Thursday, March 21, 2019

5 Habits That Never Change In Malaysian Moots

It has been 15 years since I was first introduced to mooting. True, mooting has been one of my favourite and most memorable activity in law school. But I would never had guessed it would continue to play a part in my life until today.

Look, I'm really not a moot geek or fanatic. After graduation, I was fully focused on litigation. It's only recently that I've been drawn back into mooting again. Unlike some others, mooting is not a lifelong obsession.

Nevertheless, now that my work in University of Malaya (UM) centres around mooting, I'm beginning to appreciate mooting at a deeper level. Mooting is a reflection of legal practice. And through mooting, I'm able to understand the psychology of legal minds - lawyers, judges, and lecturers.

One thing that never ceases to amaze me is how little the state of Malaysian moots has changed over 15 years. On one hand, it's nice to know that good 'ol traditions are still being kept alive. But on the other hand, it may be a sign that we're stuck in the past whilst other jurisdictions around the world has overtaken us...

Lord Kok of Ipoh (coming soon to a moot court near you)

* * *

1. Introductions

Last year, right after a solid performance by Team UM in the final round of an international moot competition, an eminent retired Malaysian judge came up to the team to congratulate us. Then the ex-judge frowned, and gently rebuked our team, the Claimant, for not introducing the Respondent's counsel. (Anyway, we won.)

Now, we are well aware that such is the convention in Malaysian courts. But the competition was an arbitration moot, and none of the arbitrators found fault with us and other teams for not doing so. In fact, I remembered another of our team in another moot once being rebuked by a practitioner hailing from a civil law jurisdiction for introducing the other side - the rationale being that it's not right to deprive them of the chance to properly introduce themselves...

2. Summary of facts

It's customary in Malaysia for the first counsel of to give a summary of facts of the case, or at least, ask the judge if they wish to hear such a summary. If you skip this step, you may risk incurring a stinging rebuke from the judge during feedback.

Once again, it's a Malaysian thing. Foreign teams rarely do this, and foreign judges rarely ask for it. In fact, I once witnessed a judge even snapped back at a mooter: "It's your case, counsel. Run it however you want."

3. Formalities

Malaysian mooters tend to adopt the same boring set of vocabulary:

"I beg your indulgence"
"Much obliged"
"We humbly submit"

It's not their fault, though. If they say words like "apologies", "thank you" and "we say", they'll be cut down for disrespecting court decorum. In fact, there was a retired judge which went on lengthy tirade against a mooter for addressing him as "My Lord" instead of "Yang Arif" as he preferred.

Yes, Malaysians really care a lot about titles...

4. Posture

If a layman only entered the moot court towards end to listen the judges' feedback after counsel's submission, he could easily mistake a moot to a military boot camp:

"You should stand straight, and not lean to one side"
"You wave your hands too much"
"You smile too much"

Foreign judges never comment on such trivial, superficial things. In fact, top international mooters have this cool, confident habit of sipping water (without even asking for permission) whilst they pause to take questions from the judges.

I'm pretty sure a Malaysian judge would've given them an auto-loss...

5. Voice

Lastly, Malaysians are easily impressed by good voice projection. Loud is good. You have a naturally soft voice? Too bad, you start at a disadvantage.

In stark contrast, foreign judges are less concerned about voice control. Neither are they pedantic on pronunciation. So long as your words are audible and comprehensible, that's good enough. What matters more is the law, not language. Speaking with an American accent won't earn you bonus marks.

The golden age of Malaysian legal practice - Eusoffe Chin (Chief Justice) & VK Lingam (Chief Justice Special Counsel)

* * *

By now, you can trace the pattern. Malaysian legal practitioners tend to be more critical on style, rather than substance.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, of course. Communication skills are essential to the art of advocacy. Our adversarial trial system requires a certain degree of showmanship and grandstanding. Our courtroom is still heavily steeped in ceremony.

But we can't disregard the inescapable fact that litigation practice worldwide is ever evolving. Plain language is gaining ground. The shackles of archaic decorum is loosening. Wigs and gowns are consigned as relics of the past. Lawyers are not expected to grovel before the judge like a subservient subject pleading mercy before a lord of a castle.

Hence, whilst some traditions are still worthy of keeping, there are some which evidently aren't. Soul-searching is called for. There are many outdated habits of Malaysian legal practice that needs changing.

