Wednesday, September 21, 2016

You Will Never Be Ready, So Start Working Now

This week, I started my 'Drafting Against The Dark Arts' tutorial classes for the new semester, attended by weary-eyed final year law students.

Drafting is a mysterious and difficult art to master. So it's not enough that the students get their feet wet. They need to be thrown into the deep end of the ocean, in order to learn. Yes, sink or swim, folks! No mercy for the weak!

Here's the opening speech I delivered for this week's session:

And NO Muggles allowed!

* * *

My job is not to make you feel ready for practice. My job is to make you realise how far you are from being ready.

Don't think that once this semester and the next are over, you will have what it takes to be a lawyer. Because you won't, no matter how hard you try. What you will discover, instead, is just how unready you are – your gaps, your flaws. That's the irony of law school – the closer you get to graduate, the more scared you feel about graduating. And so you should be. The more you learn, the more you realise that there's so much law out there that you don't know about. As Socrates once said: “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

Those who think they’ve made it, won’t make it. Those who think they still have a long way to go, will go furthest in life. You think all your A’s and trophies will propel you to the stars? Think again. You’ve barely lifted off a few metres. All the good work you have done has maybe gotten you past the atmosphere. In a year’s time, hopefully, you’ll be out in space. Alone. In the dark. Searching for new worlds. Scream for help all you want, but in space no one can hear you. That’s when the real journey starts.

Yes, you are alone, all alone

And then there are those of you who know you're not ready, and are too scared to do anything about it. Opportunities after opportunities come by, but you wave them away. “No time,” you say, “my friends don’t want to join, and I can’t work with that asshole.”

Bullshit. Stop making excuses. Stop making demands. By the time you wait until you are ready, the opportunity will be long gone. By the time you wait for the stars to align, the world will have ended. Life is never perfect. Life does not hand you lemons each time you thirst for lemonade. Don’t waste time searching for the perfect recipe. Just make the best out of the imperfect ingredients that you have. No lemons? Use lime instead. Adapt. Improvise. As Teddy Roosevelt once said: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

Shit happens, shit piles up. Stop sitting around whining about how unfair life is and how mean people are. You’re the captain of your own ship. So take control. Start flying, even if you're not ready. Learn more than you need to. Take up fresh challenges. Get used to working with friends, strangers and even enemies.

You may not be ready for what I’m about to teach you. But that’s the whole point. I do not wish to teach you and test you on things you are ready for. What’s the point? Whatever you’re ready for, I’m sure you're good at it already. Whatever you’re not ready for, that’s where I can really help you. You may not understand the full extent of my teachings. But you will, someday – if not today, then tomorrow or maybe years down the road. Don’t worry. Truth takes time to sink. Wisdom takes time to grow.

The universe is large, dark and full of terrors. But the sooner you launch yourself into space, the quicker you’ll reach the stars.

You’re never going to be ready for practice. All the more reason to start working hard now.


Sunday, September 11, 2016

Surviving Law School

Last week, I was invited to speak to the new freshies of my former law school, University of Malaya (UM), in a forum entitled "Surviving Law School 101". I'll try to recapture the gist of what I had shared here for the benefit for everyone.

(This is not a word-by-word transcript. Age is catching up, and my memory's not what it used to be - not that it used to be much, anyway. So some of the answers have been embellished for clarity.)

Hello, I'm not a top student, but listen up!
* * *

1. Tell us a bit about yourself.

Hello! I’m not sure if I’m the best person to talk about school. My grades were not great. I’m not the study type. And I’m bad with following rules – they told me the dress-code was formal, but I’m like whatever, I really don’t feel like suiting up today.

We’re here to offer you different perspectives. Yes, perspectives. Not answers, not solutions – that’s for you to figure out, using whichever perspective suits you best.

I, too, once sat where you’re sitting now, a long time ago. I learnt a lot about law. I learnt a lot about life. Love? Not so much, I never found a girlfriend in all my four years. Law, love and life – well, 2 out of 3 isn’t that bad, right?

But seriously, when I say ‘love’, I don’t mean ‘romance’. I don’t mean love as in ‘Pride and Prejudice’, ‘Twilight’ and Korean dramas. I’m talking about love in a wider sense. Love for music, love for law. When I say ‘love’, I mean ‘passion’.

Do what you love. Law school is more than just about lectures, exams, and assignments. You’re going to spend the next 4 years of your life here. So spend them wisely, on things that you love, not just things that you’re required and expected to do.

So how was I as a student? For half of the lectures, either I was sleeping in class or skipping totally. I chose, instead, to focus my time and energy on activities that I found more productive, like mooting. Exams? I hate exams. Studying for exams makes us stupid, I feel. I hate studying. But I enjoy learning. There is a difference. I spent a lot of time in the library actually, reading up random stuff that had nothing to do with the syllabus at all – oh, and trying to chat up chicks too (with little success, sadly).

