Speech by Second Minister for Law Edwin Tong SC at Wee Swee Teow LLP's 111th Anniversary Dinner
11 January 2023 Posted in [Speeches]
Mr Giam Chin Toon SC, Chairman of Wee Swee Teow LLP
Mr Lee Soo Chye, Managing Partner of Wee Swee Teow LLP
Mr Lucien Wong, the Honourable Attorney-General
Ladies and Gentlemen
- A very good evening to all of you.
- It is such a pleasure, a privilege, and indeed, an honour for me to be here, to join you in tonight’s celebration – 111th year of Wee Swee Teow LLP.
- As all of you know, it is not a typical milestone, which is typically celebrated in 10s or 50s or hundreds, or a fraction of that, like 25th and so on.
- But in many other respects, “111” is considered to be a very auspicious number in many cultures, and indeed, in many religions. It signifies a new beginning, and that things are going right in the right direction. It is also associated with abundance and good fortune.
- I wish Wee Swee Teow LLP all of that, as you embark on the next 111 years of presence in Singapore.
- What’s more, you have chosen the perfect day – the 11th of January, to celebrate this occasion.
Wee Swee Teow LLP’s Achievements
- Wee Swee Teow has a rich legacy, history and heritage in Singapore, and it has played a significant role in Singapore’s legal landscape.
- Chan & Swee Teow was the forerunner of Wee Swee Teow. It was founded by the late Mr Chan Sze Jin and Mr Wee Swee Teow in 1911.
- It was the first law firm to have an Asian name. It reflected, even at that point in time, its own roots, heritage, and indeed, confidence in its own name – as a firm that would bear its own Asian name, leaving its mark and legacy on Singapore’s legal landscape.
- Wee Swee Teow was then set up in 1912, after the two partners went their separate ways.
Over the years, the firm has produced some of the sharpest legal personalities that we know.
a) Mr Wee Swee Teow was one of the most notable and outstanding Asian lawyers of that era.
b) His son, Mr Wee Eng Lock, was one of the most distinguished conveyancers of his time.
c) And of course, Mr Wee Chong Jin – the first Asian Chief Justice of Singapore.
d) Mr Giam Chin Toon himself was amongst the first group of lawyers to be appointed Senior Counsel – the first original 12 Senior Counsel.
I would like to also give a shout out to Mr T.P.B. Menon.
a) Mr Menon is quiet and unassuming, but he is a legal giant.
b) I remember many years ago, when I was a young lawyer, I came up against Mr Menon in a trust case.
c) Mr Menon is described by former Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong, as “the most experienced property and trust lawyer in private practice”. And here I was – young lawyer wet behind the ears, up against Mr Menon in court. I was petrified.
d) But the moment I got into court, even before we stepped into chambers, he put me at ease. He did not let his experience or seniority overwhelm me.
e) As a young lawyer, I felt that, even though we were on opposite sides, this was something to be cherished, as part of something special in our fraternity. We had different objectives and different instructions. He was obviously how to win his case, and I was trying my hardest not to lose too badly!
f) But Mr Menon always had a kind word of advice, and that was what struck me for many, many years. I think that was something special, not just about what Mr Menon had done, but certainly in the rich history and cultural heritage of a firm like Wee Swee Teow. So, thank you very much, Mr Menon!
On top of producing the sharpest legal minds in Singapore, what is also very commendable is that many of them have stepped forward to serve in various capacities.
a) Many have served in public offices. Let me just give a few.
i. In Parliament (formerly known as the Legislative Council, or the Legislative Assembly), we had Mr Wee Swee Teow, who served multiple terms as a nominated member. There was also Mr George Noel Edward Oehlers, who served as Speaker of Parliament. And of course, today, we have Mr Raj Joshua Thomas, my erstwhile colleague when I was in practice.
ii. We also had lawyers who sat on government boards, tribunals, panels, committees, commissions, and councils – all ready to stand and answer the call of service to the country.
b) Many have also served in various capacities in educational institutions, professional bodies, non-profit and welfare organisations, clubs, and associations.
i. Mr Lee Soo Chye, for instance, presently serves on various non-profit and welfare organisations, both as a board member, and also lending his skills as a legal adviser.
- They have selflessly lent their time, energy, and legal expertise – done so generously when called upon – and I am very grateful to all of them for setting a sterling example for what it means to be a member of our noble profession, as Mr Giam says. I would say, not just noble, but the noblest profession.
Future for Wee Swee Teow LLP
- Moving forward, this rich history and legacy that Wee Swee Teow has given, is what we need in Singapore.
- We need a strong core of Singaporean lawyers, at the heart of Singapore law practices, which can support our economy, grow our economy, and grow with our economy and society; remain rooted to Singapore, vested in Singapore, wanting to serve Singapore and Singaporeans in good times, and particularly in bad; and help defend Singapore’s legal interest when the need arises. All of that is something that Singaporean lawyers can do best. My Ministry is committed to ensuring that Singapore’s legal landscape remains strong for Singapore law practices and Singapore lawyers, like many of you.
- We also need a strong core of Singapore lawyers, who can continue to fill our bar and our bench, go into academia and public service, lead our institutions, and serve in organisations. There is always a need for lawyers. Don’t let what others tell you outside detract you from that!
- I hope that the firm will continue to contribute to the development of our lawyers, our legal sector, our legal landscape, the broader economy as a whole, and the society at large.
- As the past and present Wee Swee Teow lawyers have shown, there is a lot that you can do individually and collectively.
- So, this evening, let me lend myself to the well wishes of the many to the firm. Wishing the firm every continued success and a bright future, and as the number “111” signifies, a future full of abundance and good fortune. And indeed, as the legacy of this firm has shown, to a future of dedicated continued good service to, not just the bar, but to Singapore and Singaporeans.
- Thank you very much once again for having me here this evening. Have a pleasant evening ahead.
Last updated on 11 January 2023