Come join us as Asia Law Network sits with Rajkumar Mannar, Senior Associate at CHP Law to discuss common misconceptions about lawyers and the change in his area of practice.
CHP Law is a young, mid-sized law firm that engages in corporate and commercial advice, regulatory work, local and international dispute resolution, funds work, real estate transactions, and private client work. They also aim to make CSR a core part of their vision and their lawyers’ lives – one way they do so is by volunteering with organisations such as HCSA Community Services, where they provide legal advice and help to single mothers in Singapore.
What made you choose law as a career? Which aspects of practising the law do you enjoy the most?
It was quite an accident how I got around to studying law. I applied to law school just to see if I would get accepted. When I did, my parents pushed me to study law, because the law degree is a “good degree” that would give me the option of pursuing other fields, even if I chose not to practice.
Law school also tends to have a strong influence over its students – most law students eventually lean towards pursuing a career in practice. As a result, I too decided to get called to the bar and become a practising lawyer.
I relish problem-solving, and practising law allows me to apply my mind to provide creative solutions to the issues or predicaments my clients face. I really enjoy having to dissect the situations my clients are facing and analysing what their fundamental needs are, before coming up with a creative solution within the framework of the law.
Also, the ability to say that I am helping someone and adding value to their lives – whether for their business or their personal matters – makes me feel good and provides much fulfilment.
Which aspect of the law do you derive the most satisfaction from helping your clients from?
Depending on the seriousness of the problem and the amount of value-added. It’s not easy to pinpoint a particular area of the law, but if made to choose one, the most fulfilling will be the cases which I’ve helped accused clients get acquittals or favourable (fair) sentences.
How do you keep yourself going through the long working hours?
The combination of great colleagues-turned-friends in the office with me, good clients and being conscious of the purpose of putting in these long hours and hard work. My colleagues are good at what they do and are efficient, so whenever we split the larger cases amongst ourselves, it helps to know that there is a team behind me and that we all work well together. We also have fun together which helps me recharge during the downtime.
It also helps when I compartmentalise. I will be as productive as possible in the office, and once I step out of the office, I try to shut my mind off from work. Even if it’s not always possible, I try my best to not bring work out of the office, especially during the weekend when I recharge.
What is a common misconception about lawyers that you want to change? How do you feel about it?
One common misconception is that lawyers like to talk a lot, argue a lot and will always want to be heard, and always want to have the last word. The truth is, we try to be as concise as possible and that we listen more than we speak. This is because we need to listen so that we are fully cognizant of the facts, and saying too much can sometimes be detrimental, and inadvertently commit one to a certain position.
I think another misconception is that lawyers earn a lot of money. Of course, the money is not bad, but there are other careers which could potentially make you more money for less time in the office. Ultimately, law is a demanding profession, so young aspiring lawyers and fresh law graduates should have more than just money when deciding to embark on this career.
Why did you switch from litigious work to non-contentious legal work? Did you feel that the switch has provided more opportunity for growth and to explore new areas of practice?
I was a litigator for more than 5 years, and there are aspects of it which I do enjoy (and, admittedly, miss). However, I felt after a while that the adversarial nature of litigation was not something that was aligned with my personality – I’m naturally a sociable person and I thoroughly enjoy meeting people and forging relationships. As such, the thought of having to constantly be at battle, and to be constantly surrounded by acrimony was not sustainable for me in the long run.
That’s when I made the choice to move to an area of practice where I am able to forge relationships and work towards more constructive outcomes.
This switch caused me to change the way I approach cases, clients, and other lawyers. At the start, I was told that my email drafts were too aggressive – but that was simply what I was used to as a litigator! I, therefore, had to learn to tone down and reframe my drafts without compromising the message I needed to put across, which was an interesting learning experience for me.
Also, the shelf life for transactional matters is relatively short, with each deal lasting from a week to about 8 months or so. As the turnover for corporate transactional cases is relatively higher, it allows me to meet new people and learn about different companies and industries with greater frequency. This makes life more interesting and exciting because each company, each industry and each country has its way of doing business.
How do you feel a background in litigation has assisted you in your day to day for non-contentious work?
Litigation work had made me more aggressive at the start, which wasn’t the best way to approach things. As such, the mettle that I developed as a litigator has helped. Also, I feel I am more equipped to think on my feet and respond quickly to questions that are posed to me. However, some negotiations require a bit of aggression and firmness. With my litigation background, I can anticipate if a certain clause or issue is going to be disputed and how it will take shape so that I can better plan for it. In terms of drafting contracts, litigation training has helped me to produce slightly tighter drafting.
Litigation training also taught me the importance of thorough fact-finding. This is important in corporate transactions because detailed background knowledge of a client’s commercial goals, as well as the nuances of the industry in which your client is operating, will help you determine how to structure a transaction, and draft in a manner which advances your client’s interests.
What does your external role with the Football Association of Singapore look like and which aspect do you enjoy the most out of it?
I have been a part of the association since 2016, and I’m a member of the Ethics committee. The committee’s role is to administer the Code of Ethics of the FAS, and essentially answer questions pertaining to ethics of Players and Officials within the association’s’ purview. I enjoy being able to contribute to the local football scene, albeit from a merely administrative perspective!
What is one fun fact about yourself?
I am a huge foodie and that I can eat almost everything and anything.