(Editor’s Note: While Mr Vijayendran’s message was addressed to lawyers and Law Society members, much of what he shares is applicable to all of us at our different workplaces and professional environments, which is why we are reproducing a lightly-edited version of his remarks here)
The chorus of an old country and western song in the 1970s first recorded by Glen Campbell goes:
“You’ve got to try a little kindness
Yes, show a little kindness
Just shine your light for everyone to see
And if you try a little kindness
Then you’ll overlook the blindness
Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets.”
Of course, we need to try more than a little kindness, but the point was well made in that ditty.
Closer to home, General Secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement, Dr William Wan (aka “Mr Kindness”), one of our brothers in law and elder statesmen at the Bar, profoundly quipped: “Doing an act of kindness, big or small, will change you from the inside.”
Three practical ways to show kindness at work
There are three practical ways we can show kindness at the Bar.
First, as civil litigation practitioners among us know, New Rules of Court come into force on Apr 1 2022. There will be some quick on the uptake. Others who will accelerate forward in mastery of the new civil procedure rules. Yet many may learn at a slower pace.
I encourage (Law Society) members to extend professional courtesy, mutual tolerance and understanding to one another should fellow practitioners commit errors, mistakes or lapses arising out of ignorance or misunderstandings of the new Rules of Court.
This is the spirit of kindness at work. Professional indulgence should be granted, to the extent reasonably possible unless to do so would imperil your duties to your client.
If you need a reason to do so in enlightened self-interest, there is no better place to trace back to than the Golden Rule – recognised in different ways in different faiths.
It also appears in one form or another in the writings of Plato, Aristotle and Seneca: “Do to others what you would have them do to you”.
And in its negative formulation: “Do not do to others what you would not like done to yourselves”.
Secondly, I was saddened to note that in recent times, there is a surge of complaints made by lawyers against other lawyers.
While there will always be egregious wrongs that need to be reported so that the Bar maintains consistently high ethical standards, some complaints that Council have seen border on the petty, stem from hostility and animosity and often emerge from an unfortunate spat between lawyers. In a few examples, I have discerned a disgraceful gamesmanship element.
Where there is too much heat, there is very little light.
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We have SC Mediate to help resolve genuine complaints between law firm and lawyers as well as between lawyers themselves.
My appeal to lawyers is let’s take a pause and step back, dispassionately look at the dispute or difference and ask ourselves if it is serious enough to merit escalation to formal complaint.
Please do not be trigger happy to fire away complaints to the Council with impunity without careful consideration and regard for those on the receiving end.
We do ourselves no favours if we make complaints and cross-complaints against each other. Grace and goodwill (not ill will) in such situations involve making a telephone call to the counterparty to proactively raise the offence and thrash out the issues.
The third reason to be kind is that an invisible enemy is at work in our midst even in our present stage and state of battle against Covid-19. This is the onslaught of mental unwellness.
If we believe we need to be kind to our own mind, let us also consider being kind to other minds.
Some of those struggles are not apparent or discernible when we Zoom in and out of meetings with other lawyers. As Singapore opens up in 2022, let’s prioritise reconnecting in person and also regularly check in with others around us on their mental wellness.
The power of empathy
There is a common thread connecting the three different situations I identified: Empathy.
A powerful imagery on empathy comes from the famous fictional quote from Atticus Finch explained so clearly to his daughter, Scout, in Harper Lee’s classic “To Kill a Mockingbird”: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
It is a truism that empathy and compassion are essential lawyering qualities.
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Yet it is an almost laughable to compartmentalize empathy to only our solicitor-client relationship and not to other relationships in the legal profession. That’s schizophrenic. It is also evidence of a disintegrated, not integrated, life.
Perhaps, this is another meaning of integrity as a quality of lawyers we need to reflect on. If we are not to lose our empathetic quotient as lawyers, it begins with how we relate to our fellow brother and sister in law. They too are in the service of law in this noble profession just as we are.
Leaving a legacy of kindness
In truth, as (creator of the Dilbert comic strip) Scott Adam reminds us:
“Remember, there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.”
So in my final message as Law Soc President, I appeal to you: Try a little kindness.
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In the final analysis, it is our kind and gracious words and acts rather than work accomplishments that define who we are as lawyers and how we will be remembered.
Kindness is the lasting legacy.
Gregory Vijayendran was Law Society President from 2017 to 2021. This article was first published in the Dec 2021 issue of the Singapore Law Gazette, the official publication of the Law Society of Singapore. Reproduced with permission.
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