Asia Law Network has partnered with the Singapore Corporate Counsel Association (SCCA), a professional body that connects the Singapore in-house community, to bring a series of interviews featuring prominent in-house counsel.
In this interview, we feature Mr. Yeo Shi Yuan of BCS Information Systems Pte. Ltd (BCSIS). BCSIS was acquired by NETS in 2017 and they provide a suite of payment and clearing solutions. A former police constable, Shi Yuan now takes us through his current journey as an in-house counsel in various industries ranging from real estate, oil and gas to information technology or payment services and shares about his passion for fast cars.
What made you choose to be a lawyer and what drives you today?
I stumbled upon the topic of law accidentally one day. Out of curiosity, I had signed up for a preview program at Kemayan ATC, currently known as ITC School of Laws, at the invitation of a friend. After attending the program, I realized I was very interested in pursuing law. At that time, I was a regular with the Singapore Police Force and I went on to undertake the law degree concurrently. Fortunately, I had supportive supervisors who allowed me to take time off from time to time when I needed to focus on the academic requirements and demands of law school. After obtaining my bachelor’s degree, I was very determined and went on to complete my Master’s in law in 2004.
My decision to read law was also fueled by my natural inclination towards humanities subjects notwithstanding that I was a pure science student. In school, I had pursued subjects like geography, history and literature and performed well in these subjects. My sheer passion for the topic of law, my genuine interest in reading law reports, articles, books and drafting legal documents coupled with my desire to constantly upgrade myself are the main driving forces even up till today.
Why did you choose to go in-house and how was this experience different from the law firm environment?
In 2005, after spending 2 years with Yeo-Leong and Peh LLC, I decided to go in-house because I wanted to broaden my horizons. When I started my first in-house role, I could really see how the law and business spectrums interact. I had the opportunity to work with people from various departments ranging from sales, operations, engineering, finance, management etc. This is very different from a law firm, where my work was more individual-centric and did not involve much interaction with different departments. It mainly revolved around fulfilling client’s requirements and complying with the court processes.
Was the transition to in-house difficult?
Although it was a steep learning curve, it has been an enjoyable journey nevertheless. Having the right attitude is crucial. You must have the hunger to learn and push yourself out of your comfort zone. Ultimately, the same fundamental legal principles are being applied to matters in both environments. Personally, because of my prior experience as a regular officer with the Singapore Police Force, interviewing people, drafting legal documents and complying with court procedures made the transition easier for me.
What are the things that you had to learn when you went in-house?
I had to learn about the technicalities of the business and the industry I was in as well as how the legal team fits in to the grand scheme of things. On top of that, I also had to understand my superiors’ expectations and how they wanted the team to operate. Working styles differ from superior to superior and this vary from organization to organization whether it is a local set-up or a multi-national company. For me, it has always been my goal to support my bosses and see them succeed and the company grow.
Who are some of the best lawyers you’ve worked with and why?
During my time as an in-house counsel, I’ve been fortunate enough to have met a few notable mentors who genuinely wished to see me grow and succeed. I am a better lawyer today because of their guidance and teachings and I like to thank Ms. Cynthia Paul during my time at Equinix and Mr. Lyndon Rosenberg from Dril-Quip Inc. whom I had spent a great deal of time learning from him during my stint in Houston. Further, I would like to express my appreciation and gratitude to my ex bosses who had believed in me and guided me during my time with them and there are some who had continued to provide support even after I had left the respective organizations. These ex-bosses include Ms. Yolande Goh during my time at Equinix, Mr. Lam Chee On during my time with Surbana Corporation (now known as Surbana Jurong), Mr. James Webster and Mr. Joe Derrington during my time at Dril-Quip and Mr. Peder Brondmo during my time with FMC Technologies (now known as TechnipFMC). I would also like to thank my boss, Ms. Phyllis Yan and the management of NETS that I am able to participate in this interactive session with Asia Law Network.
Do you see the SCCA playing a similar role?
Ideally, it would be preferable for in-house lawyers to have somebody senior to guide and teach them during the initial phase as they transit from practice. The SCCA is playing a similar role through our mentorship programs. We aim to guide young lawyers and give them relevant advice.
As times change, mentors today might need to change their approach in order to attune to the working style of young lawyers and understand them more.
What skillsets or characteristics do you think are indispensable for lawyers?
There are a few qualities and skills which are essential for every lawyer.
Lawyers must possess certain soft skills and hard skills.
Generally, when clients or colleagues are being difficult, lawyers should strive to be calm and tolerant and we cannot afford to lose our cool.
