General Law Info

Secrets they never taught me at law school
Reflections of a retiring lawyer

Every single person makes law affecting himself all the time.

Every moment when you relate to another person is a unique law-making situation. If he thinks you were wrong, he sues you. And vice versa.

If you like to have business relations with him, the two of you have an agreement which makes rules on how you will carry out your business together. Obeying these rules is upholding the law.

Nobody knows every single law all the time.

Laws change all the time according to what our society mostly thinks is right and wrong.

For instance, men with long hair were “outlawed” in Singapore 25 years ago. Now, we have laws on killer litter which did not exist before. Nobody knew before 1997 that it would be illegal to sell or distribute chewing gum. Now it is.

In summary: not even a judge knows every single law. Not all the time he doesn’t.

A big part of lawyers’ bills covers time wasted unnecessarily finding out facts which you should know better.

Lawyers spend more time knowing what the facts of your case are than in working out the best plan to complete your case. This is true regardless of the type of case you have, be it for preparing a contract or fighting in court. This is made worse by clients who tell them “I leave it all to the lawyer” because they cannot be bothered to pay attention to their own cases.

It really is about justice and fairness.

When relations are affected by disagreements, at least two opposing sides are formed. There are basically 2 choices: (a) let the strongest (by strength with money or muscles or by numbers) party win; or (b) let the party in the right be the winner, who gets the support of the whole society.

Most people probably want laws to reflect “justice” and “fairness”. Rules that seem unfair or unreasonable will usually be disobeyed somehow. Often, such disobedience is hidden at the start; later on, they become more outrightly rebellious.

Skipping some history and a lot of jargon, the rules of getting justice and fairness come down to:

  1. getting a neutral 3rd party (like a judge) to say whether your side is in the right – if you’re the one in a fight, you’ll naturally say you’re right; and
  2. giving you and your opponent a fair chance to show who’s “right”.

Doing the “lawful” thing is like taking part in a contest where the fairest side wins. The lawyers are your image consultants. Regardless of whether you are negotiating a contract, making an application to a government body, or fighting in court, their job is to make your side’s proposal appear the fairest.

It is often more unrealistic and idealistic to believe that you can “do-it-yourself” because the “truth” will be on your side when you are in the right.

Don’t believe me? Try asking six of your closest friends who is more “wrong” : the person who threw the first punch, or the person who reacted by kicking twice. This is the reality of what happens when people have disputes. One side does something stupid and the other side over-reacts.

The best and brightest people in government have spent hundreds of years, made hundreds of thousands of decisions in court working out what is most reasonable. Most lawyers spend at least four years studying these cases, learning the nicest arguments and presentation techniques etc.

The richest and most powerful people, whose “might” can “make right” almost anything, usually ask for their lawyers’ “okay” before doing anything. How far can the less well off and powerful progress in this contest to look fair and reasonable without the specialists.

It costs more for lawyers to betray you than to do their best for you.

Lawyers must have obtain a confirmation from their professional association that they have not been suspended from practising law because of misconduct before they receive their licences (called “practising certificates”) each year. Losing their licence to practice would mean losing their livelihood.

What if someone offered them a lot of money to deliberately lose a case? This can be answered in many ways: First of all, lawyers, like award winning actors, must win their contests often to get good paying work. So, it does not make sense for them to lose unless it is a lot of money. Secondly, even if a lot of money is offered, the severe punishment (it is cheating, which is a criminal offence) and loss of reputation if the lawyer is discovered makes the risks and rewards very hard to compare. To be realistic about this scenario, the lawyer must have fought very hard and won often enough to get to the point where someone would consider bribing him to “throw away” a fight. In my 10 years as a practising lawyer, I have heard hundreds more rumours of sportsmen deliberately losing a contest than any relating to lawyers.

Last but not least, every lawyer swears to do his best to win the case for his client (short of lying and cheating) on the day he receives the licence to practise law. He would therefore do so, for his pride if nothing else.

Lawyering is not about drafting documents or having a big library of “standard” forms and precedents. It’s about presentation skills and confidence.

Every case and every person is different. It is unrealistic to expect that somebody would accept a draft form or contract or argument just like that. Unless there is something else you should watch out for. It’s not about filling up the blank forms. It’s knowing what will happen if it is filled out wrongly and how to put in details which works in your favour.

