Friday, October 21, 2016

When Rejected, Don't Be Dejected

Rejection is never a pleasant feeling. In Week Four of my "Drafting Against The Dark Arts' class, I opened up on one of my (many) painful experiences with rejections.

(If you've been missing the past lessons or need a refresher, you can read about Week One, Week Two, and Week Three too.)

And NO hipsters allowed!

* * *

Imagine I’m the partner of a prestigious law firm. Salary is high, environment is good. But I have space only for one of you. Who should I hire? What would you do to get hired?

I was in the same spot before, towards the end of my final year. There was this big firm which went all-out in their recruitment drive for pupils. Every year, they had expensive setups at career fairs which served tantalising food (donuts, chocolates, and coffee). One year, they even had Elaine Daly manning the booths (a friend dared me to chat with her, and I did). A lot of my seniors worked there, and spoke highly of the firm. It was the #1 firm on my list. And in my final year, they threw a private office tour for the top 30 students from UM.

Those interested could sit for an interview. I sat for it, and so did many of my classmates. The interview went on smoothly. The partner interviewing me was one of the senior ones, which I haven’t met before. Some of my friends got the more prominent recruitment partners. But I wasn’t too worried. The interview was all but a formality, I thought. My CGPA was decent, my resume packed with achievements. I met a few partners from past career fairs, some even remembering me by name. So I went home feeling confident that I had the job wrapped up.

Four of my classmates got a chambering spot. I didn’t.


I was shocked. Devastated. Depressed.

Days later, a good friend from the firm (one year my senior) called me up, inquiring on how my application was going. I told him of my rejection. He was shocked as I was. He promised to talk to a partner he was close with (and who I also knew and got on quite well during the career fairs). Ego still badly bruised, I told him to forget it, but he kept insisting on helping me.

Not long after, I got a call from the partner. He said that the firm would now like to offer me a spot. It was a tough decision to make. This was not how I envision landing my first job. I already had offers from three other reputable firms. But I really liked this firm. Should I just swallow my pride and take up the offer?

After some thought, I accepted. I went on to enjoy 3+ years there, and more importantly, stayed much longer than my other four classmates. So in a way, I was actually their best hire from UM that year. Funny how I nearly didn’t make it.

What’s the morale of the story? Two things:
  • The hiring process at any firm can be rather random and subjective, so don’t take it too personally when you get rejected
  • Landing the right job is often down to luck – but what we can do is increase our luck by positioning ourselves into the right places (networking helps)

Forever Alone

We cannot avoid rejection. We’ve all been rejected at some point of our lives – scholarships, auditions, job interviews, and so on.

Having a record of rejections is a good thing. It means that you’re trying hard and aiming high. Rejections make us stronger. In the end, it’s not how many times you fall that counts, but how many times we pick ourselves up and reach to the top.


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Be Active, Not Passive

For Week Three of my 'Drafting Against The Dark Arts' class, I talked about linguistics. Yes, sounds awfully boring, but believe me, it’s eye-opening and career-changing.

And no HATERS allowed!

* * *

Writing, just like speaking, is an art form. Good writers treat style as important as – if not more important than – substance. It’s not what you say, but how you say it.

There many tips and tricks to writing well. Today, I’ll talk about one of the most fundamental rule in the book – using the active voice.

What's Active, What's Passive

The active voice is strong. The passive voice is weak.

Tell me, which sounds better:
  • The venue of our class today will be the Chamber of Secrets.
  • Class today is at the Chamber of Secrets.

And what about this:
  • Attendance is encouraged.
  • I encourage you all to attend.

And this:
  • Punishment will be dealt towards those who did not prepare for class.
  • Those coming to class unprepared will be punished.

Which has greater impact? Surely the active voice.

Two Voices, One Winner

'The Elements of Style’ by Strunk and White is regarded by many people as the landmark authority on good writing habits. It covers a whole range of topics; the superiority of the active voice being one of them.

There, Strunk and White breaks down the general differences between the two voices:
  • The passive voice is less direct, less bold and less concise.
  • The active voice is more direct, more bold and more concise.

The rule has exceptions, of course.

Earlier, I said this: “'The Elements of Style’ by Strunk and White is regarded by many people as the landmark authority on good writing habits.” That’s actually framed in the passive voice. The active voice would instead be: “Many people regard ‘The Elements of Style’ by Strunk and White as the landmark authority on good writing habits.

