Monday, January 1, 2007

Singapore. Forget your ideals if you want to succeed at the Bar

Ladies and Gentlemen,

If you want to become a lawyer because you believe in the Rule of Law, forget it. In Singapore, success at the Bar requires other qualifications, the main one being your willingness to show support to the dictatorial regime of Lee Kuan Yew and son. Doing this can be morally repugnant, but if you want to succeed, you must do it. At the same time, forget about succeeding by research and learning the law, because regardless of how skilled you are at law, you will not succeed unless you show your willingness to accept Lee and his political party unconditionally. The other ideals such as honesty, ingegrity etc which are usually present in prospective lawyers again must be disregarded. These are not important. If you are prepared to tow Lee's line, and show some proficency in your trade, you will succeed.

Singapore is a small country with a limited population. The government is principally the main client for lawyers, and fees paid by the government is the main source of income to government connected law firms. Also the large private companies in Singapore are all owned or linked to the government. These again provide the main source of income for lawyers. Therefore any budding lawyer will try to get into the large law firms whose lawyers are all shown to Lee Kuan Yew and son supporters. If you are not seen to be one, you will not be accepted into these large government linked law firms anyway. Therefore the passport to success at the law is to be a card carrying member of Lee's political party, which has governed Singapore since 1959. If you are not prepared to do this, if for instance kowtowing this way is morally repugnant to you, then forget getting into the law. As a matter of fact, you can forget almost every other profession, or business. As a matter of fact, if you really want to succeed without having to compromise your conscience, then the only way is to go elsewhere. Or fight the system, and suffer the consequences.

Can I give you an example, please. As you know Lee Kuan Yew, his son and their government cronies stifle dissent by suing their political opponents in their compliant courts, obtain heavy damages, and polish them off with bankruptcy. Their victims have been well known, 2 of them being Mr. Jeyaretnam and Dr. Chee. The lawyer of choice for this dirty work is a Sikh practicing in a large firm. Each time Lee and his family and friends want to finish off someone or other, they deploy the Sikh. The Sikh himself knows that he is being used for a disgusting purpose, to abuse the law for client's political ends. Any lawyer with any sense of decency would have refused to do the work and told Lee and his friends that they should do it themselves or find someone else. The English Bar and the United States Bar clearly makes it unethical for a lawyer to accept work when he clearly knows that it is dishonest.

But you see, this Sikh lawyer, is very "successful" in the Singapore sense. Why? He is a member of Lee's political party, the Peoples Action Party, and not only that, he was a Member of Parliament appointed by Lee. So this man, whom anyone with any self respect and decency would shun, is in Singapore a prominent "lawyer". He obviously does not have any conscience, but a conscience is not necessary to succeed at the Bar. In fact, it can be a serious impediment to success at the Singapore Bar.

Take the opposite case. Dr. Chee was represented in a number of his court cases by a lawyer of Indian descent. Prior to that, he assisted in 2 cases involving the death penalty. This particular gentleman was clearly trying to be a good lawyer, reading the law, and doing the best he can for his client. But the moment he was seen as openly representing Dr. Chee, the opposition politician and activist, this man's career effectively came to an end. I understand that he has never won a single case since his temerity to represent someone who was against Lee Kuan Yew. His photo was put on the government controlled newspaper as the lawyer who is representing Dr. Chee. From that moment, everyone in Singapore will take the cue, that he must be sent to Coventry. First, all his friends, even if he had any, have abandoned him, for fear that the government will take them also to be opposition supporters. Second he will not get any briefs from anyone since they know their cases will be lost, if he represented them. In any case, even if he did find the odd client, he will lose the case anyway, because every judge will judge cases by the lawyer's political connection, not on the present legal position.

Anyway, this lawyer who represented Dr. Chee has recently been suspended from practice for a year by the courts for unethical conduct. Even if he was return to practice after one year, it is unlikely that he will have any true practice to think of. His career came to an end the moment he made the mistake of representing Dr. Chee. Never mind if it was an honorable thing to do, since justice was on Dr. Chee's side. In Singapore, to succeed, one has to forget honor, and tailor one's life to suit Lee's interests. If you can do that, your chances of success is excellent.

Gopalan Nair
39737 Paseo Padre Parkway, Suite A1
Fremont, CA 94538, USA
Tel: 510 657 6107
Fax: 510 657 6914

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