Buddha's words

Buddha's words
My inspiration. We are what we think, All that we are arises from our thoughts, With our thoughts we make the world. Photo copyright Sean Duggan

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Being streetwise when it comes to the law

Was playing tennis with my boys after work.

Yes, this is the 4th day in a row I had to play tennis with my boys because of the school holidays.

When do I get a break?

Was just looking at my sons in the tennis court and wondering how lucky they are in their life compared to the upbringing that I had. As I said in my previous blog, I come from a family of ten kids. I am no. 9 on the scale.

Our family was not remotely well off. Dad was a taxi driver at some stage in his life. He did what he could to support us.

Mum used to be a seamstress. That's her picture on the page with my family at home.

My earliest memories of my mum are of her working as a seamstress. We used to live in state housing which were like high rise apartments. These contractors used to bring their sewing work to the apartment compound to hand over to people who wanted to do the work. They were quite selective and usually rude and overbearing as one's livelihood could depend on their generosity.

I always remember mum having to plead to be allowed to do the work for them. My mum's work did help to support the family substantially and to this day, I have always loved her for that. Visions of her putting water on her eyes to stay awake to finish the work has always endeared her to me.

She also used to frequent pawn shops to pawn her jewellery when funds were short.

The pawn shop would give her a hand written ticket in Chinese whenever she pawned her stuff.

In the 1970's a pawn ticket of say $30 Singapore could feed the family of 10 for 1 mth.

I have a collage of her pawn tickets framed and sitting with pride of place in my office so as to honour her sacrifice to the family. In fact, I will put a picture of it on the blog as I am very proud of what it symbolises.

Which brings me to the topic of this night's blog.

I believe being streetwise due to my upbringing has helped me substantially in my work as a lawyer.

I recall a case where a client claimed he paid $300,000 cash to a friend. He was suing his friend for the return of the money. I asked if he had any witness to the transaction. After a few days, this client brought in another friend who was supposed to have seen my client handing over the $300,000 to the friend he wanted to sue.

I questioned this witness at length about what he had seen.

Do you know how long it takes to count $300,000 in $100 bills? It takes a long time as I have seen it being counted before in another case.

This witness was unable to confirm how long the counting took. After substantial questioning, the witness admitted that he never saw the transaction. He admitted he was lying to me.

I supposed if I was not streetwise, I would not have caught out the witness. Better I catch the witness out then the witness going to court and be found to be lying.

Being a lawyer requires us to read alot and be able to communicate our thoughts and reasoning to judges and fellow lawyers. However, we also need to communicate our advice to our client. If we are not able to break the advice down to simple and understandable English, we will be failing in our service to our client.

Interviewing techniques are also crucial when we see clients. Being streetwise, I believe helps a lawyer to understand what to ask and how to make sure the client is telling the truth.

Good night for now.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Negotiation skills

Part of the skills required of a lawyer is the art of negotiation.

I still remember my time as a street kid living in Singapore. Coming from a family of 10, Lawrence ( my other brother who was a year older than me) and I used to play in the streets of Tiong Bahru in Singapore. Mum did not have much time for supervision and we were left to our own devices as long as we got back by dinnertime.

Tiong Bahru is a suburb in Singapore which is quite notorious as being the playground of gangsters.

Lawrence and I used to hang around a store that had bulk bananas delivered from Malaysia. We would help the labourers unload the branches of bananas. As payment, we would get the left over bananas to bring home.

Lawrence and I used to set up stall in the Tiong Bahru markets as hawkers to sell the bananas for spare cash. It was not a lot of money , but it did teach me the art of negotiation. Selling bananas without a proper stall is of course called "hawking" which was technically an offence.

The authorities had "Environmental officers" who were there to make sure there were no hawkers in the market. It was like playing cat and mouse. Every time, there was an officer, all the hawkers would make a run for it. Great fun when we were kids. But not something I recommend as it is not strictly legal. We were minors, and reckless. I knew nothing of the law then.

So what is the art of negotiation. I suppose the main lesson is that "If you do not ask , you will never receive".

Negotiating is like playing poker. You do not know what the other side is ready to accept.

It is of course easiest if you are unemotional. They say emotion is an irrational master.

My ten rules for negotiating:

1. Be unemotional. If you are going to be emotional, get someone else to negotiate for you.
2. Always know your bottom line before hand.
3. Try to find out as much as possible what weaknesses the other party has. Do they have to sell? Are they time poor?
4. Do your research first regarding the value of anything you are negotiating on.
5. Do not be afraid to walk away from the deal.
6. Know who the main actor is. There is no point in negotiating with someone who is not making the decisions.
7. Be creative with the way the deal will work. Think of all permutations that can work for all parties. In fact, write down all the permutations first before negotiating.
8. Avoid negotiating where there is stress on time or anger issues.
9. Ask questions of the other party as by asking questions, you get to know what the other party want. If you can give it to them, the deal can be closed.
10. The most important part: Never be embarrassed to make the final "ask". If you ask if they will settle on your final position, the worse that can happen is that the other party says no. But if you do not ask, you do not know.

Negotiating is something that we have to do all our lives. We negotiate with our spouses, our kids, our bosses or workers.

Everything is negotiable.

So, the more we learn the art of negotiation, the better we become. Good luck.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Australian Day Weekend and Australian Open Tennis

What a great Australia Day. The weather was perfect.

Did not manage to see the fireworks but enjoyed the day anyway.

Kids have gone crazy about tennis and have been forcing me up early so they can play.

Their holidays are nearly over and I must say I am glad. It's not easy entertaining kids nowadays.

I can feel my body cracking under the stress of keeping up with their sporting activities.

Have not spent any time thinking or working on the law during the last few days as I decided to really enjoy the long weekend.

Come Tuesday, I will need to buckle down on the office systems that I have been trying to finalise.

Running and managing a practice compared to just working as a lawyer are 2 totally different experience.

I enjoy the practice of law, in that we are able to help our clients. However, I enjoy more, the fruits of my hard work in running a legal practice.

At the end of the day, it is people management as far as staffing is concerned and the management of client's expectation.

Better enjoy the rest of my long week end. Promise to say abit of some of the interesting cases I have dealt with when I return.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Introduction to blogging

Hi, To all potential readers, this is my first night as a blogger.

I hope my thoughts are of some value to anyone who may be interested in the law.

For those who are even remotely interested in who I am, they can check out www.tanandtanlawyers.com

I have been a lawyer for over 20 years and I believe I may have something to share with any one interested in the law.

I hail from Singapore and have lived in Perth for over 20 years. I have 2 boys aged 9 and 11.

My wife is from Malaysia.

She runs my settlement division of the law firm and has been a rock in all my business dealings.

My 2 boys fight constantly and as any frustrated parent, I spend time punishing both but without showing favoritism to either. One is a black belt tae kwon do and the other about to become a black belt too in 3 mths. So I know I have to tread carefully:)

I have operated my website with a free email legal advice service for over 8 yrs. That is my way of giving back to the community.

If you have any legal questions, feel free to email me and I will try and respond with my thoughts.

My idea for the blog is to include interesting cases that I may be working on without breaching confidentiality.

It may hopefully show what an average lawyer's life is like to anyone interested in the law.

I also hope to de-mystify the law for any one who reads my blog.

So until my next thoughts are put on the web, good night.