Indonesia Law Offices

Lawyers and law offices...


If there is a ray of light in the dismal jungle of Indonesian law, it is the lawyers.

Good lawyers and bad lawyers

There are many highly professional and ethical lawyers, some well-known and respected as national heros for their lead in the struggle for democracy during the Suharto era and for transparency and human rights in the Reform era.

It sounds an odd question, and usually at Indonesian Law Advisory we would try to avoid proposing theories, but this answer underlines a crucial feature about institutions of law in Indonesia.

In many countries, lawyers lead struggles for democracy, reform, and rule of law. Certainly they do in Indonesia.

In fact there are also good police, good prosecutors, and good judges who want to support reform, but finding one willing and able to do so is more difficult.

The reason is probably that police, prosecutors, and judges are all public servants or pegawai negeri, working for salary in monolithic government institutions. Pegawai negeri typically start at the bottom in their home regency, and then as they rise–if they rise–they face increasing competition for top positions with higher authority, prestige, and salary at the provincial and national levels.

These are ideal conditions for perpetuating “institutional cultures.” Only those who go along with the system, show themselves good team players, and give proper deference to their superiors, will advance.

It is well-known throughout the world that “police do not investigate police.” Popular movies about Serpico and the NYPD, scandals about police in Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Belgium, Chicago–all based on fact–only end with establishment of a department of Internal Affairs.

But Internal Affairs officers are necessarily outsiders from other jurisdictions. In Indonesia there are no other jurisdictions; all police attend the same police academy, someone always knows someone who knows someone, and they are all on the same career ladder together.

The Prosecutors Office (kejaksaan) and the courts (keadilan) work the same way.

I have had individual police and prosecutors tell me of their own personal frustration and anger and disgust at the system they are bound up in, and I have every reason to believe them, and yet they have no escape and no options. If they fight the system, they will not only fail, but they will destroy their careers.

This is the reason we emphasized earlier that The “culture of corruption” in Indonesia is not the culture of the Indonesian peopleā€”it is the culture of the legal institutions.

Lawyers, on the other hand, are part of the legal system, but not part of a monolithic institution. There are some bad lawyers as there are in all countries, and the Indonesian legal system gives them unusual opportunities. But the good ones are very good indeed, because the battles they fight are not just about law but about the entire future of their country.

Yet there are limits to what even the best lawyers can do given the dysfunction in the legal system.

Unfortunately, there are other lawyers who regularly serve up their clients for dinner; in virtually every civil or criminal case which ventures off into the territory of the Mafia Hukum, the lawyers for one, if not both, contenders have taken the lead in making the necessary deals.


Issues with law offices

Overstating certainty about the law

In an earlier chapter titled Formal Law we referred to one problem—the claiming of unrealistic certainty about the law—which is not an actual deception or failing by law offices, but more likely a product of their training and necessary marketing of their services. Law offices all over the world do the same thing.

Also it's worth remembering that in any civil law battle, both sides expect to win or they would never have gone to court in the first place. In every decision, one side turns out to have been wrong.

The earlier paragraphs are repeated here:

In Indonesia an over-reliance on formal law, as if understanding the law as written will somehow indicate a solution, is probably unjustified, but lawyers are taught to do it. It is undoubtedly frustrating to admit that there is no solution.

Professionals do try to pull intent out of laws as written however, and unfortunately, once they have done so they sometimes relate them to clients or post conclusions on the internet as if they are facts—reality is, their opinions are often only untested theories.

But what is worse, they can't admit as much to their clients, because potential clients will likely shop until they find a lawyer who says he has a solution. Their business depends on reassuring clients of their expertise.

In most of the world this attitude of certainty is fairly justified by secure legal systems. But in Indonesia, clients can be inadvertently misled. Repeating from the chapter Mafia Hukum for Expats: might receive the impression that a little care in choosing your lawyer and researching laws about land ownership, business establishment, or marriage will overcome any possible difficulties in the law. When advisors fail to explain fully the situation, and especially fail to explain the Law Mafia, expatriates can be left with unrealistic expectations.

Qualified and ethical lawyers in Indonesia aspire to run honest law firms to international standards in a legal environment which cannot possibly support those standards.

We hope with Indonesian Law Advisory to balance these expectations, and with that, readers can approach these honest law firms with an understanding that can help both clients and lawyers deal with their case on a realistic level.

These lawyers do the best they can, but don't expect to go to them and say "I know Indonesia is corrupt and we have to pay off the judges. So, right, how much will it cost?" Dealing with corruption is not that easy.


Collusion - when it is overt...

There are other issues with law offices in which lawyers clearly intend to do wrong.

Without cooperation and collusion from lawyers, the other branches of the Mafia Hukum—government officials, police, prosecutors, and courts—would have a hard time. The main point of contact between the public and the legal system is through lawyers.

Straightforward collusion is sometimes obvious. In a civil case, your lawyer may approach the other side.