Both sentences are fine. But the passive voice is arguably better here. Why so? Consider the subject of each sentence. The subject in the passive voice is ‘The Elements Of Style’, whilst the subject in the active voice is many people. Ideally, the subject should be given focus at the start of the sentence, even if it means using the passive voice.

Another exception is repetition:
  • If every sentence uses the active voice, the passage would be boring, and its impact will be lost.
  • A passage that uses the active voice in every sentence is boring and loses impact.

Here, the active voice is more direct and concise, but actually less impactful.

Slides keep students active and awake


To wrap up, here’s a simple exercise.

Rephrase this sentence: “It is respectfully submitted by the Applicant that a grave mistake has been committed by the Respondent in relation to this issue.
  • It is the Applicant’s respectful submission that a grave mistake has been committed by the Respondent in relation to this issue.
  • The Applicant respectfully submits that a grave mistake has been committed by the Respondent in relation to this issue.
  • We submit that the Respondent has committed a grave mistake on this issue.
  • On this issue, we submit that the Respondent has committed a grave mistake.
  • On this point, the Respondent is gravely mistaken.

Here, less is more. Any of the last three sentences are good stuff, but the last one is my personal favourite.

Be the active voice. Be direct, bold and concise.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Read Before You Write

I started Week Two of my 'Drafting Against The Dark Arts' class with a story, and some simple but effective tips on reading.

Here's how it went:

And NO Pokemons allowed!

* * *

Sometime in my second year of practice, I was invited to be a guest writer for The Star in a column called ‘Putik Lada. It was then I suddenly noticed something disturbing. When I tried to write, my mind would just go blank. I was struggling to string simple sentences together. My vocabulary was limited to legalistic jargons, my style was boring.

To my horror, I realised that my writing skills had actually gotten worse since I started working as a lawyer. How is this even possible? I was drafting letters, affidavits and submissions on a daily basis.

Then the answer struck me. I couldn’t write well because I hadn’t been reading enough. So I started reading again, and true enough, my writing improved. Not just for The Star column, but also in my everyday legal work.

From that mini crisis, I picked up a few good reading habits. Today, I wish to share some with you. Here are three things to take note of: what to read, when to read, and how to read.

I can't write? That's impossible! NOOOOO!!!

1. What To Read

Being a busy lawyer, all I ever read was statutes, cases and legal documents. Those are not enough. You need to read the news and books. Time is short and precious, so choose wisely. Read more Huffington Post, less Elite Daily. Read more BBC, less The Star. The keywords here are quality, efficiency and diversity.

My personal favourite? The Economist. It’s informative and insightful. It’s comprehensive and concise. It packs a lot of stuff in a few pages, so it saves me a lot of time catching up with the latest developments in the world.

Don’t just read about law. Read about business, technology. Read about everything. Mix fiction and non-fiction. Bounce between American and British styles.

Read a lot, and read wisely.

2. When To Read

No matter how busy you are, you must make time to read. Some people are disciplined enough to set a regular reading schedule – before they sleep, on weekends, and so on.

But here’s something else you can try. Carry something to read wherever you go – a book, magazine or tablet (like me). Whenever you have time to kill in between activities, start reading. Taking the train to work? Read. Waiting at the airport? Read. Your friend’s late for lunch? Read. This trains you to read, regardless of your mood. In time, you’ll be able to read anything, anywhere, anytime. Reading then becomes second nature to you, like drinking water.

Make reading part of your daily life.

3. How To Read

Don’t just read blindly. Set goals. Treat it like exercise.

Start with easy goals, and gradually scale up. One book per month, two books per month, and so on. Yes, the more you read, the faster you will absorb things.

Your goals don’t need to be rigid. For instance, The Economist is a weekly magazine. Sometimes, the next issue comes out before I can even finish reading the previous issue. But that’s okay. Some weeks I’m busy, so I read less. Some weeks I’m free, so I read more. I just make sure I don’t fall too far behind. Being flexible keeps me on track.

So set clear reading goals, and stick to them.

Read up, punks!

I know, law involves so much reading, so the last thing we want to do is read in our free time. But reading doesn’t need to be boring and taxing. Just like exercising, reading can be quite enjoyable, if you do it right.

Always remember: to be good at writing, you first need to be good at reading.