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Five Reasons to Serve

An interview with Chandra Mohan K Nair ’76 

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LawLink: What motivates you to continue to contribute so much to NUS

CM: Soon after I graduated from law school, I did ask myself, “What kind of life would I like to lead for the next, twenty, thirty years?”

The first priority was: if I have a family, I must take care of my family, and have children, which I did, and look after my parents and siblings too.

Secondly, I wanted to serve my school, and my university, because that’s where I gained education.

Thirdly, I wanted to serve my profession. So I served the Law Society, Academy of Law, Board of Legal Education for many years. I even taught at NUS for a very short while.

LawLink: Which subject?

CM: I can’t even remember, it was in the ’80s. I taught trial advocacy, but it was only for a short spell. (Laughs)

Fourthly, I wanted to serve the community in Singapore, the Indian and the wider community as a whole.

Fifthly, I wanted to serve beyond the shores of Singapore, at ASEAN level and  if possible the world at large.

I also wanted to serve myself. That is also important – to spiritualise, philosophise, and make yourself a better person through reading, going through life experiences and travel.

I think in many ways – in my own subjective standards – I’ve achieved quite a few of these things. To serve the profession and the university, I gave back through the NUSS ( Guild House) –the graduate society of NUS. Through that work, I got very involved in NUS, and was appointed to the Board of Trustees of NUS from 2000 to last year. When I stepped down, the Chairman, Mr Wong Ngit Liong, asked me to carry on serving NUS High School. So I’m on the Board of Governors there, as well as the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School.

I also serve in governmental bodies, such as the Ministry of Home Affairs, in the various criminal law advisory committees. Also with sports bodies, like the Singapore Hockey Federation and the Football Association of Singapore. All this is voluntary work which a lot of lawyers should get involved with, because these institutions need input from lawyers.

I’m also a marriage solemniser; I solemnise weddings, and I handle divorce cases as a lawyer (laughs). I do both. I’ve been a marriage solemniser for about six years now. That’s also community work. It’s wonderful because you go and meet so many happy people of various races, inter marriages – they become your friends, a mini united nation of people; it’s a great feeling compared to lawyering where there is great tension. And to advise the newlyweds to have a romantic and passionate married life, and to have  children if inclined to. 

Even in my personal life, I got remarried in December 2008 to one Susan de Silva who is also a practicing lawyer. She is a very charming and very kind and caring lady. We live together with our 5 children, in one happy home.

LawLink: So you enjoy this more than you enjoy doing divorces? (Laughing)

CM: Yes, definitely. These are all avenues available to young lawyers too and they should look into and volunteer their services.

I’m also a Visiting Justice appointed by the Government to visit and listen to prisoners’ problems. I go to prisons and independently check on the welfare and fairness to make sure that prisoners are cared for, and to prevent potential abuse . We are like a watchdog appointed by the government to ensure a good system for the welfare of prisoners.

Pro bono work is very important. It must start from undergraduate days. Pro bono work gives you a very good opportunity to do what you can for the less privileged. And it’s good for your conscience and for the soul. It gives you the opportunity to do good things so you can be a better and more compassionate person. You realise how lucky you are compared to so many less privileged people in this world.

And the other important thing is, by doing this pro bono work, the community at large will say, “Hey, lawyers are actually nice people.” And that’s very important in terms of the truth and the image of lawyers.

 

Very often, lawyers are seen to be greedy for money, which is very unfair. Many of them do yeoman’s service and lots of good work, in the course of legal practice, giving legal advice free of charge. We don’t charge. Sort of like Robin Hood, you know? We try to tax the rich and give to the poor.

LawLink: Please tell us about the combined reunion you are organising at the end of the year.

CM: They approached me, having been active in the alumni body and Board of Trustees, to see whether I could garner some support and see if it was possible to organise one. We decided then to combine a few years, because otherwise the numbers would be very small. Many of them were Malaysians. Some have moved out of the profession. Some have passed on. We decided on the graduating years of ’74, ’75, ’76 and ’77. I belong to the class of ’76. I got some of my friends to get representatives from each class to be in charge, so finally we formed an ad hoc committee, and I was made the chair.

LawLink: Seems to be a trend.

CM: (Laughs) The whole idea behind this is to bring about the spirit of alumni back to campus. Ours, of course, was Bukit Timah campus, before it went to NUS Kent Ridge, and now it’s back in Bukit Timah. So I think it’s wonderful, because it’s the first time that it's being organised at this level and we are going back to Bukit Timah, so we are all looking forward to it.

We’ve sent out letters to whoever we can, but the unfortunate thing is that the old records at NUS and Law Faculty are not complete and are not updated. So we need to go on a personal basis to try to get our friends. I hope in future, every cohort will have a few volunteer “secretaries” to track down where everyone has moved on to. Which law firm, in house or abroad, got married, got children, passed away. Have records, and then carry on updating the details so that there will be continuity.

I think it’ll be an exciting event on the 3rd of November, and we are trying to get as many people as possible, including the lecturers of that time. We are also communicating with the Malaysian friends, and hopefully even the Malaysian friends through the Bar Council of Malaysia – may be able to assist us because they may have some records.

The important thing is to get graduates to have a connection with the university – the law faculty in particular – and to see how the law faculty has progressed into one of the better law faculties in the world.

I think this is something I am proud of – to see lawyers who are excelling. And I hope they will always pay back in whatever way they can. The connectivity of law graduates with their alma mater is a duty of every graduate. It is pay back time and a way of showing your love and affection to the Law Faculty and to NUS.

 

I don’t mean in terms of money alone. That’s always welcome I think. The crucial contribution is in terms of time, your expertise, coming back to give classes, mentoring, or if you have a law firm, getting a law student to be attached to the law firm. In this way, we all contribute, and we have a large family of hopefully happy people.

 

Victor Katheyas ’13

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This Issue Dean's Diary DIrector Faculty Students Reunions Class Action

 

I’m also a marriage solemniser; I solemnise weddings, and I do divorces. … [Weddings are] wonderful because you go and meet so many happy people; it’s wonderful compared to lawyering.