When a young woman was caught stealing from an electronics store and a supermarket, it seemed certain that she would lose her freedom.
But her lawyer, Kenneth Lim from Allen & Gledhill, who was assigned to represent her pro bono under the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, sensed that something was amiss and started digging deeper into his client’s background.
His instincts were proven right. The accused was later diagnosed by the psychiatrist as suffering from a severe case of clinical depression. As it turned out, she had been living rough for a while before her arrest, and had been estranged from her family.
“It is the duty of the defense counsel to understand the accused’s case, to look into the background, and to raise mitigating factors,” said the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) alumnus.
Citing the woman’s unfortunate predicament and psychological condition as mitigating circumstances, Kenneth successfully argued for leniency. Instead of jail, she was found eligible for a community sentence. In a happy ending for everyone, the defendant and her family were also reconciled after the legal and emotional trials of the court proceedings.
Kenneth, a father of three, is a civil litigator who also specialises in the field of Insolvency and Restructuring, where he helps his clients resolve complicated commercial tangles.
His successful defence of the woman wasn’t just a result of his dogged determination to help his client, but also his uncanny ability to view things from an unconventional perspective.
While some in the business world might see insolvency laws as a loophole to protect failed businessmen, Kenneth has a different view. To him, bankruptcy protection fosters entrepreneurship and innovation, as it encourages people to take risks.
According to Kenneth, anyone with a laptop can tell you what the letter of the law says, but what people are really looking for are solutions.
“With time and experience, you learn that law is about solving problems for your clients. The best part of my job is achieving a satisfactory resolution for the people I represent,” he said.
Kenneth credits his journey as a younger lawyer to senior lawyers who guided him along each step of his legal career. He also learned from the example set by those “older and wiser lawyers”, many of whom are NUS alumni who have trodden the same path.
Law is a profession where you learn by doing, Kenneth believes. He is thankful that NUS Law gave him plenty of hands-on legal experience in the form of advocacy training and international mooting competitions, like the prestigious Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court held in Washington D.C., USA, and the Asia Cup Moot held in Tokyo, Japan.
“From day one, we had courses on legal method and legal analysis. They do train you in the nuts and bolts of how to look at a case or how to argue it in court.”
Apart from mooting, Kenneth was also active in a wide variety of Law School activities like the Law Orientation Camp, Matriculation Week and Law Students International Relations Committee. In his final year, he produced and co-wrote the Law IV Charity Musical, which was staged by the graduating class to raise funds for a good cause.
The practical training has evidently served him well. It has been more than 12 years since graduation and Kenneth has come full circle. No longer a fresh-faced law pupil, he now devotes his spare time towards guiding his juniors in the same way that his mentors once guided him.
Every now and then, he trades his office for a busy NUS classroom. He has helped with moot teams, and is happy to share advice with law students eager to learn more about the profession.
He recently served as a panellist at the NUS Law Matriculation session in 2016 entitled “The Practice of Law”. Alongside fellow alumni from NUS Law, the session gave aspiring lawyers a chance to cross-examine them.
Much as it would seem like nothing could faze Kenneth, he admitted that there was one question from the undergraduates that even he, with all his years of experience, could not really answer.
“They want to know how their legal education can translate into something meaningful. They have so many different options based on their individual strengths, no one can prescribe meaning for them,” he said.
The answer may appear entirely open-ended, but he believes it is all a matter of finding one’s passion.
“Whether it is legal practice, government service, academia, or carving an entirely new and different path for themselves, I am sure that an NUS education will help them to find their calling.”