Contributed by the National Young Lawyers Committee
Called to the Bar in 2002, Muhammad Syamsulfaiz Zainuddin is currently practising in Kuala Lumpur.
Athena Ang interviewed him recently.
Why did you take up law in the university?
Initially I wanted to take up an Arabic language degree but I thought I might end up working as a teacher. As members of my family are made up mostly of teachers, I wanted to break away from the tradition. I learnt that if one studies law, one must also master languages, so I thought I can read law and at the same time learn the English and Arabic languages so as to reach a higher level. So the journey went as planned and I got my LLB which was studied in English and a Shariah degree read in Arabic.
Why did you choose corporate law practice?
The interest developed over time. I find that I enjoy drafting agreements and dealing with commercial and corporate laws although the nature of work is quite tedious and challenging. Besides, I have a deep interest in economic and corporate financing affairs. Another aspect of corporate law practice which caught my interest was that Malaysian corporate lawyers could expand their legal career overseas at anytime, considering the similar practice, requirements and laws in other jurisdiction. In this era of globalization it is good if you have the knowledge and qualification which enables you to move around and not limit yourself.
It is said that litigation lawyers are lawyers indeed, and corporate lawyers are not. Do you agree? Why?
This may be the perception of the general public. But for lawyers to perceive it like that, is rather shallow to me. There are many areas of legal practice. All these areas of legal practice require the same level of analytical legal thinking, skills and strategies used in the court rooms. For example advocacy skill is needed when you are conducting face to face negotiations with the counterpart’s lawyers. Evidence is the essence of a due diligence report. A corporate lawyer still need to keep abreast with the updated case laws and legislation when preparing a legal opinion or drafting clauses into an agreement. As a matter of fact there is no separation of practice as a barrister or a solicitor in Malaysia. A corporate lawyer may have to need to attend court, if necessary.
It is said that corporate lawyers are more self-centred, and do not pay much attention to the current happenings, especially politics. Do you agree? Why?
In my opinion, whether a lawyer is self centred or pays attention to the current affairs is more an issue of a person’s attitude and lifestyle. I do not think it has any co-relation with the choice of being a corporate lawyer. I think lawyers who keep him/herself updated with current affairs or politics would gain advantage in all aspects be it for knowledge, communication skills and marketing.
As a married man with kids, how do you manage your work-life balance?
I don’t have a life. No, I am kidding. I believe if a person puts effort to it he/she can achieve it. My life is with the family and friends. Work may get up to my eyeballs most of the time, but I always remind myself that my responsibility is not only to my work but also to my family at home and friends around. I prefer not to bring any work home and as so I fully concentrate on my work whilst in the office. The balance needs to be kept at 50/50 percentage. Both parts of life will recharge each other.
Are you actively involved in any other social organisations?
At the moment, no. But I am active in the art and music scene. The music that I am working on right now is the traditional Malay folklore in the genre of Zapin, Inang, Asli, Kronchong and Joget. I have a band called Dewangga Sakti which performs regularly at art events, functions and goes on music tours. For more information please visit our website www.dewanggasakti.blogspot.com. I know there are many fellow lawyers who are talented in music out there. Well, jam on folks. Music is life.
Do you think that we, the Malaysian young lawyers, can learn as much as the young lawyers in Hong Kong, Singapore and England and Wales, given the facts that those jurisdictions are regional financial hubs and are developed countries?
Yes I do. Malaysia is one of the fastest developing nations and we share a great deal of cross border transactions from developed countries. It is also a fact that Malaysia is building its reputation as an Islamic financing hub for the Asian and global market. In my opinion, since Malaysia is in a fast track to be a developed nation and as such, along the way, the professionals including the lawyers can learn a lot of know-how in attending to their clients’ work with foreign parties.
What is your view of the judicial crisis issue?
The wound needs to be healed quickly before it becomes infected. The government needs the cooperation from lawyers and the “rakyat” in order to restore the reputation and sanctity of the judicial body. The process needs to be seen to be done, because in this era of information, people look for, see, read and write the information about things happening around them and make up their own judgments and perspectives about that information. Gone is the era where people just listen to the government’s media for information and update. As a lawyer, I really need the judicial body to be respected and trusted by the people including myself.
What is your view on the judgment delivered in the Lina Joy’s case?
The issue in Lina Joy’s case is very delicate. A Malay’s proverb will say “Di telan mati emak, di luah mati bapak”. Lina Joy’s case touches the constitutional foundation of the Malay race itself. If any changes need to be done, it should go back to the Parliament. It is not for the Courts to change the foundation so rooted and strong in Malaysia’s institution of Malay and Islam. If we were simply to follow the Shariah laws, the right answers are there, but Malaysian laws are different from the Shariah laws.
What kind of young lawyers’ activities you would like to see happening in the future?
Nothing in particular, I would just like to see young lawyers be more active, proactive and get as many as t their peers to participate in young lawyers’ activities.
-Muhammad Syamsulfaiz was my classmate at IIUM (Termizi)