RAJAN CHETTIAR ON REVENUE IN FAMILY LAW
Does the move to mediation affect the coffers of law firms? The MD of Rajan Chettiar LLC weighs in.
“Nobody wants a contested divorce,” says Mr Rajan Chettiar. Perhaps noticing my raised eyebrows, he quickly backtracks and adds a qualifier: “Well, almost nobody.” His observation aptly describes today’s consensus that non-adversarial divorces are better for everybody involved. In fact, it’s such an entrenched belief that it’s hard to imagine that just 20 years ago, Kramer vs Kramer-style courtroom battles were the norm.
As the Managing Director of Rajan Chettiar LLC, Mr Rajan is an ideal person to explain these shifts in attitudes. After all, he kickstarted his practice in 2003 to minimise litigation and acrimony in the field. Plus, he holds the distinction of handling Singapore’s first collaborative family law case back in 2013. “Most of my peers were not on board with [non-acrimonious divorces] largely because they weren’t used to it. But then the courts started heavily pushing for it and that’s when the change took off. It’s a move in the right direction.”
Surprisingly, mediation’s popularity can also be linked to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The circuit-breaker, argues Mr Rajan, gave some couples on the brink of divorce some time and space to work out their issues amicably. “Some eventually reunited, while others who went ahead with their divorces opted for an uncontested settlement,” he shares. “But a handful did go down the litigation path.”
The move towards mediation has also caught on simply because of the benefits it offers couples. “They can be a bit more creative with their future, be it the division of assets or the way they co-parent their children,” explains Mr Rajan. “And it helps that the mediation is judge-led, which gives them an assurance that there is still some authority in the proceedings.”
But that doesn’t mean that the entire profession sees things as hunky-dory. Mr Rajan understands that some quarters still fear that emerging trends in family law will bring down their revenues. “It’s a very understandable and rational fear, especially in this economic climate,” he says. “But I can assure my learned friends that my practice, which employs about three lawyers and three administrative staff, has not seen a significant drop in revenue because of the shift away from acrimonious divorces.”
He reminds me that not every case that he gets is suitable for mediation—a point raised by Ms Angelina Hing of Integro Law Chambers in another interview with SAL. Lawyers and the courts still weigh the merits of each case before deciding on the best way forward—and in those with uncompromising parties, the courtroom is still the preferred choice. “So it’s not like my litigation skills are suffering from underuse,” he quips.
Mediation takes centrestage at the first session of SAL’s upcoming three-part series titled The Changing Landscape of Family Law Advocacy. It kicks off on Thursday, 10 December, with insights from District Judge Lim Choi Ming of the Family Justice Courts, Mr Rajan Chettiar (Managing Director, Rajan Chettiar LLC), Ms Angelina Hing (Managing Director, Integro Law Chambers), Mr Lim Tat (Managing Partner, Aequitas Law) and Ms Michelle Png (Assistant Senior Counsellor at THK Centre for Family Harmony). Registrations for the series are now open.
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