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Veteran lawyer Rajan Menon was about to retire from KhattarWong, after a career spanning three decades, when the idea to found a law firm took fire.
He hosted some colleagues at his home and turned to his wife. “I asked, should I be doing this at this age? She was perceptive. She said, your colleagues have fire in their belly.”
To his astonishment, nearly 100 people – 49 lawyers and 50 employees – resigned from KhattarWong to join the new firm even as the founding partners were scrambling to secure premises.
RHTLaw Taylor Wessing, which started in 2011, broke even within its first month of operation. Today it boasts core legal services in the areas of banking, corporate and intellectual property advisory, among others. It even offers a slew of ancillary services, such as Big Data and compliance solutions, corporate secretarial, media and family office services.
A good part of the drive to succeed may be traced to Mr Menon’s firm admonition to the firm’s partners at the outset.
“I told my colleagues two things. One is to never forget what the staff did. They have mortgages, families, household budgets. To resign from a place where you were employed to move to an unknown quantity – most people don’t realise how important those big moves are. I told my partners – we should remember this, cherish it and develop the company from there.
“The second thing is that one of our cornerstones must be that we need to reach out to the unfortunate, the ones who are deprived and need help.”
Thus the idea of setting up a foundation to formalise the firm’s giving took root. Says RHT partner and cofounder Tan Chong Huat: “We felt we had to give back to society. One of the main tenets of our beliefs is that when we do well, we must do good. Instead of CSR (corporate social responsibility) on an ad hoc basis, we wanted to do it through a foundation in a more focused fashion.”
Planning for the RHT Rajan Menon Foundation began in 2013 and it was incorporated in 2015. Mr Tan is the foundation’s chairman and associate professor Ho Peng Kee its patron. The foundation was recently registered as a Grant-making Philanthropic Organisation. This means it is able to issue tax deduction receipts to its donors.
Mr Tan says: “The vision of the foundation is to establish and encourage a philanthropic culture of giving back to the community, among the corporate and legal fraternity. There isn’t an organisation out there established as a corporate foundation to do this.
“We believe the legal community can be a catalyst to do more, with their expertise and intimate knowledge of the community. We want to excite this group to go forth and contribute.”
Both Mr Menon and Mr Tan have had a long commitment to public service. Mr Menon says he is passionate about pro bono work. “Two to three years after I joined KhattarWong in 1981, the first person who called me was (then-president) Devan Nair. He said – you should help the unions. They were the first group I was involved in; they were very poor.”
His service to organisations included the labour foundation and trade union, including work for SLF Properties and SLF Management Services; NTUC Fairprice and the Hindu Endowments Board for whom he helped with the construction of and fundraising for the Sri Sivan Temple at Dhoby Ghaut.
In 1993 he was conferred the Public Service Medal, and the Friends of Labour Award by the National Trades Union Congress. Mr Tan is council member of a number of organisations including the Football Association of Singapore, the Singapore Red Cross and the Singapore Road Safety Council. He has established a National University of Singapore bursary for needy students, the Tan Han Boon Bursary, named after his father.
Last year, the foundation hosted two major fund raisers, galvanising the firm’s wide network of clients and associates. It raised some S$450,000 through two charity golf events in May and October. Beneficiaries for the May event included the Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund, the World Wide Fund for Nature and the National Gallery Singapore. The October event’s beneficiaries included the Red Cross Home for the Disabled.
Says Mr Tan: “What I can see is that corporations are coming forward and affirming that they like the causes we support. In these bad economic times, to raise S$450,000 over four to five months is pretty credible. “I think the level of awareness of philanthropy or giving is rising. It’s quite clear that donations and contributions have gone up over the past five to 10 years. Can corporates do more? Yes, the legal community can do more with their specialised knowledge. We created this foundation to promote awareness and establish programmes that can be actualised and help entrench this community.”
To further the cause of pro bono work, the foundation has launched the RHTLaw Taylor Wessing Subhas Anandan Pro Bono Award to recognise and fund the best pro bono ideas. The foundation also partnered the Singapore Management University’s School of Law to launch the RHT Tan Chong Huat Corporate Crime Award, recognising the best students in corporate crime.
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