Author. Screenwriter. Movie Producer. Adrian Tan '91 has been all of the above while still serving as Director in one of Singapore's largest law firms.
Most recently, he was one of the four writers who co-wrote "A Civil Practice", a guide to Lawyers' Professional Courtesy and Etiquette. We spoke to him to find out more about this, and also what makes him tick.
LL: "A Civil Practice" marks your return to the printed page, this time collaborating with other writers on a pretty serious topic (Lawyers' Professional Courtesy and Etiquette), which is very different from your previous book. How did you get involved in this project?
AT: Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong '61 tasked the Singapore Academy of Law to create a book for lawyers to improve the level of etiquette in the legal profession. Justice of Appeal VK Rajah '82 wanted the book to be friendly and readable, and to have illustrations.
How was the experience?
It's very difficult for me to write non-fiction in an interesting way.
While you haven't published new books recently, your 2008 Convocation Speech at NTU went viral and is widely circulated on the Internet. How did that happen?
A few years back, my Hwa Chong senior, Cherian George, asked me to give a speech to the Wee Kim Wee School of Communications (I think that is the official name). Cherian was very kind, he basically gave me a blank cheque to say what I wanted.
So, I did.
After I delivered the speech, the graduands applauded politely and that was that (I think they were thinking, "Get on with it, I need to receive my degree").
By some coincidence, one of my favourite bloggers, Mr Wang, was writing a series on Singapore education. I gave him a copy of my speech, and he kindly posted it. The next thing I knew, people all over Singapore were telling me that they had read my speech. It was emailed and reposted on other blogs.
Not everyone liked it - many people thought it was irresponsible and silly.
Overall, though, I received more positive feedback than negative. I received emails from people in other countries too, such as Canada, the Philippines and Bangladesh.
What did you think about this experience?
It's interesting that it seemed to resonate with them...
Since the theme of that speech was (indirectly) education, Reader's Digest asked me to write about that topic. So I wrote this: http://www.rdasia.com/really-useful-schooling
A Canadian newspaper picked up on the speech too.
It also found its way into a computer hacker magazine.
Has this made you consider publishing more of your writing on line?
I haven't been able to write a novel. It's just impossible, when I am working as a litigator.
But I have a few creative outlets. A couple of years back, a friend and I came up with the idea of a TV series based on a Singapore law firm. It was seen through the eyes of a law trainee, a newbie. It was called "The Pupil" (yes, the title is a pun) and it was meant to show Singaporeans what local law practice is like.
Too many people learn about the law from American TV shows like LA Law, Ally McBeal or Boston Legal. The Singapore law firm is different - but no less interesting.
We were quite lucky to have stars such as Adrian Pang and Lim Kay Siu, and the TV show was well-reviewed and won international awards.
When you say "the Singapore law firm is no less interesting than Ally McBeal or Boston Legal" how much of "The Pupil" series came from real life rather than your fevered imagination?
The Pupil is 50% law firm reality show and 50% "law cases I wish I tried"...
And I understand you also made a movie?
This year I did something I've always wanted to do: help produce a movie. The chaps who did "The Pupil" got together with me to tell the story of a family travelling from Singapore to KL for their Chinese New Year reunion dinner. We wanted to explore the meaning of the reunion dinner, and why its traditions continued to be important to people living in this part of the world. The movie, titled "Homecoming" (in Chinese: 笑着回家 ) starred Jack Neo, Mark Lee and Rebecca Lim, and went on to do quite well at the box office.
Since its release, the movie has been pirated or bit torrented; how do you feel about that as a creative person and intellectual property lawyer?
Piracy is the sincerest form of flattery...
I see. Somehow in addition to your busy legal practice, you've managed to be active in TV and film. What advice can you give other lawyers who are aspiring to write or pursue other creative ventures?
It's easier to write nowadays. There are Blackberries, iPads and whatnot. Those endless hours where one used to spend in court listening to one's opponent can at last be used productively to create fiction and works of entertainment.
Seriously, though, the legal profession is fertile ground for writers: we meet many interesting people with the strangest problems. Anyone who is bereft of inspiration need only attend a trial of any sort, and immediately the ideas will come.
(Editor: For the benefit of some of our readers who are more inclined to strict interpretation, please note that he's joking in many parts of this article. So relax.)