Mariyam Shunana is Managing Partner of leading Maldives law firm Shunana & Co. LLP, where she specializes in litigating and negotiating complex business transactions. In this interview with Asia Law Portal, Mariyam details her eleven years of legal experience in representing the Government of the Maldives, Government companies, and major private corporations including foreign investment companies, as well as individuals. Mariyam also explains how she has helped numerous foreign clients establish foreign investment companies, engaged in extensive pro-bono legal work, become a legal technology entrepreneur – all while navigating the unique competitive challenges of a changing legal market.
Tell us about your legal experience in the Maldives Attorney General’s Office prior to private practice
I worked at the Attorney General’s Office as State Counsel for 10 years. Mainly, my work included litigating at the courts of the Maldives on behalf of the government in both cases against the government and cases filed by the government of the Maldives. My work also included providing legal opinions to Government Ministries and Department on various legal issues which also includes providing legal opinion on contracts, international conventions, bilateral and multilateral agreements signed by the Government. I have provided legal opinions on numerous bills passed by the Parliament before ratification by the President and reviewed draft laws and regulations.
What inspired you to found Maldives, Shunana & Co. LLP?
Our focus was to provide fast, efficient and high-quality legal service in the area of corporate and commercial law. We wanted to build a law firm that is able to deliver top-notch service by combining law, business and innovative tech skills.
What types of clients do you help and what are your key practice areas?
Our clients are mostly come from a corporate and commercial background. We provide our service to major private corporations including foreign investment companies and individuals in complex commercial litigation and transactional work. We have also assisted many foreign clients in forming joint venture agreements with local businesses and also setting up foreign investment companies, including the setting up of luxury resort hotels and real estate businesses.
As a multi-practice firm, at Shunana & Co. LLP, we have a dynamic and energetic team of lawyers who provides practical and strategic legal services to clients in diverse sectors. Our team includes highly experienced commercial litigators who has represented clients in landmark court decisions, and legal counsels who has expertise in litigation and arbitration, domestic and international dispute resolution, banking, tourism, employment, foreign investment, real estate, debt collection services, shipping and construction law.
What have been some of your major litigation victories?
I was able to secure a settlement in the largest class action lawsuit in the history of the Maldives. I have also litigated and won one of largest commercial claims in the Maldives against the Government of the Maldives. I litigated as lead counsel in the some of the most notable public interest lawsuits submitted at the Maldivian courts and tribunals, which includes the first ever gerrymandering lawsuit in the Maldives, the largest class action employment dispute submitted at the employment tribunal. Numerous cases that I have litigated while I was a state counsel and in private practice has set precedent setting victories, which includes rules regarding mitigation of damages in various cases submitted against the State, which would have helped the State save hundreds of millions, if not billions by now. One of our cases has just recently set a landmark precedent regarding measuring compensation amount in negligence cases.
You founded Public Interest Law Centre (PILC). Tell us more about this
When we work at the legal field, we see and hear so many things that is just not right and is so unjust. Sometimes that injustice may be due to unjust laws, corruption or injustice due to inequality to access justice. We can either keep on being frustrated because of that, do nothing and keep complaining, or we can try to do something about it. So, I chose to try doing something about it and make changes happen for the better. So together with a team who are highly dedicated to the cause as I am, we formed the Public Interest Law Centre. Public Interest Law Centre is the one and only organization in the Maldives that provides Pro bono legal services in a wide area of law. We have three key goals – (1) improving access to justice in the Maldives by providing legal aid and pro bono legal services to economically and socially marginalized individuals and groups; (2) empowering individuals and civil society through awareness programs and capacity building programs; and (3) facilitating and encouraging law reform by identifying statutes, regulations and areas of law that need reform and lobbying the legislature and relevant government authorities to encourage such reform. Our work is, therefore, focused primarily on areas of public interest, such as employment, human rights, civil rights and liberties, social welfare, government accountability, and legal reform.
You have also recently founded Shuna Law (Shuna.law), a legal research database. Tell us more about this.
When I first started practicing, I found it very challenging to practice law due to limited legal resources to conduct legal research. I am very passionate in researching and collecting data, and I wanted a way to share my research work with the others in the legal field. But, to build a local research database in our language (Dhivehi) was very challenging due to complexity of the technical expertise required to do that. By collaborating with Skape Private Limited (Tech Company in the Maldives), we created Shuna Law legal research database.
The legal database contains searchable text of all the judgments of the Supreme Court of Maldives and some of the latest decisions of the High Court. All the new judgements of the Supreme Court are regularly being updated to the database while the team is also hardly working on adding all the High Court judgements to the database as well. The database also provides features where you will be able to search judgements delivered by a specific judge, specific court or a specific type of case. Special symbols are used to show status of the judgements or if a rule in the judgment is affected by another judgement. Furthermore, Shuna.law also includes a legal dictionary. Legal dictionary includes how the courts of the Maldives, local laws and law dictionaries defines the word. We have launched first phase of database on October 14, 2021. This is just the very beginning, and we have a long way to go.
Along with the legal database, I have also released a book called “The Legal Principles of Employment Law” which compiles legal interpretations and legal rules of the important and latest judgments of the Supreme Court of the Maldives regarding employment law. This book was made in order to create a better understanding of legal rules and precedents established by the Supreme Court of Maldives regarding employment law.
What should companies interested in doing business in the Maldives be most aware of?
What is most important is getting your investment and rights protected if in case a legal dispute or legal issues may arise that threatens the business. So, prior to investing in the Maldives, its best to carryout thorough due diligence process, choose the best structure and form that will protect business that you are investing. In addition to be being aware of foreign investment law and rules, it is best to be aware how those laws are applied in practice. Because, sometimes what is in done in practice may in certain circumstances be different than the what’s written in foreign investment laws.
As Managing Partner of the firm, what have been your major challenges and successes?
Honestly, the more the law firm grows, the more challenges in sustaining it, because my time currently is divided in between the firm, PILC, and the legal research database work that I currently manage. But I do believe in order to become a better and skilled lawyer, focusing on those 3 areas of my work is important as it is important to keep ourselves updated via legal research, providing legal aid service and bringing changes to law via lobbying and social activism.
We value success of firm in terms of being able to provide efficient and quality service to client. In addition to being the most top-rated law firm in the Maldives, we count getting trust and confidence from many clients who received our services and also from the general public as a major success of the law firm. For us, success is momentum, getting things done and creating innovation for the betterment of the legal field.