It’s about getting your priorities right. To Mr Lee Eng Beng, this is one of the most important qualities any good lawyer should possess. That, and a finely tuned sense of judgement. Young lawyers might want to remember that “you have to first and foremost, regard yourself as part of the justice system and not part of a business trying to increase revenue,” advises the Managing Partner of the largest full–service law firm in Singapore and South-East Asia.
Mr Lee joined Rajah & Tann as a partner in 1998 and was the firm’s Head of Business Finance and Insolvency Practice from 2003 to 2009. He was then appointed as Senior Consul and Deputy Managing Partner before taking over as Managing Partner in 2010. Before his illustrious progression with the firm, Mr Lee also had his hand in lecturing for six years in NUS, something which helped scoped his eventual area of expertise.
“The first thing a lawyer has to do is to decide, in terms of personality and aptitude, what sort of work he would actually find most challenging and satisfying,” says the ex-Senior Adjunct Fellow. “While I was lecturing, I found that subjects in commercial aspects like insolvency and company law piqued my interest and wanted to pursue them when I came into practice.”
It is this love for practice that pushed Mr Lee to make the switch from lecturing to becoming a partner at Rajah & Tann. “I felt that I hadn’t learnt and developed enough as a lawyer in law school. Furthermore, I came to encounter very inspiring and outstanding lawyers that made me want to learn from them.” One of these lawyers was Sundaresh Menon, Singapore’s current Attorney-General who was then the Managing Partner of the firm. “I like to think that whatever I’m doing and deciding now is very much shaped by my experience in working with these great role models.”
Since taking over, Mr Lee has been directing the partnership to new heights, setting up offices in cities like Bangkok and Shanghai. There are plans to expand into Indonesia and Cambodia as well. He explains his role, “I see myself as the mouthpiece of the partnership, the one who channels the ideas, energies and aspirations of everyone, organises and implements them in hope of bringing the partnership to where we want to be.”
Although Rajah & Tann has a growing presence in S.E. Asia, don’t expect to see a European or American office anytime soon. “I think our strategy stands out from other firms. Logically and emotionally, we want to be Asian and develop ourselves into an Asian Law firm because we can appeal to Asian clients,” explains Mr Lee. “South East Asia is probably one of the best parts of the world to be in at this moment. Culturally, we have more commonality in perspectives and values and being Singaporean, the level of exposure, training and education for us has generally been higher, what more someone who has achieved overseas experience.”
And it’s this opportunity of meeting fellow Singaporeans with overseas experience that gets Mr Lee excited to be involved in the next Distinguished Business Leaders series at London’s Royal Garden Hotel. As our guest speaker, he says, “If you’re serious about practice, be prepared for a very different environment by the time you hit your peak”. But how different is that environment? Register now and find out on 2nd March 2012 as Mr Lee answers your questions and reveals his thoughts and experiences about Singapore’s job market and life as a professional law practitioner.
Join us for our Distinguished Business Leaders Series with Mr Lee Eng Beng in London, UK on 2 March 2012. Register for the event now!