Peter Mohan Maithree Peiris was the 43rd de facto Chief Justice of Sri Lanka. He previously held the post of Attorney General. Here he talks to us about law as a career option.
Team LawKey: Sir, why do you think students should take up law as a profession?
Mr. Mohan Peiris: Well, I think, law gives you discipline. It gives you an overall insight into the many activities in life and gives you such kind of discipline, focus, depth of knowledge of multiple disciplines that I cannot think of any profession as devoid of law.
Team LawKey: Sir, in India, most of the parents compel their children to pursue careers related to the science background. So what do you think should be the motivation to get into law?
Mr. Mohan Peiris: I think you should be in love with the law lest you should not be taking up law. It should not be one of the last resorts. It should be a choice, ranking pari passu with everything else, and one little advice I can give you is that if you are not passionately in love with the law then you should not be taking up law.
Team Lawkey: Sir, can you talk about your days as the attorney general or some motivational stories which you could recall?
Mr. Mohan Peiris: One thing I want to tell you is that as a public prosecutor, attorney general, private practitioner, president counsel, senior legal adviser with the cabinet, and the chief justice of Sri Lanka, I always maintained the same level of enthusiasm which I had on the first day and I am still as enthusiastic as ever. And I think this has been the key to my success. I think, in everything I did, I did my best. Even for the smallest lecture, I would prepare with will and well in advance, and perhaps the application to what you’re doing is the key to success. Your in-born talents are useful but they can be sharpened only if you apply yourself thoroughly in the law and make sure that whatever you do is for the benefit of the community. There are a number of instances which I have encountered as a lawyer but I can tell you that one thing that you have to remember is that there is nothing such as a big case or a small case. Every case is an important case. Even for a small seller, his case is important. You can’t be proud if you’re hearing for an important person and think that you’re arguing a big case. Every case has to be judged on its merits and when you appear for a small person then you have to take even more interest in what you’re doing and make sure that his rights are protected.
Team LawKey: What are your views on this corporate and litigation divide? In the light of the fact that most of the law school graduates are going towards the corporate sector, do you think that this a good trend?
Mr. Mohan Peiris: I don’t think so. I believe that we need to concentrate on the lower end of the profession. We must encourage the youngsters to join the bar, close to their homes, and developing and perhaps nurturing the legal system in the villages and in the towns so that the very bottom, the base of the lower section is developed to a point such that the society in the lower dimension would benefit.
Team LawKey: When you first finished your law degree, how did you go about your practice?
Mr. Mohan Peiris: I thought that all my problems were over and the world would be a beautiful place to live forthwith. I found, to my absolute horror, that this was not true at all. My problems had actually just started, on the lighter side (chuckles). However, let me tell you that we should not have illusions about what the bar has got to offer. Whatever you do, whether it is in private practice or in a firm, or in any other trade connected with the legal activity, you have to give your best. We have to do our part of the work in our patch to the best of our ability so that what we do is right. If all of us start doing the right thing in the right way then the community becomes a nice place to live in, in turn the country becomes a nice place to live in and consequently the world would become a nice place to live in. Let us not try to directly change the world, we cannot do that, we cannot change everything but what we can surely change are the surroundings in our own environment and make our own environment a comfortable place to live in and if each one of us does this then the world would be a better place.
Team LawKey: When you started your career as a lawyer did you ever dream that you would reach such heights in the legal profession?
Mr. Mohan Peiris: Not at all (chuckles). But one thing that I can definitively tell you is that I always aspired to reach dizzy heights not for any other reason but because I firmly believed that if one works hard then the rewards are very high. That is the formula. I think application rule number one is that your innate talents would help you make it large, but if you sharpen your skills and work hard, then I can tell you that law is one profession that bestows benefits irrespective of what position you are in the law. Whether you are just a beginner in the law as a raw young attorney, or whether you are the chief justice, you will have to do the same amount of work if you have to succeed. I can tell you that even today I do not sleep before 1 AM. This should give you a fair idea of the hard work entailed in the profession.
Team LawKey: What’s the final piece of advice that you would like you give?
Mr. Mohan Peiris: Final piece of advice is that you have to be absolutely honorable to be a lawyer. You have got to work very hard, work for the benefit of your client, and remember that you are trustee of the problems of the client that your client has put in front of you and that is a very sacred trust and in as much in the position of a judge is as if you are joining a monastic order. I would say that even being a lawyer is a very privileged status to be in because you enjoy lots of privileges that other people cannot even dream of. And this means that those privileges are meant to be treated sacredly and used in the manner that is in the interest of the people and community you belong to. In other words, you must be a role model in your community.
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