I must readily admit that I, too, have spent too much time slavishly copying forms and precedents as a student and as a lawyer. I did not realise until much later that the forms and precedents are just tools to give me confidence. More time should be spent thinking about whether any particular phrase or clause is suitable for my purpose.

Learn from my mistakes.

A client who knows what is going on forms a better partnership with his lawyer, which can outdo a partnership of a very good lawyer with a client who does not care about what is happening.

In ten years of practice, I have not seen a lawyer change something from black to white, although I have often witnessed bad lawyers win good cases and good lawyers lose bad cases. In other words, sometimes a client wins despite the lawyer. Thankfully, it does not happen very often.

The most common situation of the winning combination is one where the lawyer manages to explains what is required for the client to win his contest in a simple and sensible way. The client then makes the effort to understand the facts and provide the lawyer with sensible details which relate to the case and not simply leaving everything with the lawyer without even thinking if the client can handle anything himself so that legal fees and expenses can be lessened.

 

The winning team of lawyer and client works together to produce the best results.

How To Find What You Need?

So many laws, so little time: How to find what you need out of so many laws

Firstly, if you find a topic which matches what you may be looking for, by all means, click on it.

If you cannot find what you want, such as e-commerce law (so far I only know of three cases reported in the courts – involving a hacker, a spam mailer and two Internet Service Providers), you can use your own common sense to work out the structure based on the principles inside our web pages. I did notice that a publication on e-commerce law devote a big portion of the writing on basic contract law.

Basically, most countries have a “Basic Law”, which is called a Constitution. The Constitution will spell out what government officers must do for the public and the powers given to them to carry out these duties.

We call the laws surrounding the government officers public law. The other areas where people relate to each other (such as business or family relations) without government officers getting involved are called private law.

Of course, some situations would involve both public and private laws.. For instance, let’s consider a private business deal to buy an existing restaurant business (which mostly concerns contract law, a private law area). However, a government officer must issue a licence to the new manager before the deal can be completed. The legal know-how regarding the fairness of licensing requirements is a public law. About 95 % of this deal is about how the buyer and seller will carry out the deal and the last 5% about the buyer getting a licence from the health authorities.More effort be spent on private law than public law?

Q: What about the areas not covered in your website?

 

We are doing everything we can. We have a community of more than 3,000 lawyers. As all of us participate in discussions and feedback, this library will grow. Because, you also make laws!

Time Limit To Start Your Claim

Suing In Time

If a person takes an intolerably long time to start his claim, the law may penalise him by preventing him from proceeding any further. This claim is said to be “time-barred”. A person who wishes to sue must ensure that his/her right to sue is not time-barred.

This means that the law will set a time limit within which the claimant must start court proceedings. Time starts to “run” from the moment there is a right to sue. Usually this is considered to be the point where the victim is aware that a wrong was done to him.

Limitation Table

 

Type of Cases/MattersTime Limitation
Contract6 years
Tort (damages does not include damages for personal injury)6 years
Personal injury as a result of negligence, nuisance or breach of duty3 years
To execute a judgement12 years
To recover land12 years

 

However, there are times when the courts allow the plaintiff’s postponement or give an extension of the time limit for the plaintiff to start suing. For instance, where the action is related to matters regarding land and the defendant took steps to conceal matters which would make the plaintiff realise he has a right to sue. Where such right to make a claim is concealed by the defendant’s fraud or where a serious mistake was discovered, time begins to run only from the time of discovering the fraud or mistake. If the person entitled to sue is under 21 years old or of unsound mind, time will only start to run when the person turns 21 years old or from the date of death whichever is earlier. In the case of death, the personal representatives of the deceased would be the persons entitled to sue.

In actions for negligence, nuisance or breach of duty, where the person entitled to sue does not know that the injury or damages was attributable to the wrongful act or that the identity of the defendant or that the severity of the injury justifies his/her bringing an action against the defendant, time begins to run from the time that the person acquired this knowledge.

Additional Guidance Articles:

Constitutional Rights
Citizenship
Changing Your Name
Bankruptcy
What is a Contract
Winding up a Company
Intellectual Property
Adoption