IN THEIR FATHERS’ FOOTSTEPS
This article is best read on a desktop computer.
Davinder Singh SC, Subhas Anandan, Jeffrey Chan SC and Peter Low are well known in legal circles and their work has been widely publicised in the news. But to Hanspreet and Jaspreet Singh, Sujesh Anandan, Jacqueline and Jason Chan SC, and Christine and Elaine Low, these legal luminaries are just loving fathers and even best friends who have found the time to nurture and mentor them, despite their extremely busy schedules.
This second generation has followed their fathers’ footsteps into the legal profession, with some of them working directly under their fathers in the same firm. In the lead up to Father’s Day this weekend, we are privileged to hear their stories of the special bonds they share with their fathers and how they have been inspired to carry the torch for the legal service.
BY FOO KIM LENG
THE LAW: A VEHICLE TO DO GOOD
Sujesh and his father Subhas in 2007. At the time, Sujesh was 17 and his father, 60.
Sujesh Anandan was 24 when his father Subhas passed away in 2015. He remembers his father with fondness every day. “I can still hear some of his famous (or infamous) one-liners. Whenever I’m in doubt, I think of him and think about how he would have advised me.”
He is especially grateful for his father’s gentle nudge towards a law degree. “He never pressured or put any expectations on me. But I know that he was very happy when I eventually did pursue law. He was never too bothered with academic success. Instead, he always echoed the importance of being a good person, to help people whenever possible.”
Subhas may have appeared in numerous high-profile cases, but he hardly spoke to his son about them. Sujesh only got to know about them from reports in the newspapers and on television. “His success and the publicity definitely made me proud. But it did not set me on the path to becoming a lawyer.” Sujesh who practises at Quahe Woo & Palmer LLC said that his inspiration came from seeing how his father had used his career to help those in need. “I have always believed that if he was not a criminal lawyer, he would have found a way to give back. Criminal defence was just a vehicle for him to do that.”
His father’s reaction to the final decision on the Huang Na murder case left a deep impression on him. “He didn’t show his emotions often but for this particular matter… he took it especially hard. It was clear that he wished the decision had been different.”
LIVING WITH “THE BOSS”
Elaine (back row, in grey) and Christine (next to her), with their partners.
Peter is seated in front alongside his daughter Adeline (in red) and wife Maureen.
Unlike Sujesh, Christine and Elaine Low grew up in a home where murder and drug cases were an everyday conversation. “I often used to bring work home, including files with pictures of dead bodies and drug exhibits,” says Peter Low. His daughters developed an interest in his work and expressed a keen desire to pursue law when they were doing their ‘A’ levels. In fact, Christine delayed going to law school for over a year to help her father with a high-profile case.
Today, Christine and Elaine work with their father at Peter Low & Choo LLC, a specialist litigation firm with 10 lawyers. Dad may be “Dad” at home but in the office, he’s Mr Low. “I found it awkward, not to mention unprofessional, to address him as "Dad" in the office and in front of clients. Until today, Elaine and I address him as "Mr Low" in the office,” says Christine.
“Dad is a workaholic… so our workday starts from the time we get into the car to get to work,” shares Elaine. “We receive instructions or send emails for him on car journeys [and] after we get home and at almost every family dinner. When friends ask me how it is like working for my father, my answers are usually, (1) I don’t work for my father, I live with my boss and (2) I cannot fake medical leave.”
But Christine and Elaine clearly love working for their father, “He is one of the best mentors in the profession,” explains Elaine. Christine adds that her father has a strong work ethic, setting very high standards for himself and his team. “When I first started working for him, fresh out of junior college, he would return drafts all marked-up in red, and there would be several revisions before an engrossed copy was ready for issuance. I felt like I was back in school. Fifteen years on, there are fewer mark-ups, but I know that if not for his strict training, I would not be where I am today in terms of having a proper attitude towards the practice of law as well as professional competency.”
Peter, who has mentored numerous junior lawyers, believes in the importance of good grounding and learning from seniors. He had missed that when he left the Legal Service and Drew & Napier to strike out on his own. Having amassed years of experience, he is now happy to be able to guide the professional growth of his daughters at “close quarters” at his firm.
ADVICE FROM DAD
Jason, Jacqueline and Jeffrey today.