So when you’re in law school, don’t just study law. Explore. Experiment. Do what you love. Live your own life.

2. Why did you choose to study law?

Unlike some of you, being a lawyer was never my childhood ambition. I wanted to be an astronaut, an archaeologist – only to find out that’s not very realistic in Malaysia. So I struck out things that I didn’t want to become – accountant, doctor, etc. And through this process of elimination, I ended up with law.

But why law? The beauty about law, I realised, is its diversity and flexibility. Law covers all aspects of life – politics, economics, technology, etc. The skills you learn in law are universally useful – analytical thinking, communication, language, etc. Law is a solid foundational degree. Law is a rocket that can launch you to many different planets. You don’t have to be a lawyer, after you graduate. You could be a banker, a businessmen. You could be a great leader like Obama – and be loved by millions. Or you could be a humble teacher like me – struggling to even get 100 likes on Facebook.

And that’s the beauty of law. Law gives you options. Law opens up doors.

3. What should students prepare for?

Reading. You must enjoy reading. Law is a textual subject. The sources of law - statutes, case reports - they're all in words. If you don't enjoy reading, it's very difficult to do law, and you should seriously reconsider studying something else.

The other challenge is balancing learning and studying. Studying for exams can hurt one's learning curve. You focus on memorising names, rather than mastering concepts. Your breadth of knowledge is limited to the scope of the syllabus. You take a very practical approach to acquiring knowledge, and thus miss out on the joys of learning what you love. So really, don't chase for high marks at the expense of your understanding. Trust me, it's not worth it in the long run. Trust me, the best lawyers are often not the 'brightest' students.

(Note: I have previously written on how studying hard for exams can be bad for you - yes, I'm serious!)

Me, at the peak of my academic excellence

4. People have high expectations on UM graduates. How do you cope with such expectations?

I'm not good with meeting expectations at all.

The thing is, people form expectations based on stereotypes. UM graduates are known to be good at research and fluent in Bahasa Melayu. That seems complimentary, right? But what's left unsaid is what people don't think we are good at - speaking, drafting, and so on. So when a firm takes in UM graduates, the seniors pass them work like research, translation and transcribing, instead of substantial work like drafting and interfacing with clients. When I was a pupil, that's exactly what I faced. I felt miserable. So what did I do? I pushed back. I stopped working for seniors who took me for granted, who saw me just as any UM graduate. I manoeuvred my way to work for bosses I respected and enjoyed working for.

Don't fall into the trap of expectations - whether from your parents, boss or friends. Don't let expectations stifle your personal ambitions. Don't let others dictate what you can and should do. Do what you love.

(Note: I have previously written on my brave manoeuvrings through pupillage - it takes some skills and balls to execute, and not without a price to pay)

5. How do you manage your time?

Explore, experiment. Try out as many things as you can. But here's the catch - you need to focus. Don't juggle 101 things at the same time. Zoom in on a few things, plan ahead.

Every year, I would focus on different things. First year, I was all over the place, but that's fine, as I was testing the waters. Second year, I did two moots and dabbled in debates. Third year, I got more active in debates (and consequently, achieved better results) and founded the Vox magazine. Final year, I returned to moots briefly and devoted my two semesters on a thesis-writing competition organised by NUS (and finished in 3rd place above Team Singapore - yay!).

Whatever you do, you have to pour your heart into it. You need to focus. And that means making sacrifices, and giving up on other things. Life's fair. No one can be good at everything. And that's the common mistake we make - trying to fix all our flaws. Firstly, that's not quite possible - no one is perfect. And secondly, time is better spent on maximising our strengths. No one hires a lawyer because "he's good in everything". People look for experts in a particular field.

Life is too short to be wasting time on things that others expect us to do but which we personally don't care about. So do what you love. Follow your heart. Live your own life.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

10 Valuable Truths About Life

1. Don't argue with random people over the Internet. It's not worth it.

2. When someone you just met promises to stay in touch, assume they won't. No matter how genuine they seem, even if you bought them drinks.

3. When a girl asks a guy how does she look in her new dress, he should always say she looks great. No girl wants to be told she spent money on the wrong thing, and every girl secretly thinks they look great in everything.

4. Don't feel bad if people don't take your advice. Some people just want to know their options.

5. When someone gives you a deadline to complete a task, get it done a day or two before. When you give someone a deadline to complete a task, assume they would need an extra week.

6. Be careful wishing for the things that people have but you don't. There's always a terrible price to pay that they're not telling.

7. When attending social events, tell yourself "I want to build relationships" instead of "I'm here to network". You'll be amazed how many interesting people you'll meet and how much fun you'll have.

8. Don't brag about how great you are to people. If you are truly great enough, others will be voluntarily doing the bragging on your behalf.

9. The first step of striving for more is to be happy with what you have. That way, even if you fail to get what you strived for, you lost nothing and would still be happy.

10. Don't dwell in the past, don't look too far into the future. Live the moment.

Not great, still happy