Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Faces Behind The Champion (A LAWASIA Story)

A year ago, they were nobodies.

Just another name in the rolls of University of Malaya, Faculty of Law (UM).

Just another a silent huddled figure in the lecture hall.

Just another random law student with no mooting achievement to cheer about. 

Fast forward to 2018, they are champions of Malaysia and Asia. Ah, what a difference a year makes...

Team UM, Team Malaysia

* * *

In July 2018, 9 UM mooters took a dive into LAWASIA. A competition we have never ventured for more than a decade, hence knew little about. The biggest competition in Malaysia, fiercely fought between 30 teams from 11 law schools. Despite such long odds, two of our teams prevailed as champions and runners-up of Malaysia!

(Episode I: "We Are The Champions And Runners-Up (A LAWASIA Story)")

In November 2018, we traveled to Cambodia for the International Rounds. Our runners-up team followed as a reward for their achievement, and also to lend support. In the end, we prevailed as champions of Asia, defeating NUS in the finals by a resounding 5-0 unanimous vote!

(Episode II: "A New Champion Rises And Chapter Begins (A LAWASIA Story")

It's not only the heights of our success that bears retelling, but also the lengths of our journey.

Unfortunately, our third team of Soo Yew, Thomas and Najihah did not make it far in the Nationals. Despite their early exit, their continual support - substantial and moral - kept the rest of us going. Someday, your time of reckoning will come.

Much credit goes to the assistant coaches - Simon Wood and Marcus Lee. Your training sessions and constant advice were invaluable. Each of you offered something different to the teams. Such diversity of expertise helped sharpen all our rough edges, leaving no stone unturned.

Along the way, we also had assistance from external allies aplenty. You know who you are. Each of you played an instrumental part to our success. You made us believe that we could bring the trophy home and make Malaysia great again. And mooting aside, you taught us how to think and act like a lawyer.

Lastly, a special shout-out to Team ATC of Subash Jai and Haseena Kaur. You all came excruciating close to pipping us in the National final. And yet, instead of drowning in sorrow and envy, you all put on brave face, wished us luck, and more importantly, passed us a text book that we heavily relied on in our preparations for the International. Such grace in defeat.

All in all, it was through the combined efforts of numerous comrades and allies that shaped us into champion material. Such great spirit of solidarity. Malaysia Boleh!

UM vs NUS (LAWASIA International Final)

* * *

The unsung heroes behind the scenes were Amiratu, Caysenny and Jia Shen.

They were only beaten by their own comrades in the National finals, and only missed out on a spot in the Internationals because the competition rules limit one team per institution (so the 3rd and 4th ranked Malaysian teams advanced instead).

Their feats have been overshadowed. Their names aren't emblazoned on the press and banners. Their valiant selfless contributions to the greater good will be relegated in the footnotes of history.

Such is the cruel nature of competition, success and fame. No one quite remembers the runners-up. Bridesmaid don't make the headlines. If you're not first, you're last.

But they deserve to be celebrated as much as our champions. Although this article may not cast much of a ripple in the flood social media, hopefully it goes some way to nudge them into the spotlight:

Amiratu joined LAWASIA at the tail-end of her third year of studies. She has never previously mooted before, except for the internal competition that led to her selection. Initially reluctant and hesitant, it took her awhile to get into the groove of mooting. Slowly but surely, she gained passion and momentum through our sparring sessions, occasionally even besting the seniors. True enough, she soared high during the Nationals - mooting all 7 rounds, and topping the the oralist rankings. A late bloomer who just can't stop blooming!

Caysenny was just a freshie. Her only mooting experience was a researcher in the Malaysian Vis Pre-Moot held in March 2018. So just like Amiratu, LAWASIA was her maiden competition as an oralist. And a big splash she made, consistently racking high scores in every round she mooted, even outscoring older and seasoned mooters. But most admirably, her head has not swelled an inch larger, nor dwell in the clouds. She remains modest as ever, and still sees herself as a junior with much to learn and grow. A truly rising star!

Jia Shen was also a freshie. Before LAWASIA, he was in NAMCO, where his team fell short in the finals. Two competitions, two silvers. Not a bad haul in just one year, but he's hungry to capture the elusive gold. Just like Caysenny, he doesn't let success get into his head, nor failure blunt his confidence. He's well aware of his weaknesses. He's constantly improving his skills. He's ambitious, yet patient. He's cynical, yet optimistic. Together with Caysenny, he shines brightly not only for himself, but to guide others to follow the light. Yet another rising star!

