“I try to learn from everyone I encounter… When I observe someone do something great, I ask myself, how can I do that or be that as well?”
Celia Sia, a former lawyer at Rajah & Tann, left practice to join the Economic Development Board (EDB). She was subsequently seconded to the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) where she was the Programme Director of the Legal & IP Programme Office (LIPPO), a joint office set up by MinLaw and EDB. She later served as the inaugural Director of the Professional Services Programme Office (PSPO), an inter-agency office that was the successor of LIPPO. Celia is now EDB’s Director, Hub Services and is a member of the TechLaw.Fest Committee.
How did you come about reading law? (any particular instance where you felt you want to be a lawyer?)
As a child, I was often told that I was “precocious”, “clever to talk” and “should become a lawyer”. I think that was the polite way of saying that I was too opinionated or argumentative, talked too much and would fit in well with that annoying category of people known as lawyers.
I do not recall a particular instance where I decided that I wanted to be a lawyer, but as far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a litigation lawyer. I had always been attracted to the whole process of discovering the facts, piecing together a case theory and advocating a client’s case. I also found it very interesting to delve into the different businesses that my clients were involved in.
Why did you leave practice to join the public service?
That’s a very long story but I will give you a summarised account.
I enjoyed practice as a litigation lawyer. However, I had been feeling a little burnt out from practice and the firm that I was with was kind enough to allow me to go on no-pay leave to take a break. Let’s just say that it was what I considered Acts of God that led me to join the Economic Development Board. Anyone who is interested in hearing more is welcome to approach me during TechLaw.Fest 2019.
Why I remain with the public service is the sense of purpose – developing industries and creating good jobs in Singapore.
Who are some of the mentors/people you look up to and why?
I try to learn from everyone I encounter so I can’t identify specific individuals. When I observe someone do something great, I ask myself, how can I do that or be that as well? It could be anything from an act of bravery, to solving a difficult problem, or maybe just a simple act of kindness.
What are your thoughts on technology and how will it change the way the law is served?
Technology disrupts but also enables. Technology has been improving productivity by taking over or speeding up labour intensive processes and will continue to do so. There is far more value that legal services providers can extract from technology to develop new products, services and experiences for clients. We’ve only just scratched the surface. Come join us at TechLaw.Fest 2019 on 5 and 6 September 2019 where we will have discussions on both the “technology of law” (e.g. innovation journey dialogues where law firms and in-house legal departments will give the lowdown on their experiences) and also the “law of technology” (e.g. panel discussions on the legal, regulatory and governance issues related to data, smart contracts etc.).
If you were to compare the legal landscape in the past versus the present, what do you think has changed most and why?
The most obvious difference in the legal landscape is the emergence of new players such as legaltech companies and alternative legal services providers (ALSPs). Clients are always looking for the right balance of expertise, efficiency and cost for their particular needs. The legaltech companies and ALSPs offer different options, both directly to clients and also in partnership with or in support of law firms.
What skills do you think lawyers/ aspiring lawyers need to stay relevant in the future?
That may depend on how the role of lawyers vis-a-vis other legal services professionals evolves in the future. However, I believe that certain fundamentals will always be relevant – a good grasp of the law combined with strong communication, influencing, client management and analytical skills. In addition, lawyers will need to be adept in the use of technology tools – both existing ones and new ones that will arise in the future.
Could you share with us 3 fun facts about yourself?
I never know how to answer such questions as I don’t consider anything about myself particularly fun, and I don’t have any talents to humble brag about.
How about I tell you one weird thing about myself?
I have disliked the taste of durians for most of my life. (Yes, I am THAT Singaporean who doesn’t like durian.) Yet, I try eating it at least once a year to check if I might have acquired a taste for it. I recently discovered that I actually don’t mind some of the lesser known varieties (i.e. not Mao Shan Wang) which are more bitter and less creamy. Who knows, maybe I will eventually come round to liking durians.
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