Lonely at the Top: How to Find a Good Lawyer, Part 1

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You wish to sue someone or have been sued by someone. You feel like you are standing at the edge of the mountain peak all alone. First things first: You need to find a good lawyer.

But how do you find one (if any exists) and what qualities should you be looking out for? Are you looking for a Lincoln Lawyer, the Devil’s Advocate, Ally McBeal or one of A Few Good Men?

Here are some suggestions on the key qualities to look out for.


1. Knowledge and Expertise

Your litigation lawyer should be someone who knows his stuff and is, or will become, an expert in it, at least in relation to the subject matter of your dispute.

I say “is, or will become” because there are two possible types of litigation lawyers. The first type is the “specialists”. They have chosen and devoted themselves to practicing in one or more highly specialized areas of law, e.g. Intellectual Property, Criminal Law, Construction Law, Personal Injury / Accident matters, Employment Law, Family and Matrimonial Law, Shipping Law, etc, and spend most if not all of their time practicing in such area(s). The benefit of going to them is that you are almost always assured that they already know their stuff. However, they may not be able to solve all of your future disputes, especially if such future disputes involve other areas of law which they do not specialize in, although of course they will be able to recommend other lawyers from their firm or other firms for this purpose.

On the other hand, there are “generalists” who have broad based experience handling many different types of disputes. The fact of the matter is that no lawyer knows every single aspect of law under the sky. The important quality of a good “generalist” is that he is able to find the answer to any question of law he may be faced with, and become somewhat of an expert on it in a relatively short time. And he is someone you can have a long term relationship with to handle the manifold legal disputes of life.

Sometimes there are “generalists” who have become “specialists”, or are at least competently experienced in many areas of law, but still maintain the uncanny ability to deal with whatever comes their way.

In all cases, your litigation lawyer should possess deep familiarity with the civil litigation procedure, as half the battle is won if the procedure is complied with, or indeed used effectively in your favor, sometimes with devastating effect to your opponent’s case.

2. Conviction in Your Cause

The good lawyer is not the man who has an eye to every side and angle of contingency, and qualifies all his qualifications, but who throws himself on your part so heartily, that he can get you out of a scrape. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Indeed, the good litigator is like a sower. He believes in your cause with so much conviction and conveys it so compellingly that the tribunal and opposing counsel begin to share that belief. That shared belief is a seed which, under the right circumstances, may spring up to the fruit of a favorable outcome or settlement.

A client of mine was charged with drug consumption. He and his family members swore his innocence. His previous lawyer told him to plead guilty. My client refused, and his former lawyer discharged himself. By happenstance, he came to me for help. After one year of repeated and concerted efforts of trying to exculpate him, where we had faced repeated failure and rejection, by grace and various other factors, he was finally granted a discharge amounting to an acquittal, and is now a free man.

Conviction in your cause goes a long way, and is oftentimes the tilting factor in difficult but deserving cases. In such cases, a good lawyer can be a powerful instrument in making a way, where there seems to be no way.

3. Advocacy Skills

Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome. – Samuel Johnson

Not all possible objections must first be overcome before litigation is commenced. Rather, all possible objections must be dealt with adequately at the appropriate juncture, in order that litigation may be successful.

Advocacy may be defined as the art of presenting a clear, compelling and persuasive case, including dealing with and refuting all possible objections, by way of written submissions, oral arguments before the Court or effective cross-examination. A knowledgeable expert lawyer may not necessarily be a good advocate. In such a case, his expertise fails to translate into persuading the Court to find favorably for you, and that would be tragic.

Find a lawyer who communicates passionately, persuasively and with conviction. This is not a common quality, and if you find a lawyer who possesses it, it will be an important factor in the success or failure of your matter, insofar as the facts of the case justify it.

4. Cost-Effective

If everyone could afford it, they would certainly engage the top Senior Counsel in Singapore’s biggest law firms to maximize their chances of success (as most of the accused persons in the City Harvest case did), and they are highly effective lawyers indeed. However, such representation can easily cost up to and beyond S$1 million in legal fees, which is not within the reach of most people. In this regard, from time to time, you may encounter Senior Counsel being accompanied by a team of up to 5-6 lawyers, including partners, senior associates, associates and or practice trainees, at the High Court or Court of Appeal, all of which adds up in terms of costs.

The alternative is to go for medium or small size law firms, where legal fees may be considerably lesser, depending on the seniority of the lawyer, and the size of his team, if any. There are lawyers who operate in smaller set ups, including some Senior Counsel or experienced litigators, who may be able to do an equally good or sometimes better job with a smaller team and less resources, as compared with their big firm counterparts. Many of such lawyers used to be from big firms, have gained tremendous experience in their time there, and have since moved out to medium or small firms for various reasons.

There is no magic in this or any guarantee of success just because you go to a particular law firm. At the end of the day, you need to ask around to find a competent cost-effective litigation lawyer whom you are ultimately able to afford.

5. The X-Factor

You should be able to communicate well, or reasonably well, with your lawyer. You should feel comfortable with him, and place your trust in him. This is the X-factor which is difficult to define, and it may even take 4 judges to vote on it.

Finally, and most importantly, your lawyer should be good looking, so that you can look him straight in the eye when he asks you the hard questions. Or perhaps this is a totally irrelevant criteria. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.


It is relatively easy to find experienced knowledgeable lawyers. It is harder to find lawyers who believe in your cause and are also good advocates. Even after finding such a lawyer, much depends on your ability to pay for him or his team. Finally, you should feel comfortable with and have a good rapport with your lawyer. After all, as your advocate, he is literally your voice and representative for all you think, feel and hope to convey to the Court.

Assuming that you have in mind the kind of lawyer you require, and being fully aware of your budget, the next question is how to find such a good lawyer? This is answered in Part 2 of this Article.

The usual disclaimer: All opinions expressed on www.singaporelitigationlawyer.com are entirely my own. Importantly, my opinions do not constitute legal advice and you should definitely formally engage a lawyer to confirm, vary or refute my views.

To Sue or Not to Sue: Demystifying Litigation in Singapore @ www.singaporelitigationlawyer.com © Dominic Chan, a Singapore litigation lawyer. All rights reserved.


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