Ben Chester Cheong
How to Use your Law Degree to Pursue a Legal Career in Singapore
Name: Ben Chester Cheong
Home country: Singapore
Programme of study: Law LLB
Year of graduation: 2014
Place of work: Lecturer of Law, Singapore University of Social Sciences
Where do you currently live and work?
I am admitted as a Solicitor, England & Wales after completing all assessment stages of the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme, and I am also admitted as an Advocate & Solicitor, Singapore after completing and placing 3rd out of 664 candidates in the Singapore Bar Exams (known domestically as Part B). I am currently a full-time Lecturer of Law at Singapore University of Social Sciences and I am also an Of Counsel at a Singapore law firm. I was previously a Legal Associate in the Finance & Projects practice group at a US law firm, Baker McKenzie, for close to 2 years where I was based in the Singapore office.
Why did you choose to pursue this career?
Since my undergraduate days, I have harboured a strong desire to be a legal academic. I completed a Master of Law at Cambridge University immediately after I graduated with first class honours on my Bachelor of Laws at Exeter where I placed 2nd out of 241 candidates, and attained various academic achievements, including the Dean’s Commendation 2012/13, the Dean’s Commendation 2013/14, the highest mark for Commercial Law in 2013 and the Stones Prize for best LLB dissertation in 2014. My strong academic performance and coupled with my intense desire to nurture public-spirited future lawyers convinced me that I should do my part to contribute to legal education. In my current role, I enjoy using a range of technological tools in education to create interactive lessons to enhance the learning process for my students. See for instance an article I wrote on the Post Pandemic University platform.
Why did you choose to study at the University of Exeter?
Exeter is a highly conducive place for studying. The intellectual rigour of the course coupled with a strong academic reputation made my legal education exposure a highly satisfying one. The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2015 ranked Exeter 7th out of 123 universities. Exeter is also one of the best places to live in the UK. It is not only a safe and friendly environment, but the locals are extremely welcoming to international students. As a Christian, I attended Mint Methodist Church, along Fore Street, and the local community were highly supportive of international students from the university. I have fond memories of the kind hospitality extended to me. I am particularly grateful to Rev Andrew Sails who was the then pastor-in-charge of Mint Methodist Church for welcoming me into the church community and walking me through the process to be confirmed as a member of the church.
Why did you choose your particular degree subject?
Since high school, I have always harboured a desire to study law in England because it is the birthplace of the common law system. As a teenager, I revelled in reading John Grisham’s legal thriller novels. I also enjoy debates and I particularly like the fact that lawyers are highly eloquent and have a flair for persuasion. A law degree was a natural choice as I wanted to choose something that taught me the key foundational legal knowledge and was a qualifying degree to practice law in the UK and Singapore. The lectures and tutorials were particularly beneficial to my studies. I spent many hours in the Forum library and the copious range of legal physical and electronic resources made available to students were very helpful.
How did your degree help you prepare for the position you are in now?
The entire law degree and educational pedagogy, including the lecture and tutorial system, coupled with my strong academic performance, laid a robust legal foundation to prepare me for my current role. Perhaps one of the principal contribution to my current role, where I am required to prepare course syllabuses (including course guides and study units), conduct seminars and research on legal issues, would be the dissertation module I completed during my final year. This is a large piece of work which required highly analytical and advanced research skill with attention to detail, sophisticated and balanced creativity, a logical approach and presentation, and excellent communication. The entire process required perseverance, legal skill and time management, which has succoured me tremendously in my current role.
Please tell us about the application process for your graduate job, and how you prepared and/or managed this?
I have had the privilege of doing many different things early on in my career. After graduating from Cambridge University with a Master of Law, I trained at Shook Lin & Bok, a Singapore law firm. I applied for the training contract circa 1 month after I commenced my masters. It particularly helped that I was a first class graduate at Exeter and I achieved one of the top positions in my year. This helped to ensure that my applications were very competitive. I then moved to an international firm, Baker McKenzie, where I was a Practice Trainee and then an Associate in the Finance & Projects practice group for close to 2 years. I was heavily involved in equity and debt offerings and exchange listings, debt restructurings and liability management, and international banking and finance transactions. After a stint as a corporate lawyer, I moved on to become a law academic at the Singapore University of Social Sciences. Needless to say, it is important to do well in law school if one desires to pursue a legal academic career in the future.
What did you do at university that you think gave you a competitive advantage in the job market in your home-country?
In a highly competitive job market, doing well academically and continuing with postgraduate education at a top ranked institution is important. As alluded to earlier, I graduated with first class honours on my Bachelor of Laws at Exeter with several academic accolades. These academic achievements enabled me to study for a Master of Law at Cambridge University where I graduated with a first class in the International Commercial Litigation module. I also performed well in the Singapore Bar Exams (known domestically as Part B) and was placed on the Singapore Institute of Legal Education’s Commendation List for excellent performance. It is important to perform consistently well at all stages of the academic and bar professional training stages. Having said that, developing other aspects of lawyering is important as well, such as interning at law firms or courts, volunteering at community legal clinics and developing advocacy skills through mooting competitions.
What is your advice for any international student looking seeking a career in law to follow the same path as you?
I would suggest attending several career events with law firms that are organised by the law school for exposure. I remembered attending several career events at Exeter with magic circle and other law firms. Partners from the law firms advised us to do well in law school and to be well-prepared for the interviews. They also offered a presentation on interview skills. I thought it was particularly helpful that the firm had some of the partners who previously studied at Exeter to share their own unique experiences. Besides career events that I have attended, the law school also regularly invited ex-alumni as guest speakers to speak on their areas of expertise during the guest lectures and I found that particularly helpful as it provided an insight into the various career pathways and opportunities available to Exeter law students upon graduation.