Like the sea, his knowledge and experience never ends. His career is full of success and passion, that definitely need to be transferred to the young generations that see him their role model and one of the legal field shinning stars.
Interviewed by Hoda Ahmed Nafee
Prof.Dr. Mohamed Salah Abdel Wahab
Lawyer of the year interview: Mohamed Salah Abdel Wahab.
Interviewed by Hoda Ahmed Nafee.
Like the sea, his knowledge and experience never ends. His career is full of success and passion that definitely need to be transferred to the young generations that see him their role model and one of the legal field shinning stars.
At the very beginning of the great history of you, can you tell us why did you choose to study law? Have you been aware of the different legal majors during your study at the university?
Although I have been brought up in a legal house, I did not face any pressure from my parents regarding which major to study. Choosing to study law was my own decision. I have been fascinated by the idea of applying justice.
I have to say that, I was greatly admired by most of the subjects that we had been taught at university. However, my favorite major of study was to specialise in private international law. I wished to excel my dad work as he was specialised in private international law, but in different area of it. I have always dreamed to make him proud of me.
You hold over fifty academic merits and achievements during your academic studies and your work, what do these prizes represent for you?
Firstly, those prizes represent part of me and who I am as they come specially on the academic level. With each prize I gain I feel alive. Law actually is part of my life and my personality. Honestly, I feel sometimes that I eat, breathe, drink and live by the law. What also great about those prizes, that they come as surprises, and that makes me feel that there is always hope for better future.
Some scholars and researchers argue that later on legal profession will disappear due to the IT solutions, what do you think of this and do you think that the Legal profession might disappear later on in Egypt?
Actually I do not think that law will disappear, but the role of lawyers and what we do will change. I have been stating this since 2000; I saw the development of technology and technological applications and how they will be used in the context of the law. However, when it comes to know-how like disputes, technology cannot substitute the role of lawyers. I believe that there will always be a need to humans interferes.
You were member at SIAC which works on a global scale, how is working in a global institution affected your career?
In fact, it changed the way I look at things. It provided me with comparative and global perspective. Being a member at SIAC was one of the reasons that contributed into building my experience in international and comparative laws. It helped me to transfer foreign knowledge to my colleagues at work and to open the doors to my students to gain knowledge about different legal systems outside Egypt.
You have a massive experience in different laws and regulations nationally and internationally, you could have continued your career abroad and reside there, what is the reason that made you stay here in Egypt?
Honestly, I have to say that massive is a huge word, I can claim that I have good enough knowledge about some laws and legal systems. But, I still have a lot to learn and a lot to gain knowledge about. I consider myself blessed with the fact that I have sat at many arbitration panels that involves several laws. For example, I sat in panels in Kuwait, New York, England and etc….
I have to admit that being a part of panels that include different legal rules and systems was massively interesting. Additionally, as I have just mentioned I am a huge fan of studying comparative and legal systems. And, I wish to have the time to write more books about comparative laws and comparative perspectives.
Regarding the issue of choosing to stay in Egypt, I still believe that there is still hope for Egypt to be better. I would like to send to my colleagues, my students and everyone a message that we all can succeed and be a real role model, or an international figure while we are at our own country.
As a highly educated and experienced lawyer, why did you choose to be a partner in a law firm rather than opening your own law firm?
Actually I have been facing this question for many years. Simply, I consider this firm as my firm. I am one of the founding partners of this firm and all the partners are part of my family. So, I do not feel the urge that to be successful you have to do everything by your own. Team work and being with a group can be one of the main reasons that contribute to your success. I have really good relation with my partners and we do really appreciate each other.
Your father’s name was well-known, how did you develop your career away from your father’s name?
I considered my father as one of the best legal minds that I have come across. He had always thought that I am better than him unlike me as I always see him the best. I have to admit that I am still racing till this moment to prove that I am worthy of carrying his name. I named my son after him. I always tell my son “I do not care about your middle name, but I want you to know that you carry a great man name and I hope to be like your grandfather”. He is my role model and I am guided by his wisdom till today.