Getting advice from their father is something that siblings Jason and Jacqueline Chan are used to. Their father Jeffrey Chan SC was Singapore’s first Deputy Solicitor-General and also the first Chief of Staff of the Singapore Legal Service. After he retired from legal service, Jeffrey continued to be involved in a wide range of work, including appearing for the Government in civil and criminal cases and matters concerning the legal profession.
“He’s a great Dad… always looking out for us. He always has advice (sometimes unsolicited),” shares Jason, a Senior Counsel in Allen & Gledhill’s litigation practice. His sister Jacqueline, a partner in Milbank LLP adds, “Like all fathers, he often did or said things to wind us up. He continues to do so today. But now we can argue back a little better.”
Coming from a family of many lawyers, choosing a career in the law was a no brainer. “We don’t have any other marketable skills,” they quip. Jacqueline adds, “Seeing Dad’s work as a lawyer while growing up only made my decision to enter the legal field easier.” There was however no pressure from Dad. Jeffrey said he would have been equally happy if they had gone into teaching like their mother. “What is important is that their careers must be what they want, not one that they are compelled into.
"YOU KNOW WHAT PAPA WANTS"
Jaspreet, Hanspreet and Davinder at 2019's CJ's Cup, SAL's annual charity futsal tournament.
Jaspreet Singh Sachdev and Hanspreet Singh Sachdev share the love of sports with their father Davinder Singh SC. They also share the same office at Davinder Singh Chambers LLC with Papa presiding as their boss. They tell us how they navigate this while still maintaining a close and loving relationship.
How did you feel when you learned that your children were going to follow in your footsteps into the law? Was there a tacit expectation that they would?
DS: On both occasions, I punched the air (in private). It was not a tacit expectation; more like “you know what Papa wants, I am not forcing you, it is your choice, of course, I love you and will support you whatever you do, but you know what Papa wants”. All very subtle. Did your father’s success inspire you to join the profession?
Hans & Jas: We are very proud of his success. We both remember the first time we saw him address the Court and how we felt watching him cross-examine witnesses and extract concessions that seemed almost impossible when the cross-examination began. But what really drew us to the profession was the voracity with which he took to his work. He showed a passion and determination which neither of us had seen in anyone else in any other profession. That stuck with us and we decided to give law a shot. Of course, the heights he has achieved have created a level of expectation. But he just encourages us to focus on doing our best.
Is it difficult being a boss to your own children in the office?
DS: It is pure pleasure for me, and enormous pain for them. So not very difficult really. Seriously though, it is very difficult to describe the energy that I get from preparing at home with my boys for an argument or cross-examination or the sense of pride when in the midst of arguments or cross-examination, one of my boys sends me a note about a point. When they were young, they used to watch me in court. Today, they are guiding me in the courtroom, just like the other wonderful lawyers in the firm.
Hans & Jas: At times he can be firm, but we know he is always fair and is trying to help us improve. At the same time, he is a very kind and generous man, always encouraging us to engage in charitable work. He is more than ready to admit his mistakes but will also let you know when you have made a mistake.
What advice would you give them at this stage, now that they are well into their careers?
DS: They work so hard and have learnt so quickly. Even on weekends, they are churning out drafts and doing research, and I can see how they have sharpened their skills. I have told them that they have made me so proud and that I will cheer them on whether they stay in the law or do something else. It is no longer what Papa wants. It is about what they want. Said from my heart.
What have been some of the fondest memories of your family life?
DS: Spending time with my boys when they were growing up. From playing football, hockey, cricket or whichever game was in season, to watching sport “live” and on TV. They were moments of pure pleasure. We still watch sport, play badminton, go for runs/walks. I have found to my surprise that my (always polite) expression of outrage and invective at managers and players when watching sport with my boys can be serious bonding moments.
Hans & Jas: He is extremely supportive of our endeavours. When we played football, cricket and hockey, he was always there on the sidelines, cheering us on. He has also been a source of great fun. Over the years, we have spent many hours with him travelling, hiking, playing football and watching football with him… with a keen but friendly rivalry. (Hans and DS support Manchester United while Jas is an Arsenal fan)
One of the key lessons that the younger generation have learnt from their fathers was the importance of being upright and helping others in need.
