Two-time winner of the NUS Annual Teaching Excellence Award, Assistant Professor Dan Puchniak talks to Victor Katheyas ’13 about how to put passion into that most dry of subjects – corporate law.
Derivative actions might not be the most fascinating of topics to most people. However, Assistant Professor Dan Puchniak’s passion for this very subject inspired him to formulate an award winning paper, entitled “The Derivative Action in Asia: A Complex Reality”; garnering the Best Paper prize at the Annual Corporate Law Teachers Association [CLTA] Conference.
The paper posits that there is no such thing as “Asian” or “Western” derivative actions; and that the idea of “Asian non-litigiousness” ought to be jettisoned. Instead, Dan argues that one must consider a myriad of local factors including the specific regulatory framework, case law, economic forces, corporate governance institutions and the socio-political environment of the jurisdiction in order to accurately understand the derivative action in that jurisdiction.
Consider this: in 2010, initial public offerings (IPO’s) by Chinese companies accounted for about 25% of all IPO’s in the United States. In addition, because of the increasing trend of cross-border transactions and shareholdings in companies, derivative actions in Asia are on the rise.
In fact, Dan’s research reveals that, perhaps unexpectedly and counter-intuitively, “Japan has become a strange-bedfellow with the United States as a clear world leader in derivative actions against listed companies.”
Dan is in the process of co-editing a book, entitled “The Derivative Action in Asia: A Comparative and Functional Approach”, which will be published by Cambridge University Press later this year. Its subject matter traverses the field of derivative litigation across seven major Asian jurisdictions, namely Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Singapore and India. Dan has already been invited to present research on the forthcoming book at universities around the world such as Stanford University, Kyushu University, Nagoya University and Tsinghua University.
Who is Dan Puchniak?
So how did this Canadian citizen come to be working in NUS?
“I grew up in Winnipeg and had, in many respects, a stereotypical Canadian childhood,” he explained. He chose to attend law school after completing his undergraduate degree (in Canada, like the United States, all students must complete a university degree before entering law school) because he wanted to influence society positively. He worked very hard: “I basically developed a space in the library that became my second home!”
After graduation, and in between completing his LL.M. and LL.D. (both on full scholarships from the Japanese government, at Kyushu University in Japan), Dan worked at one of Canada’s top corporate law firms.
However, as happy as he was in legal practice, he knew that his interest in law has “always extended well beyond the business of law”. He enjoys looking at corporate law from a variety of perspectives: comparative, economic, psychological, sociological and political. Thus, his decision to join academia. Dan now teaches Company Law, Comparative Corporate Law and Japanese Corporate Law at NUS Law School.
And why did he choose to teach at NUS?
“NUS is an ideal fit for my research and teaching interests,” he explained. “As Singapore is a common law country, it allows me to apply the knowledge I gained in school and practice in Canada. Being based in Asia [also] allows me to focus on several of my comparative corporate law interests, make regular visits to Japan and cultivate some of my emerging interests in South Korea and Mongolia.”
Apart from his contributions to the development of corporate law, Dan has also received repeated recognition for his excellent teaching, earning the National University of Singapore’s Annual Teaching Excellence Award for two consecutive years so far – 2011 and 2012.
He is modest about these achievements, and attributes them to observing his colleagues and receiving valuable feedback from students. He strives to convey to his students his genuine interest and enthusiasm for the law by engaging with them in critical analysis; and then pushing the limits of their understanding by challenging them to expose logical gaps in his explanations.
He is also full of praise for those he teaches. “I can honestly say that NUS students are among the very best that I have encountered,” he said. “I am always thoroughly impressed by their perseverance, creativity and intelligence. I was told before coming to NUS that students may be reluctant to participate in class. However, I have found NUS students to be thoroughly engaged both inside and outside the classroom.”