And such change can - and should - start at the moot courts.

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Marvelous Wonder Women of Malaysian Moots

Girl power is rising in the Malaysian mooting circuit.

Yet another reason to cheer for International Women's Day.

The facts and figures don't lie. In the last three major mooting competitions in Malaysia, the center-stage of the Finals was dominated by ladies:

LAWASIA 2018: 3/4 Oralists in Finals

IHL 2018: 4/4 Oralists in Finals

Jessup 2019: 4/4 Oralists in Finals

In short, the female representation in Malaysian moot finals in the last year is 91.67%. On top of that, ladies swept all the Best Oralist Awards in those competitions.


Step aside, lads.

* * *

Female domination in mooting is not a recent phenomenon. Even if we look back further into the last 3-5 years, most of the top teams and oralists consisted of ladies.

There are several plausible reasons behind this trend.

Girls outnumber guys in law school.

Girls are more academic and diligent, hence more passionate in mooting.

Girls are more likely to charm the hearts of moot judges, who are predominantly male.

To a certain extent, there's a grain of truth in them.

Guys tend to favour hard sciences and accountancy.

Guys tend to play sports, chase leadership positions in societies, partake in more fast-paced academic pursuits (like debates), and bum around in college.

Guys tend to go 'easy' on female mooters, consciously or subconsciously, hence more generous in grading them.

Nevertheless, such factors shouldn't detract away from the achievements of female mooters. Look beyond mooting and college, and we can similarly trace a trend of female empowerment in society at large.

* * *

It's no secret that female legal associates outnumber their male counterparts by far. However, it's also no secret that men still make up the majority of partners in law firms.

Hence, whilst female mooters kicking ass is a promising sign, it remains to be seen whether their winning streak is sustainable and can truly break the system of patriarchy in the real world in the long run.

Some of the compliments that I've heard national moot judges showering on female mooters strike a chord...

"It's so nice to see four girls mooting for a change!"

"I like your smile!"

"You are so fearless and assertive, young lady!"

Such comments make me feel uneasy. They make me wonder whether the judges would be saying the same if the mooters were male instead. They make me worried that the victories of female mooters may not be entirely based on objective merit.

(Interestingly enough, I've only heard such comments in Malaysia, almost never from judges in International Rounds.)

This relates back to the third reason I alluded earlier. I understand it's driven by human emotion that is hard to shake, but I really do hope the effect is minimal.

I don't feel that it's fair for mooters to be judged by different standards based on gender, race, or traits beyond individual control. Neither is it fair that female mooters get extra marks for being 'assertive' and 'confident', and not male mooters because it's natural and expected of them.

Ultimately, my concern is whether letting female mooters to win the battle will only make them lose the war - by lulling them into complacency, overestimation of their own ability, and false sense of security.

Mean Girlz kicking @55 since 2000.

* * *

It's wonderful that women are kicking ass in the Malaysian mooting scene.

It's wonderful that women are given a platform to shine brightly.

And it will be even more wonderful if women continue to rise through the ranks of legal practice.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Victory At Last (Jessup 2019)

All journeys start from somewhere.

Our victory started from failure. Our happiness started from suffering.

My journey to Jessup started in late September 2016. Since then, all I ever encountered was tragedy and misery every step of the way.

Until now.

2019: National Champion

* * *

I still remembered Jessup 2017 as if it happened yesterday.

Our journey was off a rocky start. Not many students signed up for the auditions. Even after the team was formed, doubts remain on our capabilities, inside and outside - with good reason.

University of Malaya (UM) won the Malaysian National Rounds for 3 consecutive times from 2014 to 2016. There were big shoes to fill. The pressure to extend our winning streak scared many seasoned seniors away. As such, the mooters were all virgin Jessupers. And I was coaching Jessup for the very first time.

True enough, we tripped over rocky patches all along the way, at times threatening to derail the entire mission. Emotional breakdowns, confidence loss, trust issues - just when we thought we had turned a corner, a new trap would spring up. Still, we kept it together, and stayed the course.

At the competition, we smashed past our strongest rivals. We won all 4 matches in the Preliminary Rounds. We marched into the Finals, brimming with confidence. And in the Finals, we produced yet another masterful performance. Sure, we made some slips here and there, but those of our opponents were far more glaring.