Regarding how I developed my career away from my father’s name, I have never worked with my father directly. I always thought that I have to build my own name, so, I will not be looked upon as an extension of his name. And, honestly I was always afraid to do something wrong that might affect his name. I always fought to build a good reputation of my own to add to his name.
From your massive experience, in the legal field what makes a lawyer a great one?
I believe that paying so much attention to the details; truly love what you do and most importantly hard work. Also, combination between hard work and soft and hard skills. It is of a crucial importance to dedicate time to your work and to keep learning along your career.
Good reputation and high number of achievements are of a crucial importance in attracting clients, what else could be important to gain clients’ trust?
In my point of view, the most important thing is to be candid and honest with your clients. I prefer to tell the client the reality about his case and his situation. The best thing is to make sure that the clients understand clearly the situation of their disputes.
The legal field now has become full of different fields, in your point of view what are the most highly recommended legal practices now nationally and internationally?
According to my experience, I see that the legal field is going towards intellectual property, IT, taxation, and of course certain branches of international law. Furthermore, there are always certain branches that will remain as favorites in the legal field. For example, arbitration and merger and acquisitions will always be one of the main legal practices in Egypt and abroad as well.
However, there is one field that I believe that it is really important is the environment and climate change. Although it did not hit the ground in Egypt, it is considered as one of the most important practices abroad.
Generally, the labor market has passed through a lot of ups and downs over the past years, how do you see the Egyptian legal market? And, also how do you see the legal education system?
The Egyptian legal market is striving, and we are truly blessed by the fact that our Egyptian legal system has influenced the other legal systems in the MENA region. Egyptian lawyers can qualify and deal with different legal systems. The only challenge that I see that might face the Egyptian legal system is non-adaption of some practitioners in the legal market with the developments that interfere in the legal market. For instance, we cannot keep doing the same thing the old way, we have to adapt, continue to learn and to educate ourselves. Interdisciplinary research is of a paramount importance like combination between psychology and law or economics and law.
Regarding the legal education system, it requires a lot of reform. There has to be a bit of integration between all the institutions and all the people involved in the legal society. Law firms, universities, and judiciary have to integrate and cooperate together to bring out the best and top law graduates in Egypt. Also, it requires reform at the level of curriculum, the taught subjects need to be updated to be at the same quality of education at the developed countries. For instance, one of the newest and innovative ways is teaching private international law through video viewing in Spain.
As law, economics and politics are so attached, how do you see the political and economic situation in Egypt now?
For me I do not think that I am qualified enough to speak about politics. But, I feel that things are a bit stable to some extent as we need stable environment for investment to thrive. For the economic situation it is better to bring better international experts that can provide the government with more developed candid plans and policies to push forward investment and economy in Egypt.
One of the recent good steps that the government has taken was the reform of the investment law and the economic legislations. However, this only can be considered as a start as there are more steps that can be taken to improve the economy in Egypt.
As highly experienced lawyer in different legal fields, have you ever thought to join any governmental position?
I have not and I will never think of this. I believe that everyone in the world has a role that has to focus on it and develop himself overtime to perform his duties the right way. Joining a governmental position requires certain skills that I do not have. There would be no balance if everyone succeeded in certain position transferred his career to join a governmental position. Who will perform the other types of work then!!!!
You are a professor at Cairo University and at the same time founding partner at Zulifucar Law Firm, how do you balance between both?
First of all I do highly appreciate my academic career. For me this is the most important affiliation as it is an investment into the younger generations. Those students are the future of the country and every experienced effort has to dedicate part of his time to support them. Every time I see a good student I feel that there is still hope for better future and get the power to do other work. I do balance between both by giving my lectures in the morning and go to the firm at the evening.
As highly experienced arbitrator, how do see the arbitration effect on litigation?
