Prior to meeting Dato’ Dr. Arunan Selvaraj, I’ve always associated this phrase with anyone in the legal profession: “Really good lawyers are fighting bulldogs.” Well, after speaking to Arunan, I have come to reevaluate that statement. For one, a bulldog attacks according to its instinct. And more than too often, it is done rashly, without a strategy. Arunan showed me that a good lawyer will only attack if necessary. “The best lawyers use wisdom to obtain the best results for you. I don’t believe in giving false hopes. It is my job to be frank about their situation and I always tell them the truth respectfully.”
After receiving his Bachelor of Laws, Arunan was called to the Malaysian Bar and was admitted as an Advocate and Solicitor at the High Court of Malaya in 1992. Three years later, he became the Managing Partner of Rusmah Arunan & Associates (RAA), a firm which later specialises in the area of matrimonial and family law. Arunan also completed his PhD in Family Law. “I first started as a general practitioner. Over the years, family law caught my attention. I could see the difference I was making and it gives me fulfilment. To help others, no matter how small or big their problems are, can go a long way. It’s not easy to find a career where you’re happy with what you’re doing. And here I am, feeling happier at work each day after 25 years,” he laughs.
It all started with his love for football
“Law wasn’t something I dreamt about pursing as a child,” Arunan comically shares. “In fact, I wanted to become a pilot because it has the shortest course of study. I really had no interest in studying.” However, his father had other plans for him to study medicine like all his other relatives who were doctors or medical practitioner. “Naturally, it was understood that I should take that path,” he adds, recalling that back then his first interest was to finish his studies as soon as possible and play football. “I had to look for a shortcut. Thus, I told my father I wanted to be a lawyer and received his permission to move to Art Stream in upper secondary school. Well, long story short, after graduating, and chambering, my options were limited. I found myself practising law.”
I could see the difference I was making and it gives me fulfilment. To help others, no matter how small or big their problems are, can go a long way.
How being a lawyer doesn’t mean he has to miss out on the things he loves
Often times, people are of the impression that lawyers miss out on spending time with family and doing the things they enjoy. “You know why? It’s because they are always working!” he laughs, admitting that he used to believe in it too. “I remember how senior lawyers were quick to point out that it is a tough profession. And during my apprenticeship, I’ve heard all the worst things there is about being a lawyer in Malaysia,” he narrates. Thankfully, he is not one who focuses on negativity. Instead, he adopted a different approach most lawyers don’t take. “There are many different ways to do various things and it’s important to adapt accordingly. Meeting my clients, giving legal advice and managing the firm are my priority at work. Managing my time, building a good team of lawyers and support staff are critical to ensuring that I remain fair to all clients. Asides from providing the best legal support, I strive to have enough time for other things that are important to me outside my legal practice,” Arunan shares.
One thing Arunan wished he knew earlier in his career as a lawyer
“I wished someone would have told me earlier about specialising,” he notes. “When you’re studying, you study for everything. If someone would have advised me of it, I would have taken up family law the moment I started my career.” Ultimately, Arunan explains that there is no harm for the younger generation to spend a year or more deciding out which law they would like to specialise in. “You don’t have to have a Masters or a PhD to excel. You’ll become good over time as experience is indeed the best teacher”
There are many different ways to do various things and it’s important to adapt accordingly.
The importance of honesty, truth and the personal touch.
“Sometimes, the truth can be painful, and better hurting my clients with the truth than protecting them with a lie, even if it’s a white lie,” Arunan replies. “I never put myself in a position where I promise something I can’t deliver. I can’t tell them what they want to hear just to win their confidence if it’s not the truth. It’s irresponsible, which is why I opt to tell them what I honestly think their chances are. More than that, I opt to even advise clients on what they should actually be pursuing as compared to what they think they want. Many a time, clients are hurt or angry. Rather than addressing the situation effectively, they seek remedies or redress based on revenge and frustration. “For what it’s worth, many of those who have gone through other lawyers do come back for my brutal honesty.” For this and other things, RAA was recognised by the Asian Legal Business and was awarded the Matrimonial and Family Law Firm of the Year 2017 & 2018.
Ain’t no mountain high enough
Apart from being an active advisor in Legal Aid, he also gives talks to young lawyers and taking chambering students on prison visits to introduce them to various underlying procedures in Criminal Law. Furthermore, Arunan is also involved in ILKAP, where “I engage with senior civil officials from the judiciary to share thoughts and views”. But more importantly, he believes in helping the less fortunate. “I try my best to give back to the community by raising funds for different organisations and NGOs.” To date, RAA’s noteworthy projects include Trek Everest Base Camp, Trek Mount Kamchatka & ‘Jom Botak’, and ‘Movember-Ultimate Shave Off’. And all the funds raised were channelled to cancer patients. Last year, RAA raised funds for The Selangor and Federal Territory Association for the Mentally Handicapped (SAMH). “Puncak Harapan – No Mountain is too High was a project led by myself along with a team of ten hikers. We took three mentally handicapped students from Wisma Harapan to climb Mount Kinabalu in Sabah. It was a successful project not only because we received a total donation of RM100,000.00 for it but because we managed to create social awareness and instilled self-confidence within the students and their peers,” he points out, informing me that RAA’s social works were also recognised by CSR Malaysia and he was awarded the Malaysia Most Inspiring Entrepreneur Award 2017 (Legal & Social Entrepreneurship) by Top 10 of Malaysia.