Thursday, October 11, 2018

Malaysia Has The Best Bureaucracy In The World

Forget football, forget meritocracy.

Yes, we may suck in many things in the world. But that doesn't mean we're bad in everything. In fact, we're actually pretty good in not getting things done

Yes, Malaysia is practically the World Champion in Bureaucracy.

It's in our blood. It's ingrained in our culture. Hell, it's even protected under our Constitution.

Yes, bureaucracy is not to be condemned, but celebrated!

Why are we so good in bureaucracy? Here are 5 traditional tried and tested techniques that never fail to make things fail...

Bureaucracy Boleh!

1. Proposal

Want to throw an event? Prepare a budget proposal.

Want to get paid for a job we hired you? Prepare a budget proposal.

Want a pencil? Prepare a budget proposal.

And at the counter, the conversation goes a bit like this:

"Oh, you sent the budget already? Sorry, that won't work. You have to use one of our templates."

"Oh, you did use our template? Sorry, that was last year's template. You have to use the new template. Oh, and you have to provide copies of documents. Hang on, you should get a paper and write it down..."

"Oh, you need a pencil? Sorry, but you can't have a pencil without a budget proposal..."

2. Meetings

Collaboration. Conciliation. Consultation.

You just can't get your way with things in Malaysia on your own. You need to talk to people. Seek advice. Get different perspectives. It's our culture to be inclusive, to work as a team, to embrace diversity... blah blah blah...

Okay, enough of the professional jargon bullshit. Truth is, no one wants to make a decision. No one wants to take the lead. No one wants to be responsible.

So, everything is left to be decided by a 'committee'. The long-term goal is to have meetings after meetings (and of course, reviewing multiple drafts of 'budget proposals') to delay taking any action until (a) the problem gets solved by someone else; or (b) the people who raised this whole burdensome issue gets transferred, quits, or just dies.

At the individual level, the short-term goal is to buy time until your term in the committee expires and someone new takes over your place (and in the unlikely scenario that something does get done in the distant future, you can still claim credit).

Malaysia's national pastime

3. Rules

The average bureaucrat will always tell you 'no' as answer.

But the truly devilish bureaucrat will never say 'no'. Instead, they will set out a devilishly long and complex set of rules for every minor thing. 

Want a pencil? Sure, no problem, please fill up these forms: confidentiality, disclosure of personal conflict, disclosure of medical conditions (what if someone has allergies to graphite?), information on next-of-kin (in case the sharp end pokes someone's eye), etc.

The idea is to make the process so extremely laborious and torturous that people will just give up and go away. Which saves you from being the bad guy who says 'no'.

Bureaucracy isn't the knife that stabs you in the back. It's the poison* in your blood that slowly and silently chills your heartbeat to an excruciating stop.

* probably infected from a contaminated pencil

4. Inaction

Imagine you're a headmaster of a public school. The Department of Education transfers money to the school to pay the gardener. The gardener doesn't turn up for work. When the Department asks for the money to be returned, the headmaster said he had transferred the money over. But it was a lie. He actually kept the money.

Clear-cut case of misappropriation of public funds, right? The headmaster was sacked. Served him right!

But no, it didn't end there. The headmaster went to court. And the Malaysian Court of Appeal in its wisdom held that the dismissal was wrong. Because the dismissal violated his 'right to livelihood' under the Constitution. Every law student knows of this (in)famous constitutional case - Tan Tek Seng.

Moral of the story? It's okay to neglect your duties as a public servant. Don't worry! The Constitution will protect your right to sleep on your job and do nothing!

That's how you conquer the galaxy. Not by fighting, but by bureaucracy

Bureaucracy Boleh

Okay, I'm done. Wait, what? Did I say I'll talk about 5 things? Well, screw that. Too lazy to think of another point. Too lazy to scroll up and edit '5' to '4'.

Did I mislead you? Wasted your time?

If so, what are you going to do about it? Huh? HUH? Report me? Sue me? No can do, amigo. Ain't nothing you can do about it, ain't nothing anyone can do to help you do anything about it.

Haven't you got the memo already? This is Malaysia. I'm entitled to be lazy, incompetent, and an absolute asshole.

'Cause bureaucracy boleh, bitch!

Monday, October 1, 2018

How To Succeed In Law School

In my last article, I exhorted students to succeed - and not just survive - in law school. But what is 'success'? How do we attain 'success'. This follow-up article explains further.

Years ago, I was once an undergraduate at the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya (UM). I studied, struggled, and eventually succeeded.
  • I was awarded the Best Graduating Student of my batch.
  • I was a Jessup mooter.
  • I was offered to do pupillage in all the 5 illustrious law firms that I applied for.

Is that what success looks like? Not quite.

So was I an epic failure then? Not quite as well.

Lord Kok of Ipoh (still working on it)

Success Is Subjective

Based on those two set of contrasting facts, what do you honestly feel about me? Some may still think that I succeeded in law school despite some blemishes here and there. Others may not rate me that highly, in comparison with others with more successes (and less failures) under their belt.

Both are equally correct. After all, success - just like beauty - lies in the eyes of the beholder. Each of us have our own definition and standards of 'success'. Success to me may not mean the same thing to you.

Some law firms won't even give a second look to a resume that doesn't have keywords like 'Oxbridge' and 'First Class' on them. But others don't really give a damn what your CGPA is.

When I entered UM, the thought of graduating top of the class (academically) never even crossed my mind. I had a list of goals, and 'First Class' wasn't on it. Serious! I'm not just saying it now to cover for my low CGPA.