Peter’s passion to help the poor and disadvantaged despite the long hours and work on weekends was an inspiration to his daughters. “He teaches us to do the right thing, even if it is inconvenient or difficult,” shares Elaine. Peter, a former President of the Law Society, has encouraged them to volunteer for the Society and Christine has served on its Council for the last five years.
Likewise, Sujesh remembered that his father always found time to give back no matter how busy his schedule was. “I never got to work under my father, unfortunately. So I try to follow the lead of my cousin, Sunil and close family friend Diana Ngiam who worked under my father for several years. They are active volunteer lawyers with the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme and for the Enhanced Guidance for Plea Scheme administered by the State Courts’ Community Justice Centre."
When asked about the lessons they have learnt from their father, Hans and Jas respond, "Dad has taught us the importance of being closely knit as father and sons and why that is all that matters."
"When we were younger, he taught us many lessons which we remember to this day and which guide how we approach life. Some examples are the importance of honesty in one’s work and the importance of staying healthy and fit. He is a big believer in the value of hard work and of applying oneself fully to the task at hand. He also taught us that if we have the chance to do something good for someone, we should do it."
LIVING UNDER THEIR FATHER’S SHADOW
Growing up, the younger generation was not fully aware of their fathers’ accomplishments. “… It was fun to see my Dad’s picture in the papers now and then. But I didn’t know what he was being featured for. It was only after I entered law school that I learnt of his achievements and accolades. In hindsight, it’s a good thing I learnt of these only after I had resolved to be a lawyer. I may have chickened out otherwise knowing the big shoes that my Dad left to fill as a Bar leader!” says Christine.
Jacqueline, Jason and Jeffrey.
Jason also got to know more about his father’s work after entering the profession. “It was only [then] that I discovered how accomplished he was. Till today, I am still finding out things about his career as a lawyer, often from the people that he has helped and worked with over the years. Two of the most common questions I have been asked are: ‘Is Jeffrey Chan your father?’ and ‘Are you Jeffrey Chan’s son?’ I am asked those questions up till today, and I still answer them with pride.”
It is with that same pride that Elaine shares her feelings about being associated with a famous father. “… when I was younger, [I was] uncomfortable being identified everywhere we went as ‘Peter Low’s daughter’ and hearing all these compliments about my Dad. His partner said, ‘Just remember, your Dad is a good person. That’s more important than him being a good lawyer.’ That has stayed with me because it is an apt description of who he is; someone not only trying to be a good father, a good husband and a good boss but also someone whose strong values translate into practice every day.”
BEST OF FRIENDS
Beyond being mentors and a source of inspiration, these famous fathers also share a loving and close relationship with their children.
“He used to love to tell the story of how when I was three or four years old, I would tell everyone he was my friend first, father second. In all honesty, that remained true till he passed away…. He was always my best friend and I knew I could go to him with anything [but] there was also always the respect and admiration that sons have for fathers,” recalls Sujesh.
The Lows when Christine was called to the Bar in 2014.
“I am blessed that we have a close relationship. He is always there for us, no matter the hour,” shares Christine. “When I was in law school abroad, we would often speak on the phone on my walks home after late-night study sessions at the university until he knew I was safely home.”
For Sujesh, a typical Father’s Day in the past would be spent over a nice meal at his father’s favourite restaurant, Imperial Treasure and watching Sunday night football.
Jeffrey too remembers enjoying makan sessions with his children on Father’s Day. Social distancing measures however will make it difficult for the siblings to spend the day together this year.
The Lows are planning a double celebration this year for Father’s Day as it is also their parents’ 41st wedding anniversary. They will gather for a meal at home and the menu will definitely include curry and loads of sambal belacan for Dad who is a true-blue Peranakan.
On the best Father's Day gift he's received, Davinder says, "That my boys remind me that Father’s Day is coming and suggest what we can do together. That is the bestest gift." This year, the family will be spending time at home and East Coast Park. Add Hans and Jas, "We will also be sharing his favourite meal and watching the Euros, where although he says he will not be, we know he will be cheering on the German national team and hoping for their success.".
We want to thank all our interviewees for taking time off their busy schedules to answer our questions and we wish them and our members a Happy Father’s Day.