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CONSIDER this the most valuable piece of legal advice you'll ever receive: "The moment you think you have a legal problem, consult a lawyer. Take the bull by the horns. Don't ignore your legal problem in the hope that it will miraculously disappear by itself. Legal problems are like medical problems - the earlier you seek professional help, the better your chances of surviving the problem." That's what Chia Boon Teck, co-managing partner of Chia Wong LLP, invariably tells people.
"A lawyer can damage control your legal problem by helping you to put your case together, collate evidence, and strategise your management of your opponent to deter him from taking things further," says Mr Chia.
A dynamic duo
Incorporated in 2007, Chia Wong LLP is a boutique law practice known for its aggressive and effective style of litigation and dispute resolution, and provides services across matrimonial and criminal law, civil and commercial litigation, and trusts and estate planning. Mr Chia and Wong Kai Yun are its co-managing partners.
While Mr Chia does a mix of civil, commercial, as well as criminal litigation, Ms Wong's specialty is matrimonial litigation. Their client base comprises largely high net worth local and expatriate individuals, as well as public listed companies.
When asked what makes their partnership tick, Ms Wong says: "While we may be very different in terms of temperament - BT is far more confrontational and headstrong than me - our fundamentals in our legal practice are very similar; we do not dispense advice lightly. We recognise that the client's matter may be one of many for us, but for that client it may be the 'biggest fight' he's ever had in his life.
"BT is good in his fields and I can hold my own in mine. Managing a minefield of information and facts and distilling them down to a concise package to persuade the Court to grant your client what he or she wants is an art. BT often says that we quarrel for a living; but I would prefer to think that we persuade for a living," laughs Ms Wong.
Nicknamed "Chilli Padi" by her clients for her petite frame and potency in Court, Ms Wong was ranked in the Top 100 IFC (International Financial Centre) Power Women List (2013); IFC (International Financial Centre) Power Women Top 200 (2014 & 2015); Citywealth Leaders List (2013 to 2015); and Leading Lawyer Doyles Guide for Family & Divorce Lawyers (2015) - no small feat indeed!
Elaborating on their motto "Take the bull by the horns", Ms Wong shares: "Many of my clients suffer horrendous marriages involving physical abuses, mental tortures, monetary bullying, and sometimes pure vindictiveness. My advice to them is 'You can't start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one. Don't suffer bullies'."
The dynamism of Mr Chia and Ms Wong has reaped Chia Wong LLP the following awards in 2015:-
Quarrelling for a living
Both were called to the Bar in 1995 and having 21 years of legal practice under their belts, Mr Chia and Ms Wong are highly sought after lawyers. A scroll down the long list of their clients' feedback on the firm's website gives the reader a distinct impression that both lawyers are highly regarded by their clients for their prowess in Court.
"We are both very humbled by our clients' high regard for us. Many of our clients come to us through recommendations from existing and former clients, but the ultimate compliment is when the recommendation comes from an existing or former opponent," enthuses Ms Wong.
Civil and commercial litigation is not for the weak or faint hearted. Explains Mr Chia: "Civil and commercial litigation is about enforcing one's rights. It's about recovering money or money's worth in most cases. If the amount in dispute is not commensurate with the legal costs, then the litigant must be prepared to put his money where his mouth is and say 'It's not the money, it's the principle'. Like it or not, talk is cheap until you engage a lawyer."
Most folks shy away from an argument because win or lose, getting embroiled in an argument causes a person much angst. Arguing for a living as a litigator calls for a special breed of individuals who are able to absorb the stresses of the job which include having to handle the clients, the opponents, the judges, the public performance in Court, and the media.
"And on top of all these, a lawyer's familiarity with the facts, knowledge of the law, mastery of the evidence, and experience in Court procedures are a given and expected of him," explains Mr Chia.
Proving your innocence
If you're being investigated by the police, a lawyer can help you to persuade the police of your innocence and take no further action against you. "Half the time, people think the truth will prevail. But at the investigation stage, that may not be so," explains Mr Chia.
That's because the police sometimes develop their case theory based largely on the complainant's side of the story. Without a lawyer to show the police the other side of the coin, the police has no alternative case theory to consider.
"If that happens, you're doomed - because you have nobody speaking up for you until after you get charged in Court. That's when a lawyer's involvement can change your fate," says Mr Chia.
Notes Mr Chia: "Think of it this way: you have to prove your own innocence. Do you know what's important or unimportant; relevant or irrelevant; exonerating or incriminating; productive or counter-productive to reveal? A lawyer can advise you on your best and worst case scenarios and everything else in between. These information will help you to manage your emotions and anxieties so that you are not reduced to a nervous wreck during the period of investigation which can stretch from months to years."
Of all people, Mr Chia would know. His years as an investigating officer in the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) before he became a lawyer not only gives him an intimate understanding of how the police, investigators, and prosecutors do their work; but how public policies and the dynamics of other factors can sometimes influence the direction and outcome of certain matters.
The value of 'face'
The Asian mentality of "saving face" is often a powerful influence over how individuals handle their disputes. "This is something that is deeply ingrained in many of us and I don't see this mindset changing anytime soon," predicts Mr Chia.
"An individual's 'face' directly reflects his self-worth, and self-worthiness is something that many people would protect and defend to the ends of the earth. Many wars have been fought over the warring factions' perception of their 'loss of face'," Mr Chia notes.
"Life is 10 per cent of what happens to you and 90 per cent of how you react to it. Can you live and let live; or do you have to prove everyone wrong all the time?" asks Mr Chia. "Pick your fights. Not all causes are worth burning bridges over," he cautions, but concludes: "But if fight you must, you know where to find us," he smiles.