Did I not care about my academic results? Of course, I do. But I wasn't obsessing over with like how most of my classmates were. I estimated that I could get a First Class, if I really worked hard enough. But that would mean making some big sacrifices I wasn't willing to make.

From the start, I aimed to get a decent CGPA, and focused instead of learning as many skills as I can.

Best In-House Lawyer of the Year - ALB Malaysian Awards 2014 (this one's real!)

Grades Do Not Make You Great

I have previously written extensively about my philosophy on education - to which I take to heart back then as a student, and now as a teacher.

Learning should be hard, and fun:
"If learning feels comfortable, it means you're learning too slow. Learning is meant to be hard. Revising is easy. The best way to learn is to keep learning something new and useful, every day. Learning is about moving forwards, and not looking backwards...
...Learning should feel like an adventure. Adventures are fun."

Instead of taking on subjects that were easy to score, I only took subjects that I found interesting and challenging.

Instead of only reading up on chapters that lecturers hinted were coming out in the final exam, I would read an entire text book to fully grasp a particular subject (including chapters not covered in the syllabus at all).

But if your aim is to get good grades, please DO NOT adopt this mindset and strategy, kids! Trust me on this. You'll be lucky to even graduate with a CGPA of 3.35...

My former billion-dollar-whale lifestyle (no First Class required)

The Measure of Success

Ultimately, success is measured by our own ambitions and aspirations.
  • Want to be a litigator? Then start mooting.
  • Want to be a politician? Then start immersing in student activism.
  • Want to work for the UN? Then start reading up on International Law.

So there's no single pathway to success in law school. Law is a journey with many destinations. There's nothing wrong using law school as a launchpad to shoot for places beyond the practice of law itself.

As the Dean aptly puts it: "The goal of law school is not to train you to be lawyers, but to think like lawyers."

But whatever your law school goals are, please choose wisely and stay focused on achieving them.

Did I succeed in law school? Yes, by my own standards.

Will you succeed in law school? That's something totally within your control.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Succeeding Law School

Two years ago, I spoke and wrote about 'Surviving Law School' to wide-eyed first-year students coming into the Law Faculty of University of Malaya (UM).

A new batch of freshies arrived just last week.

On hindsight, I think that the title of the talk needs changing.

Surviving law school? Now, that's easy. Heck, anyone who made it to law school can do that. Rarely do students drop out, or fail so badly that they have to extend their course beyond 4 years. Despite what your parents and peers think, graduating from law school isn't really such a great feat.

Succeeding law school? Now, that's much harder to attain, and what you should really be concerned about and focusing on. Your goal shouldn't be graduating from law school, but graduating from law school with an impressive resume and reputation that employers are queuing up to hire you.

So here's an updated piece of advice to the barely surviving freshies, and also the older survivors in law school who haven't succeeded just yet (which, going by the definition below, includes all of you).

They stopped calling the red guy to speak after discovering that he graduated with a measly CGPA of 3.35

1. Be Great, Not Just Good

You beat thousands of other hopeful students to get into UM. Now you're in a pool of 100+ undergraduates. Safe to say, you can consider yourself as the Top 10% law students in Malaysia. Good enough, right?

No. 'Good' is never 'good enough' in UM. You should aim to be better. To go from good to great.

You shouldn't settle with being just another UM law student. Be the top of your class. Graduate with First Class. Take up leadership positions in societies. Join moot competitions

Aim to be the Top 10 of your batch, Top 1% in the country. Even better, win an international moot competition, and be top of the world.

2. Keep On Moving, Don't Just Settle

So you've done well in your first year. Got into the Dean's List (3.7 GPA), very active in projects, and won a local novice moot competition. Congratulations!

But you've only just begun. Success is not measured by the number of certificates in your file, or trophies on your cabinet. Success is a journey, not a destination.

As the saying goes: "form is temporary, class is permanent". Success in a single semester, a single project, a single competition - that could be due to a stroke of luck, or the efforts of other people. To have a streak of successes over the course of your four years of law school - now, that's solid proof that you're the real deal.

It's tempting to rest on your laurels, to shirk away from new challenges. You're afraid you won't repeat your previous success, that you'll taint your legacy. Well, better get over such insecurities right now. The real world you'll be facing post-graduation measures success as a marathon, not a sprint. You think 4 years of law school is tough? Wait till you face 40 years at work.

Best Graduating Student of 2008

3. Build A Good Reputation, Not Just A Good Resume

Four years of law school almost done. Your resume looks sparkly. You're the top 10 of your batch. Congratulations!

But what do your lecturers and friends really think of you, deep down in their hearts? Are you the object of hate or envy? Or the object of admiration and inspiration? How many toes have you stepped and hearts have you broken on your way to 'success'?

Your resume is just a piece of paper. Your reputation is what sticks in people's heads. Word gets around very fast in today's world. Positive recommendations can get you through doors even if your resume isn't too sparkly. A single negative warning can stick a giant red flag on the sparkiest of resumes.

Treat people with respect. Be kind and generous. Help your struggling classmates. Train your juniors. Engage in deep conversations with your lecturers on the complexities of law, love and life.

The Secret Of Success

What's the secret of success? In his legendary 2005 Stamford commencement speech, Steve Jobs says this right at the end: "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish."

Don't be blinded by your small sparkly successes.

Don't think you're ever good enough.

Don't settle for less.

Stay hungry, stay foolish.

Drop out from college -> build a successful tech company