The Importance of Preparation

Sometime around ten in the morning several years back, my colleague, Asim Ng, quietly came into my room while I was deep in my work. I did not notice him until he drew my attention with a soft, ‘Sir.’ I glanced at him and noticed he was dressed for open court attire. It was an ominous sign.

“What’s up, Asim?” I asked as I carried on typing.

“We have a matter in the Federal Court.”

My keyboard stopped clattering. I turned to look at Asim. My heart raced as I feigned nonchalance.

“Oh. We do? When would that be?”

“Actually, it’s today, sir. It’s fixed for this morning.”

“As in today today, this morning this morning?”

“Yes, sir. Today. This morning.”

“They have stood us down to eleven o’clock. If we leave now, we can make it.”

“Of course, of course. Why didn’t we know about this sooner?”

“It wasn’t in the diary, sir.”

“Why wasn …” I stopped. I realized it wasn’t in the diary because I overlooked entering the date into our firm diary. I attended the last case management. I wrote it down on the file and in my diary but didn’t key it in. It was a no-one-but-myself-to-blame moment.

“Ah. Anyway, what are we fixed for today?”

“It’s a hearing for an application for leave to appeal, sir.”

“Oh, dear. Are we applying?”

“No, sir. We are opposing.”

“Thank heaven for these little mercies. Right. Please get me the papers. We’ll take my car. You drive. We’ll head to my house first. I’ll get changed and then it’s straight down to POJ. I’ll read on the way down.”

Although I was annoyed with the situation I found myself in, it was not without its unique brand of excitement. There was a sense of thrill from the unexpectedness, the rush, and the calamity of having to get ready to argue orally on very short notice. I felt like I went from zero to a hundred in under a second. It’s been a while since I had a moment like that.

Of course, I would not contrive for such a situation on a daily or even regular basis. It is far too stressful a way to practice. Once in a long, long while is more than enough for this type of thrill.

“How is it we came to know about the hearing?” I asked as we got into the car.

“The TP called me up to ask where we were. I told them we were still at the office because it wasn’t in our diary. She told us to come down straight away.” TP is a Timbalan Pendaftar. In English, it means Deputy Registrar. They are a Judge’s assistant.

“Whose matter is it this morning?”

“Client X’s matter.”

Upon hearing that, I calmed down.

I jumped out of the car the moment Asim pulled by our house gate. A quick change into my open court attire and I was back in the car. Asim sped us to Putrajaya as quickly as possible. It is ordinarily almost an hour’s drive from our office to the Putrajaya court. We got there in about forty minutes.

I was calm despite the suddenness of being called upon to submit for a hearing because I had personally prepared the cause papers and submission.

Even though I work with my colleagues on almost all my files, there will be a handful that I enjoy working on my own. By that, I mean the drawing up of a pleading or contract or the crafting of a submission from scratch. There is a private self-delight in seeing it manifest as closely as I imagined it to be. However, everything after that – the fairing, filing, etc. – is taken over by a colleague of mine.

The read was quick. As soon as I laid eyes on the print, all of it came back to me quickly. I was back at the main thoroughfares of facts and law of the matter. I saw the familiar, quiet byways of legal argument that meandered alongside it, which may or may not be traversed during the course of the hearing.

I was calm also because I had argued the matter in the Court of Appeal previously. I had more than a passing acquaintance with the facts and legal issues engaged. It was more of a refresher than a furrowed study. I was done with the reading in less than half an hour.

After doing so I lost my calm but found my eagerness. I couldn’t wait for the hearing.

Asim got us into the courtroom with five minutes to spare. I did my part of the marble scuffling to keep time. The courtroom looked like it had a couple more hearings left in it. We made our way to a pair of seats in the second row on the left side of the courtroom. I scanned the room and saw the senior counsel for the applicant seated fittingly on the opposite side of the courtroom.

As soon as our bottoms touched the seats, our case was called up. When I heard our names mentioned, we got up and bowed. I took the opportunity to apologize for my tardiness and was quickly forgiven. The bench was in a good mood. We were off with the hearing.

The bench gave the senior lawyer some time before it lobbed him a few difficult questions he had difficulty answering. As it went on, I thought we were up for a free pass. Suddenly, I heard his drone suddenly fade and heard him being thanked. The bench called on us to submit.

Mine was short. Or I’d like to think so.

I showed the court that the questions of law the applicant posed were the same ones answered by the Federal Court in a case two years back. In fact, two out of the five questions of law posed were similarly worded to those answered in its earlier decision. Once I juxtaposed them for the bench, which huddled for a quick discussion after which the chairing judge asked, ‘Anything else?’, I knew I was done. I replied in the negative, thanked the bench, and sat down.

The bench then called on the applicant’s counsel to respond to the case I cited. He did not get very far. It was achingly clear to the bench that the questions had been posed previously and answered already. After a few minutes, the court unanimously dismissed the application with costs.

We walked back to my car in good spirits. It was parked in the open-air make-shift car park next to the Istana Kehakiman, which houses the superior courts, and where we departed from.

“Well, that went rather well despite that surprising start.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You see, Asim. That’s why it is important to be prepared. And also why I like to do the work directly sometimes. I will know it intimately and be in full command of the case. If I am called to argue it on short notice, I can do it.”

“Yes, sir.”

“But let’s not have to do that again. We were lucky with the case today.”

“Yes, sir. I always enter the date in the diary. I will make sure to follow up on your cases and ensure your dates are recorded in the diary.”

“I’d appreciate that. “

That was enough of a reminder for me to keep to the habit of entering the court date in the firm calendar as soon as I learn of it, and don’t keep it waiting. Thankfully, I have not had the misfortune of surprises like that since. Long may that continue.

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