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Former Milbank junior lawyer probed over ‘opportunistic’ COVID-19 mentoring site

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Singapore-based associate accused of targeting vulnerable TC hunters with costly online offering

A screenshot of the now defunct website

A junior associate who until this week worked in the Singapore office of US law firm Milbank has come under fire for allegedly taking advantage of the current uncertainty surrounding the legal profession due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The rookie is said to be one of ten biglaw brains behind the now defunct website lawmentors.sg. The “mentor network” stands accused of fear-mongering and overcharging vulnerable wannabe lawyers and junior associates for its services relating to training contract “placement” and “retention” during the public health pandemic. The site is being probed by the Singapore Law Society for its “speculative” and “unsubstantiated” operations.

“In the wake of COVID-19, work has largely dried up, and many firms have stopped hiring,” Lawmentors claims. “Enroll in our Placement Programme and our Rentention [sic] Programme today, to secure an associate position and safeguard your legal career.”

The site continued with some pretty dire claims, stating that legal billings had plunged by 60%, average associate utilisation stood at 40% and that invoice recovery had fallen by over 30%. It predicted that there will be as few as 150 jobs for 700 graduates in Singapore in 2020 due to hiring freezes and other austerity measures, and that two out of three law graduates will “never get the opportunity to practice as lawyers”. The website (screenshot above), which featured stock images of stressed-out professionals holding their heads in their hands, cautioned: “You are facing a brutal fight for career survival.”

A screenshot of the now defunct website

The junior associate and his team, who are unnamed but stated on the website to comprise over ten lawyers including partners and associates at the Big Four, White Shoe, magic and silver circle firms, offered to give their clients 100 hours of “hands-on coaching and practice”, via Zoom and Skype while the lockdown is in place, “to ensure that your supervisors will be impressed”.

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For this privilege Lawmentors charged associates a ballpark figure typically around one-and-a-half to two months of their first full-time paycheck. Given the sizeable salaries of some junior lawyers, as shown on our Firms Most List, this fee could equate to a fairly substantial four-figure sum.

Lawmentors also claimed to have access to a UK and US network that could assist in placing mentees into internships and training contracts, implying that it could bypass firms’ hiring process by “first recommending our mentees to hiring partners or by placing them directly into vacancies within our network firms”, continuing: “We then guarantee their retention by equipping them with the skills required to dazzle their hiring partners.”

The website further claimed mentees would be equipped with the skills to function at the level of a newly qualified (NQ) associate during a vacation scheme, and a 2PQE solicitor during a training contract.

“[I]t is inevitable that you will outshine all your fellow practice trainees and secure a training contract associate role,” the website promised. “Your hiring partner will be thrilled to acquire a low-cost, valuable resource who punches above his/her weight.”

The junior associate and his colleagues made the rather bold assertion that when NQs fail to secure jobs they become “disillusioned”, as evidenced by the 2008 global financial crisis, when “many became teachers, civil servants, re-trained or furthered their studies”. Some “tried again the following year, competing with their juniors and further exacerbating the labour glut”.

The website further cautioned against relying on “hope” or “luck” during “the devastating effects of a structurally shrinking legal market and COVID-19”. It’s “a bad idea”, the coaching platform cautioned. “Do not engage in a high-stakes gamble with your career.”

Legal Cheek understands things have gone from bad to worse for the junior associate, who, as of Wednesday, is no longer an associate at Milbank. The firm declined to comment. The Lawmentors website has since been pulled but is accessible from internet archives. Meanwhile, Above the Law, reports his firm email has recently been “disabled”.

Gregory Vijayendran, president of the Singapore Law Society, told the Business Times:

“We strongly caution parents and law graduates to be discerning about hungry wolves in sheep’s clothing who seek to prey financially on the vulnerability of law graduates. Such opportunistic operators and disservice providers will face the wrath of the Council of the Law Society and the Society’s right thinking members.”

The junior associate told the website no money had been taken before he pulled the site. “I meant it for interest gauging, but took it down after people said it was not right to take money from students who are just starting to look for jobs,” he said.

The junior associate did not respond to our requests for comment.

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