In fact arbitration has a crucial role in applying justice. Firstly, the performance of the judicial institution in Egypt is considered very slow, so, arbitration as we mostly say can in some case perform the role of judicial institutions with less of time and effort.
Secondly, some of the lawsuits contain foreign factors “cross borders” that could be hard to handle before the judicial institutions in Egypt. For example, specifying the competent legal system and the court would take longer time that we might not need in arbitration.
So, the judiciary has too look to the arbitration as a supporter to its work and the arbitrators have to understand that arbitration is a part from a legal system “Egyptian legal system”. It cannot be separated from the main legal system of the country.
It was always known that Lawyers’ role is important contributing a healthy society, how do you see the role of lawyers in social responsibility?
Firstly, lawyers need to represent a role model for the society, people, and for themselves. One of their main duties is to help people to understand their rights and obligations. Actually lawyers are the main legal practitioners that carry on their shoulders the burden of the role of law and make sure everyone around us understands his rights and obligations clearly. For example, doing some work as pro-bono, although it is not charged, it has great return on your reputation and your contribution in the society.
Many people think that it is very important to have a good number of connections to be a successful lawyer, what do you think of this?
Building a network and connections for yourself are important in our field, and there is also a saying“It is not what you know, but who you know”. However, I have never lived with this saying. I am not saying that it is wrong, but I am not really good at it. Honestly, who you know can push you to somewhere, but you cannot continue to advance based on who you know it must be what you know. And, that is why I always say let your work speaks for you rather than you speak about yourself.
With a career full of success and a nonstop personality of course you have more plans in the future, can you tell us about those plans?
I will always continue to learn more and to build myself in a way that will make me worthy of people’s trust and of carrying my father’s name. I have always dreamed to be well known not only in Egypt, but also abroad.
Also, to keep investing in the new generations till we get a generation that is able to coop with different legal systems and different legal concepts nationally and internationally.
Every successful person faces critics, how does Mohamed Salah Abdelwahab react to these critics?
Honestly, it depends on the type of criticism. For example, I accept any type of criticism from sincere people even if there is no choice of words. However, life has taught me that even people who are insincere you can learn from them sometimes. I am aware of my challenges and my problems and I always try to fix them. It is also known that nobody is perfect. Criticism for me is healthy thing as I always try to learn and get the best out of these critics even the harsh ones.
According to our culture, it has been looked at lawyers as a bit sneaky, not trust worthy or money chasers, how do you reply to this?
To tell you the truth, these examples are existing and they exist everywhere across the globe and in every major not only the legal major. I consider money as a tool, but ethics are very important. Without ethics we will not have a ceiling or a limit. I believe that courses about ethics especially professional ethics are of a paramount importance. We have to start thinking of teaching professional ethics courses at universities. So, simply if we want to make that concept as an exception we have to teach students the professional ethics.
Do you have any other activities in different fields other than the legal field?
Of course, I have other interests other than law. I am highly interested in reading chemistry and history. For some time I was also interested in sports like tennis and table tennis. I do a lot of travelling nowadays due to my work.
I do some other stuff that I do not consider as activities, but as commitment like trying to bring up my son in a way that he is being worthy of carrying the name of his grandfather.
Last but not least, Can you tell us about your message for your partners, clients and students?
To my students, you are the future of this country and you should never lose hope. They should fight to make themselves better people and better legal practitioners. They have a duty to contribute to better future for our country.
To my clients, it is a privilege to work with each one of you. I fully appreciate your trust and I learn a lot from every one of them. I promise to do my best and to exert effort as much as I can to meet their expectations.
To my team, I am proud of every one of them and I truly wish the best for every one of them. I hope to all of them to be excellent legal practitioners.
To my partners, you are my second family and I am honored to be one of you and I do really appreciate being with you at the same firm.
I also have a special message to my wife, you are really an excellent outstanding wife and I really do appreciate your effort with our son and you have contributed a lot to my success.