Sajjan Bar Singh Thapa is a Supreme Court advocate. Since the last 15 years, he has been practicing corporate law through his law firm which was initially founded by his father. Three generations of the Thapa family have been into law practice. His grandfather was a Supreme Court judge. The law firm, Legal Research Associates, which he is now operating and from where he started his legal career, was established by his father after he retired as the Law Secretary.
Thapa holds a double Masters degree – one in Corporate Law from National Law School of India University, Bangalore and another in Intellectual Property from New Hampshire School of Law. He is also a visiting faculty at the Kathmandu University School of Arts.
In this edition of B360, Thapa shares his views on the legal environment and leadership. Excerpts:
What is your definition of leadership?
It doesn’t only denote a single element but encompasses several dimensions. If you have the capacity to lead, dream and achieve a goal, then you are a leader.
What exactly is the status corporate law in Nepal?
Corporate law maintains, governs relations between corporate organisations, corporate and individual, corporate and government, corporate and society, and maintains equal level playing field between them.
Corporate often means business. In the name of that business, people can be so selfish they only see their profit and nothing else. Money indeed makes people blind. When leading a corporate business, it makes people run only after money and nothing else. Even by bulldozing corporate business, they only aim to accumulate money through any means. Thus, corporate culture governance was born. A corporation need not only look after money. As a corporation you have certain duties and obligations. Corporate law looks after all these factors.
Business and politics is hugely interlinked, a result of which are poor policy implementation, tax frauds, cartels, syndication, corruption…What are your thoughts?
Nexus between corporate and government, corporate and criminal should not exist. There should be connection between them, but only to a fair level. With economic liberalisation post-1990s, there was a spike in business opportunities leading to increase in individual earning capacity. The planned economic liberalisation could have helped downtrodden people benefit from it. Instead lust for power took over national interests. It widened the gap between the poor and the rich. In that deepening gap, various elements came into play. The cartels needed some kind of backing which was not legally available. In its absence, criminal nexus became the resort for protection. Due to political instability, attention was on power rather than what was happening in the lower level of society.
What are the things that are perpetuating corruption in the country?
In the past, prestige was highly held. Money was peripheral to it. Gradually, it got replaced with money. Nobody wants to live their life in villages anymore, they want to go to cities and earn money through whatever means and show off going back to the village.
Our society got changed in a way where money is valued over everything else. The party which fought a civil war also proved the point that money is all; it resorted to accumulate money through extortion or loot. Apart from politics and money, there is nothing which has perpetuated corruption.
Have you ever been forced to fight a case knowing your client is clearly in the wrong? What then are the consequences on your personal code of ethics?
It happens often. A government lawyer speaks for the victim while a private lawyer sides with the offender. Society always questions how a lawyer can plead on the side of a rapist, murderer or corrupt politician. It has reason. The state cannot always be fair with all. The state itself could victimize an individual on purpose; examples of which can be found worldwide. We defend them to not let innocents become victims of a system. We let them exercise the right of equal legal representation. The state can convict anybody with any charge. At such time who will speak for the individual? Documents could portray him as guilty; yet, we represent them because it’s not you and me who decides but the court and judges whether the person is guilty or not. Our code of ethics says that you should give your client a fair and equitable trial, this is where we put our effort.
If the judiciary is tarnished by corruption, where does the common man go for justice?
What could be the biggest irony than this because the court is the last resort of hope. It’s almost like saying if God is corrupt, where would we go to pray. If that happens, we will go back to the stone age, where the rule of “Might is Right” reigns. I want to be corrupt doesn’t mean that there is no role of any other actors. Judiciary comes at such point when there is no alignment with the system.
A lawyer cannot possibly win every case….How did you learn to embrace failure?
We have to segregate – putting ourselves in the shoes of a professional and that of a human being. If you personalise any case, you will have some kind of attachment to it. If you lose, you will get hurt because failure cuts down your success rate.
After I fail, I reflect, introspect whether I gave 100% to the case or not. Even after putting all the efforts, if I lost, I don’t have any role in it because the final judgment is made by somebody else. Only if you have not given your 100%, you will feel guilty about failure.
What is the most important leadership lesson you have ever learned?
Every time you handle a case, you should employ a different leadership strategy. One leadership strategy you apply to one case may not yield success in another. Leadership doesn’t only mean to lead but to reach a certain productive conclusion and bring along whoever is following you to the forefront. I have learnt to think out of the box, outline challenges and move forward in ever issue.
Can law practice be run as a business? Where does one draw the line?
One of the objectives of law is to promote business and profession. To attain this objective, money is not enough; you have to satisfy different stakeholders. Neither you can practice law purely for monetary benefits, nor should you do. If practiced, there remains no difference in corruption and law practice.
What according to you are the qualities of a good leader?
Listening, comprehending and taking immediate action as per the situation are some of the qualities. Likewise, a leader who can’t treat everyone fairly can’t be termed as a leader.
Is leadership an in-born trait or can it be acquired?
Both. Not only in leadership, it has relevance to every field. There are generally two kinds of human beings – one, who are genetically intelligent and the other type are the diligent ones who carry themselves to the level of intelligence. To be a leader you need not have four hands but the capability to act like you have four hands and think like ten brains.
What inspires you to do what you do each day?
Every day I step out of home, I hope not to face another new challenge but it happens otherwise. Every new case is a new challenge. There is no repetition in our work; you are so busy thinking how to overcome challenges, you don’t get time to feel monotonous. Fear, nervousness, challenge – mixture of these generates a new wave of energy.
What are some keys techniques you use as tools of negotiation?
When I sit in negotiation I use a theory called BATNA– Best Alternative To your Negotiated Agreement. I ask my client what his bottom line is. When I know the bottom line, I start negotiating on all aspects. If the client is not willing to go beyond my bottom line, my best alternative to the negotiated agreement is the client’s bottom line.
What is more important- money or satisfaction?
To some extent it is money. But to keep you going in the long run, satisfaction is key.
What is the future of the legal system in the country?
The election has given the mandate to the leftist group for five years. The more stability we have, the more faith people will have in the system, and this will promote growth in the industry. So I see a very good future.