Champions in the making

* * *

Finally, the champions: Suan Cui, Lily and Aliya.

Individually, they are strong. Collectively, they form an almost unbeatable force.

Our champion team was much older and experienced, though not by much.

Suan Cui only started mooting late in her third-year. Her first moot was IMLAM in July 2017 (Quarter-Final, 8th-ranked oralist), followed up with Price Media in 2017/2018 (Quarter-Final, 6th-ranked oralist). In mid-2018, she was juggling two different worlds of mooting - Asia Cup (international law in the ICJ) and LAWASIA (commercial arbitration in the AIAC). After tasting victory in LAWASIA Nationals, she could not quite repeat her feat in Asia Cup, falling in the finals against NUS. As fate would have it, she faced NUS yet again in LAWASIA International - and prevailed. Victory is sweet, but vengeance is even sweeter. A perfect happy ending to an unconventional mooting career!

Lily Sabreena also started mooting in her third-year. Her first moot was Tun Suffian Moot in November 2017. There, her team finished runners-up to NUS. So just like Suan Cui, LAWASIA proved to be a journey of redemption - and she was also awarded the Runners-Up Best Mooter in the Internationals! Her second moot was IMLAM in July 2018, steering UM farther than any Malaysian team has gone before (Semi-Final). And like Suan Cui, she was juggling two separate moots at once. Oh, and she had internship too! After all, isn't that what real lawyers do - juggling multiple cases and clients? Truly a professional lawyer in the making.

Nur Aliya made her moot debut along with Lily in Tun Suffian Moot. There, she came face-to-face with the legendary Gopal Sri Ram in the finals - and survived his barrage of questioning and insults! Being the youngest member, she struggled at times to keep up with her more assured seniors. Nevertheless, her spirit never wavered. She toiled hard at whatever role and responsibility she's given. She didn't mind 'taking one for the team' when strategic calls are made. At merely the halfway point of law school, time is still on her side. Her mooting career has only just begun.

National Champions - Check!

* * *

What was the cause of their meteoric rise? How did they come out of nowhere to edge out veteran mooters in UM, Malaysia and Asia?

Hard work, determination, grit.

Humility, self-awareness, the willingness to adapt.

Focus, resilience, the ability to not-to-give-a-f**k what disbelievers and haters say.

They aren't the most fluent speakers. They aren't the most knowledgeable students. They aren't the prettiest of faces.

But ultimately, what matters most is character - even more so than talent, skill and experience. They are not afraid to seek help, ditch away their long-held beliefs, and learn afresh from square one. 

They do not walk alone, but march together. Each time someone falters, another will track back and pull their fallen comrade up.

They are champions not because of how great they are as individuals, but how great we all are as a community.

International Champions - Check!

* * *

There is an awakening. There is magic tingling in the air. There is a renewal of hope.

Yes, Team UM Is the champion of LAWASIA. But the fruits of victory is not just for us to enjoy.

Instead, it's a beacon of light for everyone to behold. It's a landmark authority which screams out: "Everyone can reach to the top, no matter who you are, and where you come from."

Let this victory be a victory of hope and faith.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

A New Champion Rises And Chapter Begins (A LAWASIA Story)

On 4th November 2018, University of Malaya (UM) made history.

We were crowned as Champion of the 13th LAWASIA International Moot Competiton.

And we tasted victory in our very first comeback to the competition since 2005.

There will be wild and jubilant celebrations back in the faculty for many weeks. The mooters deserve a hero's welcome (or rather, a heroine's welcome - they're all lovely ladies).

But first, time for credits and confessions.

First try, first win

* * *

The National Rounds was fiercely fought between 30 teams from 11 institutions. We won all 7 rounds and all 21 judges unanimously. It was a perfect, flawless championship run.

Another team from UM also finished as Runners-Up. Alas, they could not advance to the Internationals due to the eligibility rules limiting one team per institution.

(Check out the previous report: "We Are The Champions And Runners-Up (A LAWASIA Story)")

In the International Rounds, 14 teams from 10 countries vied for glory, including the mooting heavyweights of National University of Singapore (NUS) and Singapore Management University (SMU).

