#10QuestionswithMaxwell Interview Series: Delphine Loo Tan, The Law Society of Singapore
The team at Maxwell Chambers had the honour to sit down for an interview with Delphine Loo Tan, Chief Executive Officer of The Law Society of Singapore. 7 years ago, Delphine joined The Law Society of Singapore as the Director, Representation and Law Reform. She worked on a flexi-work basis for 2 to 3 years before switching to full-time and was later appointed the CEO of the organisation.
In this interview, she shared with us a leadership lesson she learnt that’s unique to being a female leader, advice to aspiring individuals who might want to pursue a legal profession, her favorite activity with her children and more.
Read her full interview below:
Q: Could you share with us your plans for The Law Society in the next 2-3 years?
A: Right now, we have some 6,000 members and most of them are practicing lawyers in the law firms. I’m hoping for a more inclusive Law Society where we can get more non-practitioner members onboard.
We’re hoping to make our membership more attractive to this group of members, most of whom are actually our ex-members. It is not compulsory under the law for them to remain our members when they move in-house. But they are definitely still able to contribute to the legal profession in some ways, to remain engaged with the rest of the membership. In the future if they actually move back to practice, it would make the transition seamless.
Q: Due to COVID-19, everything has moved online/virtual. With the shift from in-person to virtual, what type of activities has The Law Society done to engage your members?
A: CPD sessions and member engagement sessions (those with no CPD points) were shifted online. We attracted a larger number of attendees than pre-COVID in-person events, and from the Zoom chat, you can see that people are more willing to ask questions.
As we shift into the new norm, I guess we will see a mix of virtual and in-person events. I don’t think we will abandon the webinar model and just go back completely to in-person. Of course, partly because of the safe management measures, we won’t be able to accommodate so many people in the same physical space. However, on the other hand, it also allows us to be inclusive. For members who find travelling a hassle or are introverted, they enjoy very much just taking part in webinars rather than attending events in-person. So we really managed to capture a very different group that we weren’t able to engage so deeply with previously.
Q: Aside from moving your CPD events virtually, could you share another initiative that The Law Society has embarked on?
A: We have also stepped up a lot on virtual missions as we are running this internationalisation project, “Lawyers Go Global”. We have a virtual mission happening next Thursday with the Shanghai lawyers. It used to cost a lot and the overseas lawyers have to also suspend their practice for a while to come here for 2 or more weeks. Of course, the level of engagement and friendship formed are very different. Nonetheless, when we go virtual, we can at least have some initial interaction, and when there is some chemistry, you can take it further from there.
Q: Was there any particular individual(s) who inspired you to pick up this career path and why?
A: I have met so many inspiring people who have kept me going in times of self doubt. The Law Society’s former CEO – Ms Tan Su-Yin, gave me a lot of encouragement when she hired me on a part time basis. A lot of colleagues whom I work alongside are also inspiring for their dedication and humility. I came back to work when my youngest son turned 1 year old. Now, he has just turned 8 and I have been in The Law Society for 7 years. I have met so many inspiring people in these few years!
I would also like to mention that it is very inspiring for me that some Council and Committee members have shown much dedication, putting in so much effort for the profession. Sometimes, they will refer to the Law Society as “My Law Society” because they identify so closely with us.
Q: What made you want to practice law or choose the legal profession?
A: I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do at that time but I thought maybe I could do something that is more specialised. I actually seriously considered economics (which I didn’t eventually pursue). Now that I’m in management, I feel that broad-based knowledge like economics and business management is very helpful in any kind of job. I know the local law schools are trying very hard to move the study of law away from just purely academic and I think that’s great. When I was in university, it was done in a very academic kind of way, which was enjoyable at that point of time but it doesn’t really prepare you for working life.
Q: What’s a leadership lesson that you’ve learnt that’s unique to being a female leader?
A: People say you have to be very assertive as a female leader, like you shouldn’t do things like pour water for your guests etc. To a certain extent, it’s true that you should draw your boundaries. You should not let people step over you and you need to make that clear from the start. Yet I believe that you shouldn’t allow people’s expectations to change who you are.
It’s very sad that you lose certain positive innate qualities because you are in a position of leadership. I think that’s a shame because if the younger ones see you not doing these things or even doing negative things when you are in a leadership position, then you have really become a very bad role model. For example, it does not seem like a big deal to yell at others, until perhaps you become a parent and see your children turn into a reflection of yourself, with no self-control. Of course I don’t think there is anyone who has never lost self-control before. It’s whether the person feels sorry about it afterwards or feels justified about what he or she has done.
Q: Could you share 1 piece of advice to aspiring individuals who might want to pursue a legal profession?
A: First, you have to be adaptable. I think if you come from a place with humility, it’s easier to be adaptable because you don’t think that the world has to adapt to you; instead you have to adapt to the world. It sounds very cliché, but it’s true. If you keep on trying to fight against change, you will make yourself very miserable and no amount of knowledge that you have acquired in school is going to prepare you for the changing world.
The other thing is to be more open to gaining more multi-disciplinary sort-of knowledge. A lawyer is actually an advisor. People don’t meet a legal advisor for the sake of it, as a end in itself. They want to achieve a certain goal at the end of the day. Let’s say you are a community lawyer, you understand something about psychology or people, you acquire some counseling skills that will definitely help your client and make you a better lawyer. Or if you’re a corporate lawyer, you know something about business, that will help. Or even for corporate law, if you know something about litigation, it will help because you don’t know when the contract you draft might end up in the courts! (Well, of course we all hope it doesn’t happen!)
Q: What’s your favorite activity with your children or what do you like to do during the weekends with them?
A: I used to live in the town area with not much greenery, and if I had to go to a park, I would have to drive there and rent bicycles. Recently, I moved very close to West Coast Park. We bought some foldable bikes and now we can cycle straight to the park without having to drive there. So, it has just been great. It has only been a few months but I have been enjoying the novelty of it and happy to be outdoors. I was not an outdoor person before this, so the children are still learning to adjust because they didn’t grow up with a lot of outdoors time.
When I go to the park and see families gathering together, having barbecue, flying kites and enjoying themselves, I feel very inspired by them and it hits me that actually leisure can be very simple.
Q: Where is the first place you would want to go to when travel restrictions are lifted?
A: My kids really want to go to the UK as I have a very close friend who lives there and their children are about the same age as mine. They used to come here every 2 or 3 years but they haven’t been able to due to the COVID travel restrictions. So, we really missed them.
Now, it’s actually their summer break and they have been sending us photographs of the seaside where they have travelled to. As domestic travel is allowed in the UK and it’s such a big place, the impact of the travel restrictions on the Brits is probably less compared to us in Singapore. Of course, UK is very far away with a 14 hours flight. If we could go to a nearer place like New Zealand, I will also be very happy.
Q: Lastly, share with us your favourite corner(s) in Maxwell Chambers or Maxwell Chambers Suite!
A: I love the courtyard at Maxwell Chambers Suites. Even though it used to be the army barracks, it’s not cold and serious like you would imagine. Look at the amount of greenery here. Now that I don’t come back to office that often, whenever I am back, it’s something that I really appreciate!