Abraham Sridjaya, a native of Surabaya, East Java, has at a relatively young age of 26 already established himself as one of Indonesia's most respected and highest-paid lawyers. He believes it takes a combination of courage, brains and integrity to become a successful lawyer, and now seeks to also apply those principles to politics for the betterment of the country.
"I got my first project just after graduating from law school at a university in Surabaya," he says. He assisted a driver with an insurance claim against a Jakarta-based insurance firm. "I told my client that he would not have to pay my fee if I failed to help him. Fortunately, I made it and the insurance company paid out the driver's claim," he adds. This experience encouraged Abraham to develop his career as a professional lawyer.
Abraham planned to do an internship at one of Indonesia's top five law firms after graduating from Airlangga University in Surabaya, but ended up in his father's law firm after failing to get a placement elsewhere.
Abraham says his father, Tjandra Sridjaya, a veteran lawyer with a solid track record, taught him a lot about running and managing a professional law firm. He also learned that a lawyer must set high standards for both his work and his tariffs. If the fee is below standard, he must either ask clients to find another lawyer, or help them for free.
"My father taught me that if you want to help someone, then do it pro bono, instead of accepting a low fee, which downgrades your price standard," he says. In the more than five years of his career, Abraham has helped many clients with their legal problems for free.
Slowly but surely, as he became more successful as a lawyer, he started to attract clients who were willing to pay his fees and by 2016, he could charge up to $50,000 for his work. Abraham currently deals with cases involving copyright infringements, land ownership claims and various business-related matters across Indonesia. His excellent track record has seen him become one of the highest-paid young lawyers in the country. "This is my fee standard and cannot go lower than that," he says, adding that his father sets an even higher standard, charging more than $500,000.
Courage, Brains and Integrity
Abraham says he has learned in his career that a respected lawyer must have courage and the ability to think out of the box. With true justice still lacking in Indonesia's legal system, he admits that he sometime feels like a lone wolf. "My father taught me that there is always hope for true justice in Indonesia's legal system, but to achieve that ideal, we must continue struggling, even if we have to challenge the highest levels of power, including the president," he says.
He says a legal practitioner also needs brains, referring to the intellectual capacity to strengthen his abilities through solid knowledge of the law. And because Indonesia still has far to go before its legal system will deliver true justice for all, a lawyer must always be at the top of his game in terms of knowledge and understanding of legal practices.
Abraham says, as far as he is concerned, there are only a handful of people in Indonesia with a solid understanding of the law. One of them is Andi Hamzah, a criminal law professor at the University of Indonesia, who is highly respected expert in his field. Abraham urges members of Indonesia's legal fraternity to consider the law professor's opinions and perspectives on criminal law.
He also questions the role of the Supreme Court, saying that it sometimes reaches flawed verdicts. He said the responsibility of a Supreme Court justice is to evaluate the verdicts of lower courts and not to add more punishment. "So 'brains' refers to a comprehensive understanding of the law and its implementation. A lawyer has to help clients obtain justice and not simply make a business out of it," he says. One solution, he adds, is for the government and lawmakers to speed up the process involved in approving a revision of the country's criminal code to respond to new technologies, social conditions and threats associated with modern society.
He says his dream is to open a criminal law school that would be open to members of the police, attorneys, lawyers and even judges to learn and discuss practical criminal law, because universities only teach the subject in a very abstract and theoretical way. Abraham says it is difficult nowadays to find well-qualified judges, particularly at Supreme Court level.
He says the third pillar that makes a good lawyer, is integrity. This is what earns a lawyer respect, and not a lavish lifestyle or frequent media appearances. "I wish I could make morals and ethics become mainstream in the legal profession in Indonesia. I have promised to uphold these values in my job as a public lawyer," he says.
While working as a lawyer is financially rewarding, Abraham sees a career in politics as another way to make a difference in the country. However, he says his parents were initially opposed to the idea of him playing an active role in politics, given recent developments in Indonesia.
Various events contributed to Abraham becoming involved in politics. At one time, his friend, the son of a senior politician, asked him to join him at a political event. Abraham initially declined because of the bad perception he had of politics. But it was former Jakarta governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known as Ahok, who encouraged him to become active in politics. He also worked on Ahok's re-election campaign, organizing fundraising events.
"Ahok told me that if there are 'dirty' people in politics, one has a chance to fix it with good faith. If politics will be full of bad people forever, then Indonesia has no future," he said.
Now he enjoys his role as Golkar Party politician, campaigning for a seat in the House of Representatives, representing East Java. Abraham has vowed that if he succeeds, he would stay on for only five years. "For me, being a politician is doing social work and you have to give, rather than take from the country," he says.
Abraham was appointed deputy chairman of Golkar's youth organization, Angkatan Muda Partai Golkar, after previously heading its treasury department. He is currently also deputy chairman of another Golkar-affiliated organization, Musyawarah Kekeluargaan Gotong Royong, and regional coordinator of the National Committee of Indonesian Youth (KNPI). He also plays active roles in various professional organizations, including the Indonesian Bar Association (AAI) and the Indonesian Lawyers Club.