In this Senior Lawyer feature, we interview Lee Ee Yang, Managing Director of Covenant Chambers LLC. Ee Yang has a broad-based practice that can be traced to his stint in one of the big four law firms in Singapore during his early years of practice. He adds value to both individual and corporate clients by applying his knowledge to solve complex and cross-border legal problems that span across different practice areas.
What made you choose to be a lawyer?
Lee Ee Yang: I was inspired by Korean dramas like Love at Harvard and also Hong Kong dramas like Ghetto Justice. Love at Harvard is about a justice-driven young law student who tried to win the heart of a young medical student (played by Kim Tae Hee). Ghetto Justice is about this passionate mid-career lawyer who was jaded with big firm practice and switched sides to act for the man on the street and the underdog.
After practicing law for many years, how do you keep yourself grounded amidst the workload you face?
Lee Ee Yang: My Christian faith gives me the strength to go the extra mile. Time with my family recharges me and I find rest in sports like soccer and golf as well.
What is your most significant/ impactful case?
Lee Ee Yang: This year, I acted for an elderly lady who ended up paying huge amounts of interest disguised as administrative fees to a licensed moneylender. She was told that if she couldn’t repay the principal, she will need to “renew” the loan. The loan was renewed almost 20 times and she ended up paying more than S$200,000 when the loan principal was only S$120,000. The licensed moneylender served her a statutory demand for another S$135,000 thereabouts.
I applied on her behalf to set aside the statutory demand. Our argument was that although the renewals were on record legal and compliant in form, it had in substance contravened the Moneylenders’ Rules. Although we did not receive a favourable judgment in the first instance, the outcome was reversed in our favour, upon appeal.
What is your most memorable case?
Lee Ee Yang: When I was a young lawyer working in one of the big 4 law firms, I received a brief from my partner. I was acting for an elderly gentleman who had no kids and was concerned that if he passes on before his mentally incapacitated wife, the HDB Flat that he owns together with his wife would go to her side of the family eventually when she passes away. As the client only added his wife as a joint tenant to the property when he was very sick from complications after surgery and facing imminent death, we had to find a way to revoke the gift.
After some extensive research, I tried to argue that the doctrine of donatio mortis causa applies, meaning that as my client had recovered from the complications he suffered from, the gift that was made in contemplation of imminent death, should be automatically revoked.
This case was particularly meaningful to me as it was the first time someone tried to apply this common law doctrine (which has its roots in Roman law) in Singapore and the judge allowed the novel application.
Do you have any regrets or something that you wished to do differently?
Lee Ee Yang: I would probably follow my childhood dreams of becoming a sports psychologist if I had not gone into the law. However, I have no regrets entering the legal fraternity as I find meaning and purpose in my work.
Any word of advice for younger lawyers and aspiring lawyers?
Lee Ee Yang: I think it is the season to be entrepreneurial because the advent of legal technology would have bridged certain gaps between the bigger and smaller law firms. There are alternative practice models outside the traditional model that could be more appealing to those who treasure more work-life balance. Don’t leave those alternatives unexplored and head straight for the exit!
Have you received any accolades that you are most proud of?
Lee Ee Yang: I had the privilege of receiving the Singapore Academy of Law Overseas Scholarship Award in 2015, where I was attached to Essex Court Chambers for 6 weeks in May-June 2015. It was a tremendous learning experience with established Queen’s Counsel in the United Kingdom.
What do you think about the future of lawyering?
Lee Ee Yang: I think lawyering is still very much personal in nature and so I am not too bothered by the “threat” of artificial intelligence to our profession. I do see work amongst the small to medium size firms (especially in the area of community law) as an increasingly emerging market due to more senior lawyers gradually retiring and the majority of young lawyers heading to the commercial litigation sphere. So there is that opportunity for young firms to increase their market share in that space.
If you were to compare the legal landscape in the past versus the present, what do you think has changed the most?
Lee Ee Yang: The irony is that even with the help of technology, the pace of practice has increased. I don’t think that’s healthy for the profession. Lawyers face a tremendous amount of stress daily and we are one of the top profession where members face mental health issues. I deliberately choose to practice in a small firm due to my commitments to family and church.
What are your thoughts on legal technology and how it will change the way the law is served?
Lee Ee Yang: Legal tech has and will continue to close the gap between bigger and smaller law firms.
Take Asia Law Network as an example. It leverages technology and works in partnership with lawyers to make it easier and affordable for clients to get legal help.
What motivates and drives you on a daily basis?
Lee Ee Yang: Our firm’s vision is to bring transformational justice to every legal need. That’s what keeps me going – knowing that my vocation serves a worthy cause/purpose and adds value to individuals and businesses.
Could you share one thing that resonates with you personally?
Lee Ee Yang: My faith teaches me to look out for the interests of the fatherless, the widow and the foreigner. I believe we, as lawyers, need to look out for the interests of the vulnerable.
Please share a bit more about your personal interests and passions outside lawyering?
Lee Ee Yang: Sports such as golf and soccer. I play for the Law Society’s golf and soccer (veterans) team.
Need legal advice?
If you are in need of legal advice, you may get a Quick Consult with Ee Yang for a transparent, flat fee and expect a call back within 1-2 days to get your questions answered.