Tucked in a small corner of Raffles Place, Attorneys Inc serves people from all walks of life.
Asia Law Network sat down with Simon Tan, Managing Director of Attorneys Inc Limited Law Corporation, who shared his aspirations for the company and drew us closer to the heart of lawyering.
Simon was called to the Singapore Bar as an Advocate and Solicitor in 1990 and started work as a shipping and general litigation lawyer in Godwin & Co. He then joined Allen & Gledhill (as it was then known) where he practiced for 6 years as a commercial litigation lawyer. In 2003, Simon co-founded Attorneys Inc. LLC.
We are grateful to be able to meet you today Simon, could you share with us what made you choose to be a lawyer and what drives you today?
When I was young, I was not particularly gifted in Mathematics and Science as the hard sciences frightened me. I needed a career that allowed me a certain bandwidth of expression without having to be either right or wrong. Lawyering was at that time, the best option. Law is based on logic, analysis and a clear understanding of facts. It is dependent on the level of persuasion and eloquence you possess. I enjoy the level of free play and latitude permitted in developing my arguments with a view to persuading an independent arbiter.
You are also exposed and subjected to different variables when fighting a case. It is the challenge of being able to treat each case as a project to achieve an outcome that pleases clients while not losing sight of the twin tenets of justice and fairness. Contrary to popular belief, if the law is all black and white, there will not be any room for interpretation or ingenuity in how you put forth your arguments.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
I think the most challenging aspect is in dealing with clients on a daily basis and in getting clients to use your services. Marketing is not my forte. Most clients choose lawyers based on the price, as they are generally price-sensitive. A small difference in fees can cause a seismic shift in a potential client’s decision to use you. In the main, unless you are recognised as being the best in a particular field of work, the decision to use any lawyer ultimately is driven by market forces. However, if a client values your expertise and recognises your ability and skill in presenting his or her case, price becomes less of a factor. Soft skills such as empathy and compassion are very important in being an approachable lawyer.
What is the most significant case you have worked on?
One of the hardest cases was a defamation lawsuit that took 3 years to conclude. All the facts were heavily stacked against our client. Yet, we won the case on appeal. This case took an emotional toll on all the lawyers, and even our interns, as it went all the way to the Court of Appeal. I recall that the damages sought were not for a large sum. However, it was extremely satisfying when you see the case through and conclude with a favourable outcome for your client. The most important thing is for the client to trust and continue to trust you despite the overwhelming odds.
In fact, one of the interns who helped with the case became our associate. To be honest, the amount of work that is often invested in a case is usually disproportionate to the remuneration for the work done. At the end of the day, it is about vindicating your client’s trust in you.
Litigation, which is my field of work, can yield a plethora of outcomes from the one set of facts. As each case has its own microcosm of facts, lawyers, as skilled advocates, would have to use their best skills at the right time and with the right vigour and finesse in order to persuade a judge.
I recall another case when a lady was charged for importing counterfeit goods. While the facts suggested that she should be jailed based on precedents, the prosecution withdrew its appeal at the last minute after considering our written submissions and mitigation plea. In my view, the law is intended to do what is fair. However, it is important for every client to know that the outcome would depend on how diligent the lawyer is and whether he or she has the requisite finesse and skill in presenting the facts that best favour the client.
What do you think about the future of lawyering?
With the advent of technology and innovation, it is inevitable that lawyers will have to embrace these changes to the way they practice. It is important for the older lawyers to be updated and willing to upgrade themselves in response to these technologies as an impetus for growth and efficiency. It is time for older lawyers to learn from the younger ones in areas such as social media marketing and outreach.
What legal issue or area do you think will become more significant in the future?
We have seen a significant increase in family-related disputes over inheritance and legacies in light of our ageing population. Poorly drafted wills and testamentary dispositions will be brought to sharp focus in the years to come as people rely on simple wills to handle and cater for their complex family situations when they have passed on. As our population ages rapidly, there will be disputes over who has the right to make decisions for those mentally impaired or incapable of making independent decisions as regards their personal affairs, welfare and property.
If you were to compare the legal landscape in the past versus the present, what do you think changed the most?
I think the introduction of technology changed the landscape greatly. The speed and alacrity at which legal work is being done and cases are being dealt with have changed drastically, which is a great thing, but it does impose a physical and emotional strain on lawyers.
Legal practices may need to consider restructuring their workflow and allocation of manpower in order to assist their lawyers in handling increasing caseloads at lower costs while maintaining productivity and efficiency.
What do you foresee being the biggest challenge for the industry in the future?
The biggest challenge would be to retain talent in the industry. Lawyers often lament the workload that they are receiving, but they tend to forget that the good work often goes to those who perform well. I think it is important to work hard in a collegiate environment to achieve the objective of doing well for their clients without sacrificing their soul. They should take time to pursue their social and recreational goals, such as travelling far and wide and spending time with their loved ones.
What other skills do you think young lawyers will need to stay relevant in the future?
Lawyers should be more open to being visible and prominent in the community by using their legal skills to help others in need. They must be prepared to evolve with the changing legal landscape and step out of their comfort zone. One of the ways is by attending useful seminars, talks and overseas law conferences in order to hobnob with foreign lawyers. This would forge meaningful relationships across borders and allow young lawyers to be exposed to and subsequently embrace new ideas that will impact the way we practice law in Singapore.
Thank you Simon for the insights, because we want to know more about what you do besides lawyering – please share with us some three fun facts about yourself!
I play tennis, which is my favourite sport at the moment. It promotes hand-eye coordination and helps me to stay fit and stave off senility.
Travelling to exotic locations is another passion that I cannot get enough of. I have been robbed in St Petersburg, brought to a police station in a remote town in Bulgaria and almost mugged in Ulanbataar. With the bad came the good experiences. I have been invited by Buddhist nuns to stay at a Buddhist Monastery in Sao Paolo and hear a song being sung in Aramaic by a lovely child while visiting a Syrian Church. This was just before Isis overran and destroyed the country. Travelling also brought me closer to my Dad and he is someone who taught me that life without travelling is a life spent running on a treadmill. This is why my younger colleagues travel with me, where possible so that I can bring the world to them.
Photography is also one of my interests as it allows me to freeze a moment in time and capture it for posterity. With the advent of camera phones, everyone is now a photographer. However, I am a purist and still prefer the images taken by a Single Lens Reflex camera. Nothing beats the sharpness, colour rendition and clarity of an image from such cameras.
Last, any parting word of advice for inspiring lawyers?
The fulfilment that one gets from being a lawyer is multi-faceted. It has the means to achieve various career and personal objectives for sure. If you use it as only a means to achieve career objectives such as being wealthy and successful, it will set you up for disappointment. It is more important to be able to help the impoverished, voiceless and downtrodden. This nourishes the soul. It is also important to be approachable to all and sincere in being willing to help and not merely focus on financial rewards. If you have the right approach to practice, have the right mentor and a good learning environment, you will have career longevity and happiness.
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.