This is normal in most countries—representatives of the two parties get together and see if they can work out a compromise which would be acceptable to both sides and avoid the greater stresses, expenses, and uncertainties of a court battle. Many court procedures require a mediation meeting between the two sides prior to continuing on to trial for exactly this purpose. But normally a client can trust that one’s lawyer is actually working for the best interests of the client, and the details of the deal are fully open to approval by the client.

In Indonesia a very different kind of deal can happen in which the lawyers are looking out for themselves. Two lawyers can get together to explore which side would provide the most profitable win, and one client may have incentive to ensure victory with an extra fee. Here is an example:

Two parties are contending over assets. The first party—call him an expatriate husband—is claiming fifty percent of the common marital assets in a divorce, in accordance with Indonesian law. The second party—call her an Indonesian citizen wife—is hoping to keep all the assets, which as in many WNA / WNI marriages are held in the WNA spouse’s name, maybe even with a prenuptial agreement.

Both parties have signed engagement letters including hourly attorney fees and an extra incentive payment of two percent of whatever assets result from the decision.

The attorney for the wife has twice as much potential profit from the case—two percent of all the assets—as compared to the attorney for the husband, who will receive only two percent of half the assets. In fact, the attorney for the husband could throw a deal for one percent of the total assets and still come out even.

But he doesn’t do so, because in a meeting with the other side he claims that the husband has agreed to pay thirty percent of the recovered assets as an incentive. This is clever negotiating—he’s a sharp lawyer. The wife is Indonesian, she knows how this works. She may not believe the thirty percent claim, but she does recognize the signal for the expected payoff level, and according to law, she is in a losing position. She offers fifteen percent, to be split evenly between the two attorneys for a guaranteed win.

The husband’s attorney takes the deal. Both attorneys are guaranteed seven and a half percent, far more than they would receive without the deal. And the wife receives eighty-five percent, much better than the fifty percent she would normally receive under Indonesian law.

Now all that’s left is for one attorney or the other to approach the judges and work out the decision. Maybe one attorney already has a relationship, but in any case it’s not hard to do. The judges might want a percent or two for themselves. It's still a good deal.

It’s unlikely the husband will ever know what happened, by the way.


It works similarly in a criminal case. Recall from a previous chapter quoting Causes of Corruption in Indonesia by Transparency International:

Most of the personnel working at the judiciary remain the same of the old autocratic regime and they may be influenced by local elites, business interests, military and politicians outside of the legal system (Freedom House, 2010). Bribes are often paid to influence prosecutions, convictions, and sentencing in civil and criminal cases...

According to experts, the judiciary’s independence is also hampered by the persisting intervention from actors from outside the legal system (e.g. powerful businesses, politicians, etc) who attempt to influence decisions or force the dismissal of cases.

Considering the judicial system as a whole, challenges to fight corruption are also faced by prosecutors who are usually confronted by suspects who have both political power and influence at the local level. Prosecutors are thus often offered bribes or pressured/threatened to delay or simply close cases.


Or from an article in

Practice of the Law Mafia, This is the Modus Operandi

Kutanews - Dirty practices by the law mafia in Indonesia is not new. Various modes of these practices were discussed by the Justice Monitoring Program Coordinator LBH Bali, I Made Sugianta, SH.

Judicial mafia practices, said Sugi, starts at the level of the police. “Investigators frequently used modes such as stopping the investigation after price negotiations with the suspect,” said Sugi, Friday (20/7). Other modes include manipulating the BAP (Interrogation) in order to alleviate the indictment alleged. Other modes are never making the SPDP (Commencement Warrant for Investigation).

“There's also asking for the cost of ‘service’ or ‘operational expenses’ to make the process go faster. Fact is, not infrequently they also pressure the person reporting to make peace or to use a particular law office”, said Sugi.

At the level of the prosecutor's office, a method used is often the practice of buying and selling criminal charges or claims. “In the case of corruption, a suspect was summoned to the prosecutor and asked whether the case will be continued or not. If at that time the potential suspects are willing to pay a certain amount of money so the case will not be continued,” he said.

“Also negotiating about detention, arranging the trial judges, engineering the trial, and negotiating a verdict.”

To break the chain of judicial mafia practices, LBH Bali opened Judicial Watch Post. LBH Bali also consistently campaigns against the practice of the mafia law through various activities such as public discussions titled Judicial Corruption that took place recently.

“We also invite the media to get involved in controlling the mafia by watching and supervising the practice of law through the news,” said Sugi.

The original article is at Practice of the Law Mafia, This is the Modus Operandi -

Why the police might care that the suspect use a particular law office is not hard to figure out; they have relationships with certain lawyers. If they expect the suspect to make a payoff in return for dropping the charges, a lawyer can help negotiate it.


