Interview With Legal Entrepreneur Samuel Yuen

It all started with a belief

Legal entrepreneur Samuel Yuen was introduced to me in mid-2014.

I was chairing the local association for recruitment agencies and changes to the personal data protection act (“PDPA”) just came. We didn’t know what to do, and one of our members recommended Samuel to advise us.

Samuel is one big man but one with an even bigger heart. He goes beyond his call of duty, despite the limited budget our association had.

He helped us a lot by coming up with a privacy policy that all our members could reference from and provided us with the direction in the dark.

I still work in close collaboration with him as members of the Guide Dogs Association for The Blind (GDAB), a charity, which was introduced to me by Samuel. I am now serving actively on it’s Board.

Find out what drove him to start his practice which he bootstrapped since day one:

 

1. Please share a bit about what you do.

I practice as an advocate and solicitor and manage my boutique law firm YUEN LAW LLC. I tell anyone who asks me that I mainly assist and protect my clients in ‘buying, selling and giving away things’.

 

2. What were you doing before starting your business?

I practised for 11 years in various legal practices and most recently as a junior partner in a mid-sized Singapore law practice before starting my firm in 2012.

Before 2012, I built up a very diverse and eclectic practice experience, ranging across five continents and which at one time briefly included acting as the legal adviser to the owner of a deer farm in Malaysia.

 

3. What ignited the spark in you to start a business venture?

I’ve always committed to the notion that if you want to do something, you do it right. That outlook caused me always to consider how I can do better, how I can improve my practice.

While this would include technical skills and the development of administrative measures and processes relevant to the practice of law.

Over the years, I formed strong opinions about the practice of law and what it means to me as an individual.

I’ve always believed that our work is an extension of our person – how you are as a person gets reflected in your job.

For instance, to take a purposive approach to the core value of integrity and seek to implement it in all aspects of the practice, rather than simply pay lip service – not to overcharge and pad claims.

When it became apparent that my philosophy on practice is divergent from what is the industry norm, I sought to redress the perceived divergence.

This meant striking out on my own so that I have a blank canvas to draw on.

Believe it or not, I never thought about starting my practice until after work one day I got down on my knees to pray about a particularly vexing and bruising day at work.

I initially did not take well to the notion and struggled with that piece of divine inspiration for a year.

 

4. What sacrifices have you had to make to be a successful entrepreneur?

Having less sleep, family time, various nice holidays, even taking a significant pay cut.

The toughest yet for me was to give up my stability; this meant forgoing a steady paycheck and the relative safety of employment.

Legal entrepreneur Samuel with his team 2

Entrepreneurship is not for the faint-hearted.

A wise man (Jon Secada) once sang “things are only as important as I want them to be”. So, to me, it was really about what’s important and what you’d do to achieve/obtain the ‘important’.

 

5. How did you get funded?

I bootstrapped. We make careful and detailed cash-flow projections for the year ahead. All profits up to now are either ploughed back to grow the firm or used to reward staff.

I found that digitising the practice helped to minimise our overheads (goodbye to warehousing and archiving costs!).

As with all SMEs, managing cash flow is crucial; I schedule weekly meetings with our accounts team to closely monitor the managing and collection of receivable fees.

 

6. Could you describe your first sale and how it came about?

Hahahah! Yes, I can! It was for the drafting of a will for an elderly family friend. Details are subject to client-solicitor privilege.

 

7. How do you go about marketing your business?

We rely heavily on word of mouth referrals: happy clients always refer their friends to us.

A strong online presence is crucial in this digital age, we focus on developing content for our website and contribute articles to various media platforms.

We also actively organise educative talks together for our business associates clients who might be keen to fight out more about legal rights. This helps us meet and identify new potential customers.

 

8. Describe your typical day?

Initially, I would work 14 – 16 hours a day, six days a week. I have recently scaled down my work day to 10 to 12 hours a day so that I can be a better husband to my devoted wife and a better father to my newborn.

Sunday’s my Sabbath.

legal entrepreneur samuel yuen giving a talk

At the start of the day, I would clear my emails and map out what I need to do for the day.

Meetings with client or staff would have been set at least a day ahead in most cases.  I spend about 20% of the day working on files, 30% supervising staff, 30% meeting clients and 20% networking.

 

9. Who has been your greatest influence in your business and why?

God! The Bible is a source of inspiration and guidance, without which I would lose my way in the world.

I count five mentors and patrons that I look to as well, and these are individuals whom I consult from time to time about the practice of law, on spirituality as well as the running of my firm as a business.

Of the 5 of them, one is a serial entrepreneur who had listed a few companies, an executive director with an SGX mainboard-listed company,  another a high-level executive formerly with Shell, and a former Member of Parliament and my supervising partner when I was a pupil trying to get called to the Singapore Bar.

[Tweet “The Bible is a source of inspiration and guidance, without which I would lose my way in the world.”]

 

10. What has been your proudest moment in the history of your business and why?

There has been some, but mostly when we successfully helped clients achieve their goals.

The most significant deal we did last year was to help our client Dr Patrick Liew buy back HSR Property Group, one of Singapore’s most established and notable real estate agency, for 1 dollar.

This deal was feted by the business community and the Business Times as a coup for the client.

 

11. What were some of the biggest lessons that have impacted the way that you work?

  • Understanding the difference between the paradigms of working in the business and working on the business.
  • Networking is more than simply passing out name cards.
  • Not going tit for tat: don’t take things personally.
  • Focus on what you do best, and do them!
  • Learn to empower
  • Treat people the way you want to be treated.

 

12. What is your biggest screw-up over your entrepreneurial journey?

I would say it is being pressured into hiring, even when it is the wrong fit.

Legal entrepreneur samuel yuen with his team

Early on in our firm’s history, we were faced with a glut of work which needed immediate attention.

Fearing not being able to turnaround the work, we hired a lawyer to help us deal with the glut.

However, that lawyer turned out to be the wrong fit for us and ended up causing a lot of unhappiness in the office.  That led to a drop in productivity, and we paid for the bad hire ultimately.

 

13. If you could go back in time to speak to your 20-year-old self, what would you tell him?

There has not been any regret with the way things have played out, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Perhaps the one thing I would want my 20 year old self to know is to trust God more.

 

14. What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

Integrity and honesty are critical traits for a business owner. Having integrity means doing the right thing in every situation, even when no one is around watching.

Sometimes it takes courage to make the right choice, especially if the consequences are not so desirable.

I believe that it helps to surround yourselves with like-minded people. Just know that it is possible to be successful, without resorting to cheating your staff and your clients.

Be willing to be uncomfortable and unpopular, being the boss is never easy.

Legal entrepreneur Samuel with his team

You have to wear multiple hats, and make tough decisions; some of them may prove to be not so wise ones.

We learn from mistakes and get better at what we do over time, so be courageous and step out of your comfort zone a dozen times a day. It is a learning curve for all of us.

 

15. What’s your business focus for this year?

Growth.  We are looking to expand operations.

 

16. Where can people find you online?

Find out more about us at www.yuenlaw.com.sg

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Get in touch with us at [email protected] or 6536 6037.

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