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High-flying lawyer still applies lessons from school

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Adam Maniam
Director, Dispute Resolution,
Director, Competition Law Practice (Disputes), Drew & Napier LLC

Alumnus, NUS Law

As a young, aspiring lawyer, Adam Maniam spent a lot of time in the law library at the National University of Singapore (NUS) brushing up on his knowledge and catching up on his assignments.

Little did he know that the hours he spent in the library would pay off handsomely in more ways than one – not only is he an established lawyer in Singapore today, it was also in that very same library that he met his wife while he was in his first year at NUS.

The 37-year-old litigator at Drew & Napier, who graduated in 2008, is now happily married with two children whom he and his wife adore.

As his wife is also a lawyer, he considers himself fortunate to have a spouse who is understanding of the demanding schedule he keeps at work.

“Things can escalate very quickly for a lawyer - there may be days when we have to be in the office late to deal with issues that have suddenly arisen,” Adam explains. “At times like these, it is comforting to have someone at home who understands the demands of the job, and is happy to hold the fort (at home).”

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Adam (right, in black) with his wife Cuixian, whom he met at NUS, and their two children.

Ever the doting father, however, the director of dispute resolution and competition law practice (disputes) at Drew & Napier tries to make it home to see his children before they go to bed, then picks up on his work once they are asleep.

“It's possible, even as a busy lawyer, to have time for your family every day. It doesn’t come easily however. You have to make an effort, and be deliberate about your time,” Adam says. To save time and work more efficiently, he usually has lunch at his desk and avoids idle chats in the office.

He concedes that being a litigator is “a very demanding job”, but adds that “it is also a dynamic job that is always exciting and fulfilling”. “I would not still be in the same job and same firm for 12 years if I did not find it fulfilling,” says Adam, who was recently named as a Next Generation Partner in the Legal 500 Asia Pacific 2020 rankings.

Adam became interested in the profession during his final year in junior college after discovering his strengths.

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Adam and his parents at his Commencement ceremony in 2008.

“Compared to other subjects, achieving a good grade in General Paper always came more easily to me. I also enjoyed public speaking. This made me consider a career as a litigator,” explains Adam.

“I have always been a measured person, and being careful and deliberate in making decisions has served me well as a lawyer. I have also always been someone who tends to see both sides of a problem. Back in school, when a friend would come to me with a complaint, I would immediately start thinking not just about what my friend was saying but about the perspective from the other side, too.”

He did some research on law schools, and the programmes offered at NUS caught his eye. Thus, with his sights set on becoming a lawyer, Adam entered the NUS Faculty of Law.

The legal training Adam received at NUS turned out to be, in his own words, “second to none”.

Apart from excellent tutors who provided him a strong foundation in substantive law, he was also given the “best possible training” on how to research, analyse and present cases – all critical skills for an advocate – by Associate Professor Eleanor Wong and Associate Professor Lim Lei Theng. Even today, after 10 years of practice, Adam still finds himself applying what they taught him in school. “I am very fortunate to have been under their tutelage,” says Adam.

Outside of lecture theatres, Adam also had the opportunity to represent NUS in competitions such as the 2008 Asia Pacific Regional Rounds of the Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot Court Competition, where he achieved the rare distinction of being the best oralist in the general rounds as well as the best oralist in the final.

“Taking part in the competition was exhilarating – it was wonderful to get the chance to compete with the best law schools in Asia and Australia. Being named the double-best oralist in the competition reinforced my belief that the legal education and training I had received at NUS was second to none,” declares Adam.

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Adam (far left) with his mooting teammates Arvindran and Mahesh (now Adam’s fellow partner at Drew & Napier) and Associate Professor Lim Lei Theng after the 2008 Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot Court Competition, where he was named best oralist in the general rounds and the final.

The competition opportunities had come through the Law Faculty’s mooting programme, which Adam was a part of.

His outstanding achievement did not come easily, as Adam faced his fair share of doubts and struggles over his performance in the lead-up to the competition.

But that in itself taught him a lesson: as a lawyer, there will be days when despite his best efforts, he does not get the results he is hoping for. So, he learned to sit back and analyse where he could have done better, and apply what he learnt to deliver a stronger performance the next time round. “As a litigator, there is always room to sharpen your skills and improve,” he says.

The same applied to his school assignments. He recalls his disappointing grades in Property Law, and credits a discussion with his professor for helping him to identify what went wrong.

“The conclusion that we reached was that I had spent too much time expressing my opinions on various issues without properly addressing the substance of those issues in question, which was more important,” says Adam.

“I learnt a lesson then that I still remember today – clients come to me because they aren’t well-versed in legal technicalities. They are not so concerned with the intricacies of the law – they want to know what the possible outcomes are and how they will be practically affected, and that is the most important thing to address.”

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Adam (middle, front row) at an event celebrating Drew & Napier’s 130th anniversary with his batchmates from NUS Law Class of 2008.

Aware that the learning curve for aspiring lawyers can be extremely steep, he hopes to do his part to help his juniors. Since graduating, he has helped coach NUS moot teams and has been a mentor under the Law Alumni Mentorship Programme.

“NUS gave me an insight into what the professional world would be like and this helped me greatly when I took my first tentative steps into that world. (So my advice to them) would be to learn as much as they can from their tutors. Many of them are among the best in their fields and are excellent sources of knowledge and experience,” Adam states.

“Just as importantly, soak in the atmosphere of being in a world-class university with students from all over the world and remember to enjoy yourself in the process.”

Rather than bury themselves in their notes or textbooks, he hopes his juniors will also know when to have fun.

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Adam (far right, standing) recalls his time at NUS with great fondness.

After all, he forged many lifelong friendships during his four years in school at NUS, as well as through playing football once a week on campus. At times, these relationships have even proved helpful for his career, as his friends have referred work to him and vice versa.

The same friends have also been helpful sounding boards for difficult legal issues, Adam shares.

“My four years in NUS were very enriching and enjoyable. I look back on those four years with great fondness,” Adam says.