Then, came the announcement of the results. The conclusion seemed inevitable. But to our horror and disbelief, the words of the President stunned the audience for a good few seconds: "The case goes to the Respondent."

We were the Applicant.

2018: National Runners-Up

* * *

Jessup 2018 was a chance of redemption. To right the wrongs of the previous year. To reclaim our rightful place on the throne.

We had a brand new team, with one returning member from 2017. The team was more evenly balanced, with all five members vying for an oralist spot.

Also, I was older and wiser. I knew now, with deeper clarity, of the challenges that lay ahead of us, and what needed to be done to overcome them.

Preparation went rather smoothly. No drama, no distractions. All was calm.

More teams joined the fray, raising the competitive level. We were well aware of the strengths of our formidable opponents. We knew the fight would be long and hard.

And our worst fears were realised. Right from the start of the Preliminary Rounds, we got battered and bruised. We lost our very first match, by a whisker of 1 point. More worryingly, we lost crucial matches to our close rivals. Confidence shaken, we staggered into the Semi-Final.

We lost - and deservedly so, to the eventual deserving champion.

Two Jessups, two losses - things not looking so great for my coaching credentials...

* * *

Two years is a long time. Two years gave me a lot of time to reflect on my failures.

Why did we fail? What went wrong? Who messed up?

And slowly, after long periods of soul-searching, the truth reared its ugly head. 

Maybe we didn't deserve to win. And maybe we didn't deserve to win because of me. I wasn't good enough of a coach. I wasn't doing enough of the right things. I wasn't cut out for Jessup.

Till today, I'm still haunted by the ghosts of those painful defeats.

I wasn't brave enough to take control, make tough decisions, and above all, trust my instincts.

And yet, I kept faith that we were on the right track. The National Rounds is just the battle. The International Rounds is the real war. Unlike some other teams, being the National Champion of Jessup isn't good enough. We have our eyes fixed on the bigger prize.

We want to win the war.

Yes, winning the battle is the mandatory first step, but there's no point winning a battle only to get massacred later in the war.

The tricky part about moot competitions with qualifying rounds is that different stages pose different challenges requiring different preparation.

The tricky part is building a team that can both win the battle and the war.

2018: Semi-Finalist

* * *

So what changed this year?

We were flexible in adjusting our methods, and our mindset.

We were not afraid of overturning long-held conventions and reinvent a better wheel.

We were humble enough to acknowledge the superior traits of our opponents and adopt them as our own.

We were able to shut out noise from busybodies, doubters and haters.

We were fully focused on our mission - and our mission was to win.

Ultimately, the end result says it all.

The biggest change this year is that UM is the Malaysian Champion of Jessup 2019.

Best of all, we won in style, and in dominating fashion. We won against all our 4 opponents in the Preliminary Rounds by unanimous vote, and clinched 36 out of 36 Round Points. And in the finals, we triumphed unanimously as well.


* * *

This victory was 3 years in the making.

This victory was the harvest of seeds planted by our fallen comrades.

This victory was theirs to savour as well.

Of course, it's easy for me to say all that because my journey continued all these years, whilst the journey of the mooters entrusted under my care in 2017 and 2018 were cruelly cut short. Some of them may still feel bitter, or even betrayed - and who can blame them?

After all, I failed them as a teacher and leader. Victory today does not remove my failings of yesterday.

To claim that such victory offers anything more than scant consolation is to make light of their sacrifices. Nevertheless, I hope that it now comforts them to know that their suffering and sacrifices have not gone to waste.

Hence, this victory is dedicated to the UM Jessup Team of 2017 and 2018: Alyson, Amanda, Chun Yuan, Hanan, Joseph, Michelle, Saresh, Sheng Wei, Tasha.

UM Boleh! Malaysia Boleh!

* * *

Our journey hasn't ended yet. Instead, the war has only just begun. The International Rounds at Washington DC await in a month's time.

It took longer than expected to get back here again. But while we've been away, we've been busy watching, learning, and rebuilding from the shadows. Calculating every move, from opening to end-game. Envisioning the myriad of future possibilities. In short, plotting for world domination.

And now that we're back, we're ready for the end-game. We moot to win. We've come to kick names and take ass... I beg your indulgence, let's try that again...

Hello, world! We are Team UM from Malaysia. And we've come to kick ass and take names!