Lawyers today must also have collaborative skills. Collaboration is often already in-built in larger organisations, but lawyers, especially in-house counsel must have the spirit of teamwork as they work with people from various departments within the organization. Having good working relationships with colleagues is crucial so that lawyers can be team players and provide better advice or solutions to the company.
As regards hard skills, every lawyer has been trained to be proficient in drafting and reviewing legal documents and addressing legal issues. This cannot be overlooked or over-emphasized.
Most challenging aspect of your current job?
A particularly challenging aspect is ensuring that everyone around you has a receptive mindset and that they are equally eager to learn and are able to adapt to changes. I am of the view that those in the legal profession can no longer think that they would be unaffected by global trends. We must all learn to evolve and keep pace with the businesses and the directions the industries are heading in.
What is the most complex legal issue you have faced?
I was once appointed a mediator in an internal conflict. The matter was quite serious in nature and the upper management of the company had to be involved. To make matters worse, I knew both the parties on a personal basis and it was quite a test for me. I had to remain unbiased and not let my emotions get the better of me. During the entire process, I had to restrict my communications with both the parties to maintain credibility and impartiality. Although, I’ve been put in some tough spots over the course of my career, I’ve been fortunate enough to not have faced anything as such in this workplace.
What types of matters require you to seek outside counsel?
If we think that the matter at hand has potential of being litigated in court or if a claim is being brought to our attention, we will consider seeking external counsel subject to review of the subject matter together with the involvement of the management of the organization. I have been exposed to cases which have gone to litigation, arbitration and mediation. In some of these cases, we have to manage the external counsels, our bosses (because of the time and cost incurred) and the cultural and language barriers where the subject matter is being handled in the relevant jurisdiction.
What are the common misconceptions about being in-house?
A very common misconception that people have about in-house counsels is that we have a lighter workload and shorter working hours than practising lawyers. However, this is not always the case. It also really varies from industry to industry. When I was in the oil and gas industry for instance, I barely slept four or five hours in a day and spent a lot of time working in office or from home.
To give you a brief overview of the oil production processes, there are firstly two types of oil rigs, developmental and production. Developmental rigs are strategically created in areas where there is potential for oil whereas production rigs will definitely yield oil and it is only a matter of processing. Hence, we have to be extremely sensitive to the time factor when the first drop of oil has to be extracted from a production rig. Before this can happen, lawyers play an important role in working with internal stakeholders to review the contracts, negotiate the issues with the clients and close out the outstanding matters within a specific time frame. Due to these tight timelines, I have experience in being deployed at clients’ overseas offices and working overtime for days and over the weekends frequently to support the businesses. Notwithstanding this, it has been a wonderful and memorable journey for me.
What area would become significant in the payment or fintech industry?
At BCSIS, I have been working on matters relating to payment software and blockchain products and outsourcing services for financial institutions such as the banks. I am also thankful to have opportunities to work on projects at NETS from time to time and I am learning a lot of new things from colleagues of various departments. I am of the view that data related issues will be very significant in the future. There are many possibilities to the types of issues in which they may arise. Additionally, lawyers will have to juggle with concepts like blockchains, big data, etc. and issues relating to business models in the digital environment, applying legal principles to these matters and deriving viable business solutions.
Fun facts about you?
Not many people might know this about me, I like fast cars. I have a few friends who are car enthusiasts and we enjoy the thrill of running down the rubbers and brakes of our stock cars and testing their boundaries in the circuits from time to time. Most of these friends are working in the automotive industry (not workshops) and over the years, we have experienced and built a wealth of car knowledge such as WRC wheels, Big Brake Kits, IHE enhancements, Sachs or Ohlin suspensions, piggybacks, customized tuning etc. that we used to try on our vehicles in the past and that we still engage ourselves in various discussions whenever we meet.
Another lesser known fact about me is that I like spending quality time with myself. I visit quiet places to enjoy a beverage or some fine wine and spend some time alone by myself. This helps me to shut out all the noise and take a breather before I return to the hustle and bustle again. In today’s day and age, this is a rare habit because everyone is occupied with various commitments and the constant exposure to smart devices like our phones and electronic devices.
This article does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any matter discussed and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and practice in this area. If you require any advice or information, please speak to practicing lawyer in your jurisdiction. No individual who is a member, partner, shareholder or consultant of, in or to any constituent part of Interstellar Group Pte. Ltd. accepts or assumes responsibility, or has any liability, to any person in respect of this article.