Andre Maniam, Senior Counsel, is the head of the litigation and dispute resolution group at WongPartnership LLP, Singapore. His practice spans a wide range of areas, including commercial and corporate disputes, cross-border trade, regulatory and white-collar crime matters, and construction. He is also the chair of the advisory committee of the Professional Conduct Council, which provides lawyers with guidance on ethical issues.
Describe your career to date.
I have had many opportunities for which I am very grateful. I have worked with the best, in both public service and private practice – and there is no better way to learn, and to develop, as a lawyer. I joined the Singapore Supreme Court as a justices’ law clerk when the scheme first started. After leaving public service, my caseload has been exciting and challenging, and I have been given the “air time” that every aspiring litigator needs.
What did you find most challenging about starting out as a litigator?
The unpredictability of practice, and the demands on my time (not respecting nights, weekends and public holidays). Finding the right balance between career and personal/family time was much more difficult than doing the work itself.
What types of matters do clients most often come to you with?
Most of my matters involve commercial and corporate disputes, such as complex contract claims and shareholder/partnership/employment matters. The work I do is quite varied, which adds to its interest, and keeps me on my toes.
How has the market changed since you started practising?
Documents have got much longer! Commercial matters and legal practice have become more complex, with a knock-on effect on the length of documentation; but it also seems easier now to write long than to write short. When the disputes get to court, though, it still helps to be clear and concise.
Technology is increasingly prevalent in litigation. What do you perceive to be the main threats or benefits to practitioners from this development?
When I got called to the bar, the internet was still unknown to the world. Legal research was done by going to a physical library, whereas now the online resources that are instantly available feel limitless. Technology has, however, not managed to replace human thought and judgement (or at least not yet in litigation, although online dispute resolution is growing). Ironically, technology may well lead to hurried decision-making, and the end result may be poorer despite the wealth of resources.
How does your practice stand out from others in the market?
WongPartnership has particular expertise and experience in arbitration (and with it, arbitration-related court proceedings), as well as infrastructure disputes. We offer strength in depth at all levels of seniority.
The firm has an almost equal number of dispute lawyers and transactional lawyers, spanning a range of specialisations; quite a unique proposition in the Singapore market. This allows us to seamlessly assemble a team for both contentious and transactional aspects of a matter, and to draw on domain expertise as required.
Law is a rapidly changing field. What does the profession have in store for those who are in law school now?
Change is uncomfortable to deal with, but it also provides opportunities – new areas of practice to specialise in or new ways of doing things. I believe the world will always need lawyers – people to understand, explain, and help navigate the increasingly complicated framework that governs our interactions. At the same time, the study of law provides excellent grounding not only for the practice of law but a whole host of other career options.
What is your proudest achievement to date?
I am very proud that our firm’s litigation department has grown in both numbers and strength, and is now widely recognised as a top-tier practice – no mean feat given that the firm was only formed some 27 years ago, making us the youngest of the major law firms here.
In terms of notable hearings, I would mention the criminal reference in the City Harvest matter, which was heard before five judges in the Court of Appeal. The case involved a review of the law going back some 200 years. I was completely spent when the hearing was over, and we won!