Having a father in legal practice can make moments more awkward than if I had no legal lineage whatsoever.
My father was known in the legal fraternity amongst those of his vintage. He was reputed to be brilliant, independent-minded and articulate. His friends and acquaintances reminded me often enough. Growing up, whenever I was introduced to them, they would tell me, Your father is such a brilliant/intelligent/honest man. He [tells me his story]. I am so grateful for his advice to/him acting/speak up for me. Better follow in his footsteps eh young man! We need more people like him.
I got all that growing up a lot. Growing up, that cultivated a sense of an inferiority complex about myself. I felt I could not match him. He was a straight-A student. Won medals, prizes, and scholarships for studies and sports in secondary school and college. A law degree from Cambridge University, Queen’s College. Completed his Masters and was called to the English Bar together.
I was none of those things. I was not a straight-A student. I didn’t win medals, prizes and scholarships for studies or sports. I went to Bristol University, which was considered an Oxbridge-reject university. I didn’t do a Masters. I didn’t get called to the English Bar. I accomplished none of those fine things.
It was against this backdrop that I commenced practice. Since I fell far short at the starting line of my legal practice compared to my father, I decided if I could not surpass or match him, the least I could do was not to bring him and my mother disgrace. Avoidance was easier than achievement.
But even then, at the start, I stumbled.
It was around my first or second year of practice and involved a claim for goods sold and delivered. We filed the matter in the Kuala Lumpur High Court. At the return date, I thought I was before the Deputy Registrar as we usually were. The return date is the first date the case is fixed in court for a case or an application. Usually, the Registrar gave us directions on what to do next with the case or application. We would only go before the judge after we completed the Registrar’s directions.
However, when I turned up for the appointment, the Deputy Registrar directed me to the judge’s court. The judge wanted to see the lawyer handling the matter. That was unusual. Naturally, I surmised I was in trouble although I could not figure out why. In my mind, I was anxiously going through what I did wrong as I sat outside the judge’s chambers waiting to be called in. I flipped through my cause papers but somehow nothing came.
Finally, I heard the judge’s clerk call me and lead me into the judge’s room. The judge was Justice T Selventhiranathan. When I entered, he had a calm friendly looking face and demeanour about him. He spoke like he wrote, slowly but precisely. The defendant’s solicitors did not attend because we had not yet completed serving the Writ and Statement of Claim on the defendants. So it was just me and him.
‘Good morning, counsel’ the judge said.
‘Good morning, my lord.’ There was a pause after that so I thought it best to dive straight into it. ‘I am Fahri Azzat for the plaintiff. This morning is fixed for mention. My lord, we are still in the process of serving the Writ and Statement of Claim. I would, therefore, ask for another mention date for us to complete the service process.’
‘Thank you, Encik Fahri. Your father wouldn’t happen to be Azzat Kamaludin would he?’
‘He is, my lord.’
‘Ah, that is good to know. How is your father? It has been a while since I last saw him.’
‘He is well. Thank you for asking.’
‘I noticed from the endorsement his name is on the firm. Is he still in practice? Does he come down to the courts anymore?’
‘Yes and no, my lord. He is still in practice but he is very much a corporate lawyer.’
‘I see. So you are covering the court side of things then?’
‘It would seem so, my lord. I prefer it.’
‘How long have you been working for your father?’
‘As a lawyer, about a year or so. I did my pupilage with him too.’
‘You know, your father and I were colleagues at the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. We represented Malaysia at the negotiations. A brilliant thinker and a good man. It was a pleasure working with him. It’s a shame he doesn’t do litigation. Do you see him often?’
‘Yes, my lord. Everyday.’
‘Good. Good. Please send him my regards.’
‘I certainly will, my lord.’
‘Ah. We have a mention! Yes, what is the status of this matter, Encik Fahri?’
‘We haven’t completed service of the Writ and Statement of Claim, my lord. We are seeking another date to do so.’
‘Yes, yes. I remember. The goods sold and delivered claim. Ah, the thing is, Encik Fahri, I don’t think the High Court is the appropriate forum for your claim.’
As soon as he said that, I realized my error and felt embarrassed. Crap. My ears felt hot.
‘The claim is on the low end of two hundred thousand ringgit,’ the judge continued. ‘I am sure you are aware of the High Court’s threshold.’
Prior to 2010, the monetary jurisdictional limit for the Magistrates Court was RM 25,000, the Sessions Court was RM 250,000 and the High Court was anything above RM 250,000. Our claim should have been filed in the Sessions Court.
‘Yes, my lord. I don’t know how I overlooked this. I would like to apply to withdraw the Writ with liberty to file afresh and no order as to costs. I am sorry to trouble your lordship about this.’
I was kicking myself hard inside. How embarrassing! Of all the people I had to mess up before, it had to be someone who knew my father!
‘Yes. Thank you, Encik Fahri. I trust you will be more careful with your papers next time. I feel sure your father would avoid elementary errors like that.’
‘I feel so, too, my lord. I am sorry to waste your lordship’s time today.’
‘That is fine. The writ is struck off with no order as to costs. Please send my regards to him. Thank you.’
I dutifully passed on the judge’s regards to my father. As a result, I had to relate my mistake as well. My father was cool about it. He asked whether I had re-filed it after I got back from court. When I responded I did, he asked no more about the matter.