For an idea of what can happen without a lawyer, the story of Lanjar is interesting:

22 September 2009. Lanjar Sriyanto and his wife Saptaningsih and 10-year old son are driving on their motorcycle along a busy district road in Karanganyar, Central Java. They have visited their family for Lebaran and are now on their way home. Suddenly the car in front of them brakes. The car is too close, Lanjar cannot brake in time. As they crash into the car, Lanjar’s wife falls off the motorcycle onto the other side of the road. She falls just in front of a Panther car that is coming with high velocity from the other direction. The Panther car hits Lanjar’s wife with such speed that she dies on the spot.

Seven days later two men visit the house of Lanjar’s family. They are the owner and the driver of the Panther car. Lanjar is away, but they talk to Saptaningsih’s sister.They offer her 1,5 juta if she signs an agreement not to sue the two men for their role in the accident. The men leave with a signed letter.

When, two days later, Lanjar goes to the police station to obtain his confiscated driving license, the police are no longer helpful: they yell at him and tell him that he will be jailed for killing his wife. That turns out to be no empty threat.

On 9 December the police take Lanjar into custody. He is brought before a court, where he is told that he is accused of criminal negligence causing the loss of life—an offense that carries a penalty of five years in prison. When Lanjar hears the accusation, he has no lawyer besides him, he has no idea how to defend himself against the accusations, and he is looking at the prospect of not only loosing his wife, but also his freedom.

This is the moment when Mohammed Taufiq hears about the case. This Solo-based lawyer decides to offer his services to Lanjar. He quickly finds out that the owner of the Panther Car was a member of local police force. It seems that he had used his contacts within the police to get Lanjar indicted in order to save himself from any accusations. On top of this there are indications that the police had also been extorting Lanjar, as he had been forced to pay one million rupiah to local officers to buy their ‘cooperation’.

The original academic paper is at Akses Terhadap Keadilan: Access to Law - Ward Berenschot and Adriaan Bedner

The lawyer Mohammed Taufiq in this story was not an ordinary lawyer, however. He refused the payoff demands and went to the media and the public to create a national campaign for justice. The court eventually reached a decision freeing Lanjar and saving face for the police: Lanjar was convicted of criminal negligence, but freed from custody with a ruling that the accident was caused by force majeur and therefore could not be punished.

I personally know of a very similar story occuring to an expatriate living in Bali who eventually, with the help of a lawyer, reached a deal and paid off the police to drop charges for the murder of his girl friend who died in a hit-and-run accident.


Collusion - when it is subtle...

There is another type of collusion which is less obvious. In later chapters on Prenuptial Agreements and Land Purchases we discuss this in more detail, but here is the essence.

Lawyers are often in a position to build themselves future opportunities. If a client comes to a law office requesting assistence in writing up a contract, a clever lawyer can set up a “lottery ticket.” There is no guaranteed payoff, but there is always a chance, and if you have enough lottery tickets you might hit the big one. It works like this:

An expatriate businessman comes to a law office for help in setting up a joint venture for a villa project with an Indonesian partner. The expatriate has taken the wise precaution of seeking independent counsel.

The lawyer needs to work out details with his counterpart and so he contacts the Indonesian partner’s lawyer. Through a few subtle, or not so subtle, questions he determines that the business deal is legitimate and the Indonesian partner is not asking any special favors in the contract—which, by the way, the expatriate’s lawyer would not be adverse to if requested.

Nevertheless, he leaves a few holes in the contract. His reasoning is this:

  • the expatriate does not speak Indonesian well, and does not know Indonesian law, so he is unlikely to notice that the contract is less than complete;
  • if the Indonesian partner is happy with the expatriate partner, no harm done; the contract will never be tested;
  • if the Indonesian partner someday has a falling out with the expatriate partner, the defective contract will give him an advantage. The expatriate's lawyer will very likely represent the expatriate in the case, and if so, he can expect a lucrative deal offer from the Indonesian partner;
  • the resolution of the case is most likely that the expatriate will leave Indonesia, never to return, with no understanding of what had actually happened in his case, and no way to make complaints.

Writing a defective contract is an all around win for the expatriate’s lawyer.


Beyond collusion - turning a client into a milk cow...

The practice of law can give dishonest lawyers interesting opportunities because:

  • Clients come to them trusting in their lawyer’s advice while opening some of the most vulnerable details of their lives and finances;
  • Lawyers know details and procedures of law unavailable to lay persons, allowing them to obscure their actions behind a veil of expertise;
  • Clients often turn over to their lawyers significant control about life decisions, contracts, and handling of cash.

The law office KantorKita in Sanur, Bali, was for eight years one of the most popular firms in Bali helping expatriates in property, business, and immigration. It collapsed in 2010, and the owner Julie Edmond—or Esti Yuliani—was sentenced to prison.

A number of controversies surround Austrindo Law Office, the current most popular law office in Bali. Despite multiple complaints to the police, Austrindo Law Office lawyers have never been brought to trial. One account is available here:

Lawyer Ida Bagus Wikantara enjoyed an 11 year run while manipulating his client Ni Made Jati in the Uluwatu cases, but was finally disbared by PERADI for violations of ethics in 2015: