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The Singapore Law Gazette

Taste of Tasmania: Vintage of ’11-’12

It’s been about 15 years since I embarked on my law degree on an apple-shaped island down under. Back in the day, Tasmania had a small but growing Singaporean population of mostly law and medicine undergraduates. Unfortunately, UTAS was a casualty of the Singapore Medical Council’s revision to the list of recognised overseas universities in 2019, but the Law school still seems to be a popular destination. Since I’m not particularly great at keeping in touch, this is a good opportunity to find out what some of my contemporaries have been up to since graduation!

5 people seated for dinner

Group photo of the contributors, the author and an extra. Anticlockwise from top left: Ms Jacelyn Chua, Ms Li Jiaxin, Mr Jonathan Phipps, myself and Mr Jeremy Bay, who is also from UTAS

1. A brief recap of your career to date please!

JX: I first got a diploma in Law and Management from Temasek Polytechnic. Back then, as part of the curriculum for the diploma, we had to do a three-month internship before graduation. That was when I first worked for my current boss, Michael Por, when I was 19 years old.

After I graduated with my diploma, I worked as his paralegal for about a year before venturing overseas and graduating in 2010. Even during the summer holidays, I would return to Singapore and do short stints of internship with Michael.

I later trained under him and got called to the Bar in 2013. I then worked as his associate and gradually moved up the ladder until now.

So in a way, I would say that my background is pretty unusual because I am a loyal employee and have only worked for one boss for the past 17 years!

JP: After obtaining my diploma in Law & Management at Temasek Polytechnic, I worked as a paralegal for four years before furthering my studies in the University of Tasmania and getting called to the Singapore Bar in 2014.

I’ve practised general litigation (civil, commercial, criminal, family) for the past nine years in smaller local firms and was made a partner in LegalStandard LLP in August 2021.

JC: After graduating with a double degree in Law and Arts, I was called to the Bar in Victoria, Australia and worked in Sydney as a commercial and corporate lawyer for a while before returning to Singapore and getting called to the Bar here.

In Singapore, I had exposure in general litigation and media law as a practice trainee before beginning my legal career in Singapore as a litigation lawyer dealing with general litigation and family law. I later joined Aquinas Law Alliance LLP, which is a full-service boutique firm, as a corporate lawyer. I am now a senior associate dealing in mainly general corporate and commercial advisory work, mergers and acquisitions, and banking and finance, with a side of debt restructuring and insolvency matters.

2. How are you finding your current job now?

JX: I’m currently an Associate Director in Michael Por Law Corporation and my experience in this role has been both challenging and rewarding. As I progress in my career and assume greater responsibilities within the firm, I inevitably face heightened levels of stress. The notion that being a lawyer entails not only practising law but also managing a business holds true.

In addition to handling legal matters, my role now involves actively engaging in business development and marketing initiatives for the firm. While this additional workload can be demanding at times, I find it invigorating and personally fulfilling. The diverse range of tasks we undertake adds an element of excitement to my job. Our focus primarily lies in commercial litigation and arbitration, particularly in the realm of construction disputes, complemented by a broad spectrum of general corporate work. Furthermore, we occasionally receive cases from the Legal Aid Bureau, which presents an opportunity to contribute to pro bono efforts.

Overall, my current job provides a dynamic environment where I constantly encounter new challenges and opportunities for personal and professional growth. The blend of legal expertise, business acumen, and the chance to explore diverse areas of law makes my role both stimulating and gratifying.

JP: The practice of general litigation is always interesting as you get to see so many different aspects of legal issues, ranging from multi-million-dollar banking disputes to high-profile crimes and scandalous divorces.

However, it is extremely challenging juggling the different legal regimes and keeping abreast of the constant changes in different areas of law.

JC: One thing is for sure – no two days are ever the same and I would never be bored with the work I do. Every day provides a new set of challenges and with that, new opportunities to learn and grow as a lawyer. This can be stressful at times, but also incredibly fulfilling.

3. What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

JX: The first major milestone in my career was be my first reported High Court judgment, Lioncity Construction Company Pte Ltd v JFC Builders Pte Ltd [2015] SGHC 62. I was very junior then and was given the opportunity to argue this on my own. This involved the issue of jurisdiction of the Court after the deadline to file an extension of time for an appeal has expired. It was a novel point because there was a lacuna in the Rules of Court at that point of time.

Another highlight was a construction arbitration matter that I was assisting on when I was still a junior associate. The trial lasted for a few weeks, and each day of trial was considerably lengthy, commencing at around 9.30am and often stretching until 10pm, owing to the fact that the witnesses involved were not consistently available in Singapore.

This experience served as a crucible because it really tested my physical and mental stamina. It taught me that a trial is akin to a marathon. However, in this marathon, you must be ahead of the witness and you cannot afford to fall behind. This also highlighted the significance of meticulous preparation and effective courtroom strategy which all trial lawyers should have.

JP: One of the highlights of my career was acting as defence counsel for several members of a large family who had been accused of being involved in international match-fixing as well as illegal gambling.

A SWAT-team style raid had been conducted at their homes, and one of the younger members of the family, who had been studying law, faced difficulties being called after being summoned for investigations in the middle of the night.

I also recall an expert from an international football association giving evidence on the likelihood that the outcome of a football match had been tainted based on statistics and data.

One of the family members switched firms in the middle of trial; however, we managed to obtain a reasonable outcome for the remaining family member who was only fined S$1,000.

JC: A major milestone of my career was having my name to a reported judgment in the first year of being called to the Bar.

Another memorable experience was a 13-hour long negotiation that went on till the next morning on behalf of a client looking to acquire a green energy company which would play a role in supporting Singapore’s plans for greener infrastructure and sustainable living – both parties also appeared pleased with the outcome, so there was an incredible sense of satisfaction after all the hard work put in.

4. Any desire to return to Australia in future, for work or otherwise?

JX: Maybe for retirement, or maybe I can buy over Prof Rick Snell’s bookstore and run his bookstore!

JP: My classmates and I plan to return to Tasmania for a vacation now that we have more disposable income. Cradle Mountain, Wineglass Bay, Salamanca Market (Prof Rick Snell’s second-hand book stand & Leatherwood Honey) and MONA FOMA/Dark MOFO are must-dos for anyone visiting.

JC: I definitely miss working in Australia, especially the part where the weekend frivolity starts around lunchtime on Fridays! However, Singapore will always be home, so I make do with frequent visits to Australia.

Tasmania is a fantastic tourist destination and the place I called home for five years of my life, so a trip back is definitely in order. My classmates and I have spoken for the longest time about going back to Tasmania for a visit to reminisce our youth, and I feel sure that the stars will align one day and we will all be able to apply for leave at the same time in the near future …

5. Have you stayed connected to UTAS and its alumni organisations etc.?

JX: Yes! I stay in regular contact with a handful of UTAS alumni who were also from law school, and I attended a UTAS alumni gathering. Interestingly, I became much closer with them after we all graduated and came back. I believe that the experience of living overseas with my classmates, away from your friends and family in Singapore, made a difference to the dynamics of our friendship.

JP: I’m grateful for guys like Richard Ngo (an engineer) who has been running UTAS Alumni Singapore for several decades now, and try to support by attending events when my schedule permits.

JC: I have stayed in touch with my peers from UTAS, most of whom have gone on to great things in their chosen career paths. The sad thing about having been an international student is that you do not end up being based in the same country as most of your peers, but visiting each other or travelling together is a lovely thing to look forward to and cherish as a precious memory!

6. What motivates you to work every day?

JX: There are ups and downs (as with everything in life). But overall, I enjoy the work that I do most of the time. In addition, my office is a cosy and conducive space at Tanjong Pagar and I have a very long working relationship with my colleagues. All these factors make my work and work place more enjoyable.

In addition, there are moments when your work makes a difference, and you go to work every day for such moments. For instance, I was assigned by the Legal Aid Bureau to file an application for adoption. The applicants were a couple, and the two boys whom they wanted to adopt were the female applicant’s nephews. She told me that her sister was arrested, and both her nephews who were really young at that time (less than one to two years old) were passed to her. She took care of them for the next few years, and she decided that she wanted to adopt them. When I informed her that the application was successful, she told me that she was crying with tears of joy. It was a touching episode for me because she was really selfless in taking care of her nephews.

JP: Deep down I still believe that I’m helping those in need, or who deserve a second chance. Practically speaking though, I’m trying to do well enough to give back to those who have supported me throughout the years i.e. my parents, wife, kids, aunt etc.

JC: I believe that the work I do does make a difference to someone’s life, and I remind myself of this when things get stressful and overwhelming. I am also blessed to have supportive bosses and fantastic colleagues, which makes going to work that much easier.

7. If you weren’t a lawyer, you would be a…

JX: An animal communicator – so that I can know what my dogs are up to!

JP: A masseur in a luxury resort either on a sunny beach or in the snowy mountains. I have an international diploma in massage!

JC: A journalist or working at a non-profit organisation relating to animal welfare.

8. Any tips for newly called lawyers?

JX: It takes quite some time to hone your skills as a lawyer. Finding a good mentor whom you look up to (and a mentor who is willing to teach!) is really important in order to acquire and sharpen your skills. Sometimes, you may have to look beyond the remuneration or employment benefits or the prestige of big firms.

JP: It’s tough going and never gets easier. The practice of law requires the lifelong sacrifice of a lot of time and energy, but if you do find your motivation, it can be all worthwhile.

JC: Life as a lawyer requires great dedication and hard work, and resignation to the fact that there will always be times when you will be under incredible stress and pressure. A great support system and incorporating some healthy outlets in your life can go a long way in helping to manage stress and/or give you a break from work, so that you can come back to it with renewed energy and focus.

9. Finally, random personal question: coffee, tea or …?

JX: Morgan and Kaiser! My Singapore special canines.

JP: Enjoying the best pina coladas ever (made by my awesome wife) with my family, friends and my cockapoo Daisy on our lovely roof terrace.

JC: Sipping sparkling water while hanging out with family, friends and getting pet therapy from my Singapore Specials, Toby and Kiara.

And there you have it! Three good friends, names all starting with J, all dog lovers … it’s a long list of commonalities. Now the only thing left to do is to catch up in person … XD

Hanwa Singapore Private Limited