After 4 days, 9 rounds and 29 judges, we emerged triumphant, vanquishing NUS in the Final.

Along the way, we met many formidable opponents. This time, we weren't perfect. In total, we lost 1 round, and 3 judges. The International teams were tougher and stronger. And though their heroes may have fallen, they deserve every bit of our respect.

Preliminary Round

Hidayatullah National Law University (India) - We were rather jittery at the start. Not just because this was our first match, but due to their mooting reputation. We prepared hard, going through every word in their memorial. They came out with guns blazing at the oral hearing, but we responded well and deflected their every attack. Result: UM Win (3-0) 😊

Kobe University (Japan) - Their memorial was thick with substance. Their oral submissions, though not polished, still packed a punch. Where they suffered most was their English fluency, to which the international panel of judges must've struggled to keep up with. Most fittingly, they eventually clinched the 'Best Endeavour Award'. Result: UM Win (3-0) 😊

Jodhpur University (India) -Another dangerous threat. Red alert mode. To our great relief, we prevailed. Next round, they battled SMU - and won! To our pleasant surprise, they invoked an unconventional argument which we had just raised against them (and which other teams rarely attempted, if at all). That alone didn't win them the match, of course. But it displayed the traits of a winner - the agility to evolve. Result: UM Win (3-0)😊

University of Kent (UK) - This was a walkover. But there's a tragic and touching tale behind it. The team lost two members at the last-minute, so only one guy turned up. This triggered an auto-loss. But instead of insisting upon an ex-parte match, we allowed him to speak as a makeshift 'pair'. A true display of valor. A worthy winner of the 'Spirit of LAWASIA award'. Result: UM Win (3-0) 😊

We finished as the top team of the Preliminary Rounds! 😄


Shanghai University of Political Science and Law (China) - Their style lacked smoothness, but their substance was solid. Another thrust-and-parry battle. Their Respondent put up a valiant defence, but could not withstand our Claimant's onslaught. Result: UM Win (3-0) 😊

Taylor's University (Malaysia) - It's never nice crossing swords with fellow countrymen. They finished 4th in the Nationals, closely behind us. As feared, they pushed us to our limits, putting our qualification at risk once more. But our nerves held, and chalk yet another clinical win. Result: UM Win (3-0) 😊

We finished as the top team of the Quarter-Finals!😄

Jodhpur: A worthy adversary deserving of a higher finish

* * *

We had taken the lead in the last two rounds, and were inching closer to the finish line. The pressure was building. We were feeling the heat. By now, surely we were the main target in our opponents' crosshairs.

We were the noobs, the outsiders, the gate-crashers. By now, surely many people hated our guts.


SMU (Singapore) - The reigning LAWASIA International Champion for the last 4 years, the tournament favourites. But momentum was on our side, and we were determined to extend our unbeaten run. And an epic clash of two titans. In the end, their suave sophistication edged out our raw passion. Finally, we were brought crashing down to earth by a heart-breaking, razor-thin split decision. Result: UM Loss (2-1) 😢

University Technology MARA (Malaysia) - We both lost our first Semi-Final match, hence teetered on the brink of elimination. A do-or-die battle between two eternal rivals. They were Runners-Up last year, 3rd in the Nationals this year, and long-time LAWASIA stalwart. We were the upstarts threatening to upset the balance of power. We went all out... won... and sealed our spot in the Final! Result: UM Win (2-1) 😅


NUS (Singapore) - The final boss. They were unbeaten so far, and bested their own eternal rival SMU. As Claimant, we drew first blood. As Respondent, they countered back. Our grip on the proceedings was slipping away, until Suan Cui's thunderous rebuttal that had everyone in raptures. And when the dust finally settled, the 5-member panel of arbitrators unanimously awarded the moot to Team UM! Result: UM Win (5-0) 😂

Honourable Mention

We didn't meet and watch all 13 teams in action, so we may have missed some stand-out performances. There was one team which we didn't even encounter that we owe special thanks to...

Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam (Vietnam) - A day before we left for Cambodia, Suan Cui suddenly chimed out: "Hey, there's this UK case BDMS v Rafael..." We stared at her blankly. None of us had heard of it. We all took a closer look. I jumped out of my chair, "Dafuq? How did we miss this? Any team cited in their memorial?" Someone replied sheepishly, "Um, I think DAV did." And so it became our secret weapon. A weapon which we patiently held back, and only unleashed in the Final... Thank you, DAV! 😉

DAV: Great minds think alike, pretty faces smile alike

* * *

Our immense gratitude to the LAWASIA organising committee. Everything ran like clockwork, with minimal fuss and delay. Inquiries were handled expeditiously. And when tension ran high, they maintained a high level of professionalism throughout.

As first-time participants, naturally we were bumbling our way through the competition. We had many burning questions on our minds, so we were constantly emailing the organisers. Our payment of the registration fees was mired in bureaucracy, so they prompted us with numerous 'gentle reminders' - we were so worried of being disqualified! If there was an award for the Biggest Troublemaker Team, we would definitely bag it.

And kudos to the Cambodian volunteers! Never have I came across a more passionate, committed bunch of bailiffs and time-keepers. They treated their jobs with meticulous care, such as making sure they pronounce each introductory word and arbitrator's name correctly, in spite of their linguistic limitations. They were also keenly interested in the moot itself. When our counsel referred the arbitrators to the moot problem, I saw one bailiff kept picking up the booklet to follow along!

As a moot competition, LAWASIA is quite unique in its own right. Their rules are quite different from other typical moot competitions:
  • No Anonymity (the identities of institutions are disclosed to the arbitrators)
  • National Rounds for Malaysian teams (other International teams participate directly)
  • Memorials published on the website before the competition
  • Bench memorandum released to teams before the competition (but not this year)
  • Best Oralist Award determined based on raw score of ALL rounds (instead of average score for only Preliminary Rounds)
  • All rounds open to public (there's no prohibition against 'scouting')

* * *

The last point turned out to be quite sensitive and controversial.

At the Nationals, many outsiders dropped in to watch our rounds. And the UM-UM final was held in AIAC's auditorium, open to all, especially the other Malaysian teams joining us in the Internationals. I'm sure notes were being taken. If not, too bad, opportunity missed then!

At the Internationals, we also witnessed teams spectating each other. And that's when complaints trickled in. Apparently, our team was overdoing it. And after we were gently cautioned by the organisers to cut down on the note-taking, we stopped spectating completely. It wasn't as if we badly wanted to spy on others, nor was it part of some cunning diabolical plan. We genuinely didn't mean to cross the line. 😥

So why did we spectate in the first place? Remember, it's our first foray in LAWASIA (and all other teams were regulars). We were venturing into uncharted waters. We thought spectating was the norm, hence just going with the flow.

But above all, we were genuinely curious to watch as many teams as possible. It's a learning experience. Different cultures have different styles. We saw this openness in LAWASIA as a virtue, not a flaw.

Were we 'scouting'? Yes, but there's no rule against it.

Is it unfair? No, because all teams can do it too. Also, every team's memorial is publicly available, so there's no real secret in our arguments, anyway.

Were we worried of other teams scouting us and stealing our submission? No, because we know very well how to counter our own submission, and besides, we have plenty of other arguments in our arsenal to deploy (e.g. our secret weapon hidden in DAV's memorial).

In fact, if other teams scouted our rounds, we would have been flattered, not annoyed. For it meant that our arguments were awesome, and our team was deemed a 'threat'. And even if they adopted our submissions, we would've cheered them on (e.g. Jodhpur vs SMU). No hard feelings, but shared joy. 😃

Cambodia: Volunteers today, champions tomorrow!

* * *

At times, we felt really awkward. Like a newly adopted child in a close-knit family. Like an elephant walking through a room of china.

At times, we felt like we didn't fit in. People looked at us in a funny way.

At times, we felt like just giving up.

But we stayed the course. We didn't let ourselves be distracted by drama. We came to Cambodia with a mission to win - and to prove that anyone can win against all odds if they put their hearts and minds to it.

And now that we've won, we hope that our Cinderella run will inspire not only our juniors, but law students everywhere.

That you don't need to be a native English speaker to win in moots.

That you don't need to slowly step on every rung of the ladder to reach to the top.

That you don't need to tick all the boxes to be a champion.

