LexTalk World Interviews Ms. Samantha de Soysa. Samantha is a Senior Practitioner of Law in Sri Lanka and a Barrister of Lincoln’s Inn (UK). She holds an LLB degree with Hons. from Warwick and has completed her LLM, specializing in Banking and Finance law, from the University of London.
She has been in practice for over 15 years and specializes in Corporate, Company, Conveyancing and IT Law matters. Samantha is a strong advocate of data protection and privacy, and is a voice on the importance of having comprehensive privacy laws. She has been featured, as a guest columnist, in the Daily FT newspaper of Sri Lanka where she has written on topics ranging from data protection, electronic contracts to money laundering. Samantha currently serves as a Delegate of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka and the Assistant Treasurer of the Association of Corporate Lawyers (ACL). She also loves languages and currently teaches French and is learning Tamil.
Host: Please brief us about your journey as a Legal Practitioner so far?
Samantha: Law is not only my profession, it’s my passion. I always knew that I wanted to be a lawyer. My journey started before I was 10 years old; perhaps around 8 yrs. My school career involved a lot of debating- inter-house and inter-school. This skill confirmed to me that law was definitely the path for me. Since Sri Lanka is a developing country, I was always keen to fight for justice and so for me it was a slightly romantic notion of being a lawyer.
I went to an international school in Sri Lanka, which is equivalent to a private school. In the UK, I was a student at the University of Warwick for my undergraduate. I then proceeded to do my Barristers at BPP Law School in Holborn, while being attached to the Honorable Society of Lincoln’s Inn. The training I got while studying for my Barristers was exceptional. We were taught very practical skills, like negotiation, advocacy and client conferencing.
I believe the training I got in the UK made a difference in the way I approach law. In 2003, after my studies in the UK, I returned to Sri-Lanka and got my local license as an Attorney-at-Law. I have worked in a barrister’s chamber, in-house and now I practice on my own. I have just signed my partnership agreement and I am about to launch my law firm.
Host: Please share a memorable incident you can recollect, with some key takeaways.
Samantha: When a lawyer has a case or hearing, one prepares as much as one can. I had to represent a client with regard to a Housing Scheme. The title was in dispute between a mother and daughter, as a deed of gift that the mother had given the daughter was revoked by the mother without the daughter’s knowledge.
The Housing scheme was being sold to a Developer and the title needed to be sorted out as the consideration of the sale had to be given to the rightful owner. The hearing was a soft arbitration and the language used was English, which is the language I practice.
Suddenly, I realised that the language had changed to Sinhalese. Though I could have requested a language reversal back to English, I felt that this would somehow not be advantageous to my client. So I continued my submissions in Sinhalese. An amicable settlement was reached. My client was happy as she had been convinced that the matter would have remained unresolved and ended up in courts.
Host: What are some of the Corporate Law changes you envisage in 2021?
Samantha: As we have been facing a pandemic since 2020, technology has been used for more. Sri Lanka now uses video conferencing in their courtrooms. I have also seen many virtual law firms overseas, where they are only virtual. However, in Sri Lanka, I would think that they would be more hybrid, where clients might have the opportunity to meet lawyers, if need be. Technology has changed the law and the way we practice.
Host: Brief Us about your Journey with Data Protection and IT Law.
Samantha: It started with a weekend program that I attended which was organized by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL). It was on data protection and privacy. It was a very comprehensive program that had speakers from other countries that had developed laws in this area. After this program, the participants were asked to write an article for a special edition of the BASL Journal, which I did. Subsequently, a family friend suggested that I send the article to the Daily FT newspaper which is the primary business newspaper of Sri Lanka. Since I got some positive feedback, I was motivated to write more articles, which meant engaging in a lot of research. I find Technology Law very invigorating. For instance, as the internet spans across different jurisdictions, the complexity of different laws of different countries come into play, which makes the application of the law particularly challenging. For instance, the GDPR in the EU, is one of the most prominent laws in Data Protection. If you have an entity outside the EU which takes data from a ‘data subject’ in the EU, one is automatically compelled to follow the GDPR.
Personally, for me, the complexity of IT Laws and the dynamism it brings to the table, is fascinating. Formulating the right laws to technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Crypto Currency and Blockchain is imperative as the laws need to satisfy the complex requirements of multiple stakeholders like the software developers, clients etc. Also, the laws need to protect the people, as we know that left unchecked, technology can explode.
Host: In your opinion, what are some of the key concerns for lawyers in Sri Lanka.
Samantha: I feel language is a huge concern for lawyers in Sri Lanka. As we are a commonwealth country, we do apply a lot of English law and use English cases. In Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, most people would have at least a basic understanding of English. However, in the towns and villages outside of Colombo, it is not well spoken or taught. This does largely limit one’s resources as a lawyer, as we even use a lot of Singaporean and Indian case law. Translation into the local languages of Sinhalese and Tamil, is not an option in the long term, since translated work is limited. A second issue is long delays in the courtroom, where cases are drawn out without an urgency to conclude them. However, the current Minster of Justice is addressing this issue, so I am confident that it will be less of a problem going forward.
Host: Some advice you would like to give to the young lawyers.
Samantha: I feel a big misconception amongst the young with regard to the legal profession is that one needs to be good at public speaking in order to be a lawyer. In my experience as a French teacher, where I taught a lot of teenagers, they were most curious with regard to the experience of being a lawyer. If you are good at public speaking, definitely as a lawyer one can have a career as a Barrister in the courtroom. However, if not, one can always work in a law firm or in-house. Academia is also another interesting option, as law is truly a fascinating subject to study. Academics in law are involved to a large degree in law reform committees and in the formation and amendments of laws etc. In summary, my advice to young lawyers is to not restrict oneself to one aspect in the practice of law.
Follow LexTalk World for more news and updates from International Legal Industry.