped up in a tiny office space?
How wrong I was, though, to have felt that way; the two months passed in a blink of an eye (and no guys, I didn’t sleep).

Especially at the beginning I felt a certain pressure to perform because, well, I’m my dad’s daughter*. Later on, I also began to realise that being the intern after Xue Min meant that the benchmark had been set pretty high. I have, however, since learnt that I should stop creating additional pressure for myself. I experienced both moments of ‘high’ (when my effort had been appreciated), and ‘low’, (when I was patiently advised on how to do better), and while it sounds clichéd, I came to realise that we’re individuals with our own strengths and weaknesses, that I am worth my own character and that I should do my best in my own capacity, and not anyone else’s.

I think what I appreciated most about being at OTP was that I was given such a wide range of things to do, which meant that I was given a realistic view of life in a law firm. Even the jobs that seemed most menial – pagination, binding, photocopying or sending cheques to the bank – each were still new experiences that I could learn from. As Sandra would often wisely remind me, “it’s important you learn all this now, so that next time you’ll know what to do”. I’ve long had the issue of being slightly forgetful and careless when it comes to detail, and more than once I made a series of careless errors (such as forgetting to scan things in double-sided…on multiple occasions) that caused Sandra or Serene some inconvenience, and of course I promptly felt very guilty!

When it came to actual legal work, the learning curve was incredibly steep. There was so much to learn; what conveyancing was, how probates and wills worked, and of course what litigation was. I’m so glad to have been exposed to so many different cases. I remember first being passed the XXX cause papers file to read; I not only grappled with the swarm of new terms and never-before-seen documents (Writ of Summons, Statement of Claim, Defence and Counterclaim…wait, and there are amendments?) but also tried to wrap the story around my head, which was intriguing and rather sad. I had never known people argued in such a manner. It turned out that this case was to be my ‘pet case’ over the next two months, in which I was intimidatingly trusted with so much. I never expected any drafts I helped with to be used in their entirety, and, unsurprisingly, the end products were unrecognisable. However, given the freedom and challenge to sieve through a sea of folders and fit together a coherent story was an opportunity I am very grateful to have had. After watching the AEICs unfold throughout those few weeks, seeing the signed product was a satisfying end to my internship. Furthermore interacting with client and the other witnesses (albeit only as a minute-taker) is something I am especially glad I did, because it made the practice of law, from my perspective, a lot more personal.

In addition, though I do not know much about Practice Forte, being able to witness and play a small part in introducing PF’s mediation was such a refreshing and eye-opening experience. When looking at the stacks of documents that go into litigation, I often (naïvely) wondered why people couldn’t just try to sit down and talk it over. It had also occurred to me, when accompanying Susan on her Pro Bono session at AWARE, that the main advice she was able to give was to go see a lawyer, and that didn’t seem the most useful given that these women are often unable to afford one in the first place. I wondered if there were other things that could be offered to them, like a much cheaper divorce lawyer, though I knew that that may not be realistic. However, you guys seemed to be on the same page, and I really liked learning about what mediation was about. Also, seeing the sincerity of Susan, Mylene and Melissa in trying to create more options for the women who came to AWARE showed me that everything is worth a shot. Afterwards, the kopitiam chat session together with June also showed me that the law can really be used for such good causes which inspired me and made me think about what I would do in the future.
I’m not going to say that the internship won me over, for I was not completely sold on law by the time my internship had ended. I think that’s better, however, because it meant that my experience was not sugar-coated. While I suppose I still have doubts about practicing law, I still enjoyed experiencing the different aspects of being a lawyer (yes, including waiting for PTCs). The experience also exposed me to other less-conventional ways to apply law, which led to one huge takeaway; that the law is so applicable everywhere and that in turn leads to flexible options in the future. Ultimately, the two months still influenced me to accept my place at NUS law. I am excited but also rather scared to see what is in store for me, but in the meantime, as my path unfolds…I await my assignments.

Tan Su
*Father: Tan Soon Meng, lawyer with Ong Ying Ping Esq and ex-classmate of Susan Tay.
Awaiting Admission to NUS Law in Aug 2016.
Internship period Mar to Apr 2016