Champions come and go. Heroes rise and fall. Perhaps next year, a better model champion will come along. And when they do lift the trophy, we will smile and cheer for them... and acknowledge that maybe our flaws had inspired goodness in others to rise and live up to the true spirit of LAWASIA.

But for now, Team UM is the reigning 13th LAWASIA International champion.

* * *

Instead of the usual suspects, a new champion has arisen.

Instead of the same old story, a new chapter has begun.

Yes, we may not be the champion that LAWASIA deserves.

But maybe... just maybe... we were the champion that LAWASIA needs.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Why We Suck At Giving And Receiving Feedback

Back in school, there was a day in the year where our parents were invited to meet our teacher and collect our report cards. It was called 'Report Card' Day.

I used to dread it, and thought it was stupid. What do my teachers really know about me? What's the point of generic truistic advice like "Your son needs to be more hard-working"?

Now that I'm sitting on the side as a teacher, I've changed my mind. I look forward to it, and I think it's brilliant.

Feedback is one of the most effective learning tools.

It only fails when the teacher or student is dreadful and stupid (or both at once).

You want 'feedback'? Here's some feedback, punks!

Why Teachers Suck At Giving Feedback

Some teachers are horrible at giving feedback.

Our common mistakes include:
  • Not knowing the students well enough ("So Sandra, you really struggle in... Oh, sorry, I mean, Sarah...")
  • Stating the obvious ("You got an B in 'Tort', you need to read up more on 'Tort')
  • Rambling of with 101 advice without any indication of importance ("So, number 15, you need to be more polite when you talk to teachers...")
  • Giving subjective advice that's purely a matter of taste ("You need to smile more")
  • Giving purely self-serving advice to make themselves feel good ("So, number 15, you need to be more polite when you talk to teachers...")
  • Giving trivial advice ("Look at me when I'm talking to you, stop writing and playing with your phone.")
  • Giving contradictory advice ("Why are you not taking down notes? Is what I'm saying not important?")
  • Assuming that they're always in the right ("That's wrong, what you wrote in your answer is just plain wrong, there's no such thing as...")
  • Not admitting when they're proven to be wrong ("The case you sent me, that's just one case, there's still no such as...")
  • Feeling intimidated by other teachers ("Oh, am I grading you, or is it Mr. Snape? Yes, so you know who to listen to...")
  • Assuming that their subject is the most important in the universe ("I don't care if you have 2 or even 10 assignments that week, you should've studied for my test...")
  • Treating their word as the gospel truth ("If only you listened to my lectures carefully, you would've gotten an 'A'")

Why Students Suck At Receiving Feedback

Now, now. Don't be so smug, students. You're not without faults, either.

Your common mistakes include:
  • Only wanting to know answers, not understand concepts ("So what is the right answer to Question 25?")
  • Expecting teachers to show them shortcuts ("What's the best book to read up on the subject?") 
  • Expecting teachers to give them tips ("What are the most important chapters to read up on this subject?")
  • Expecting teachers to guarantee their success ("So if I cover just these chapters, I'll be able to score an 'A'?")
  • Holding teachers responsible for their own failures ("But you didn't really touch on Chapter 5 in lecture, so we didn't think it was important for exams!")
  • Taking advice out of context ("You told us to be polite, so we didn't dare speak out too much during tutorials.")
  • Expecting teachers to justify every grading detail ("My friend answer same as me but got 1 mark higher, bow come like that?")
  • Reading too much into results ("I won the 'Best Mooter' award, I'll be an excellent litigation counsel!")
  • Listening to only the good parts ("We'll continue to maintain our research standard!")
  • Ignoring the bad parts ("Our presentation skills are not so strong, but it's okay, our research can cover for it.") 
  • Taking things personal ("You're always picking on me, since Day One")
  • Constantly comparing yourself to other students ("You're always smiling when she answers, but you're super tough on the rest of us.")

You want 'compliments'? Okay, so, um, well... ah, f**k it, I'm out...
Filtering The Feedback Flow

Yes, there are some teachers who are just mean and spiteful, and some students are just deaf and stubborn. The feedback flow is not without flaws.

As teachers, not all our feedback will be warmly received. And as students, not all feedback should be treated seriously. Filtering is part of the feedback flow.

Ultimately, we should always keep an open, objective mind when giving or receiving feedback.

So let the feedback flow, freely but filtered.