Tuesday, June 11, 2019

LOGIC (Moot Infinity Stone #2)

Legend has it that anyone who captures all six Moot Infinity Stones on their fingertips will reign supreme across the Moot Court Universe (MCU). Last week, we covered the first fabled stone - LAW. Five more weeks, five more stones to go...

You're feeling good. You've rehearsed 3000x times. You've got this!

You shoot out the landmark case - BOOM!

The judges look unfazed. One's still adjusting the height of his chair. The presiding judge stifles a yawn.

You apply the case to the facts at hand - BOOM!

More blank stares. Someone sips a Starbucks. The president flips through what you desperately hope is your written submission.

Your voice falters uncertainly: "Um... And that concludes my first ground. Is there any questions at this point, um, Your Lordships... um, and, Your Ladyship"

A shake of a head. A shrug. The president's staring intently at whatever she's reading - oh no, it's the opponent's submission - totally ignoring you.

Your punchy arguments not hitting? Well, that's why you need to draw power from the second Moot Infinity Stone... LOGIC

If snap = people die, then re-snap = people live! #logic 

* * *

The argument that shines brightest and cuts sharpest is one forged out of ironclad LOGIC.

Sensible. Reasonable. Res ipsa loquitor - the thing speaks for itself even without any supporting authority or evidence.

You can recite as many authorities as you can, you can pick out as many facts from the record as you will. But your argument will still be invalid unless you can weave them together into a strong, unbreakable chain of logic.

So here's the deal: Your client has been rather 'naughty' on social media. Spewing provocative and vulgar memes to mock certain high-ranking governmental officials for corruption. Kicks a public shitstorm that gets him banned and detained by the authorities.

Yet another epic MCU drama! So, where to start?

* * *

Rule #1: Logic is supreme

Yes, you read that right. Logic, not law, is supreme.

"The Constitution is the supreme law of the land... We need to take a purposive and prismatic approach in interpreting the fundamental freedoms... Freedom of speech is the cornerstone..."

You spend a good 3-5 minutes waxing lyrical on a speech that would shed a tear in the eyes of your Constitutional lecturer.

But then the judge just waves a hand dismissively and interjects: "Yes yes, that's all good, but aren't there limitations to the right to free speech? What about proportionality?"

Rambling on general platitudes isn't going to win the hearts and minds of judges. Essentially, every moot is a problem, every problem needs a solution, and there's no better solution than LOGIC.

You need to dive straight into the heart of the issue, and your logical but impassioned pitch - in 1 minute.

"Today, our case is not about a man shouting 'Fire' in a cinema out of mischief. Instead, it's about a man brave enough to voice out the unspoken sentiments of a society disillusioned with a governmental corruption. And even if he has crossed the line, to detain him for weeks without trial on spurious charges of sedition is excessive and disproportionate."

BOOM! The judges will be calling the bailiff to get some popcorn at this rate...

If 6 Stones = Thanos Win, then 6 Stones - 1 Mind Stone = Avengers Win! #logic

* * *

Rule #2: Logic is subjective

How can submissions be logical? If something is logical, shouldn't it be absolutely true and unrebuttable?

See, that's a common misunderstanding. 'LOGIC' is not about truth or rightness, but a solid formula of argumentation. How you connect the dots. How to add up the equation. Which variables to use.

Here's a simple formula: x + y = violation of free speech

What represents 'x' and 'y'? Well, that's for you to figure out. There's no magic number. You can fit in any variable as you wish, so long as they combine well.

'Fair Comment + Public Interest = Violation of free speech' - CHECK!

'Satire + Proportionality = Violation of free speech'- NICE ONE!

'Supremacy of Constitution + Prismatic Construction = Violation of free speech' - Um, keep going... oh, that's all? Um, okay...

The first formula focuses on the content of the speech, whilst the second on the severity of the punishment. Which line of argument is better? Tough call. But surely, we can all agree that the third formula is rather disconnected and doesn't really add up to a concrete answer to the issue at hand i.e. free speech v public order.

And speaking about public order, that's what the opponent will likely be pitching. They'll have their own equations - national security, ministerial discretion, and so on...

That's why LOGIC is subjective. LOGIC is neutral. Both sides are trying to convince the judges that their logic is more compelling than the other side.

But if your argument is so lacking of LOGIC from start to finish, you've likely lost the battle even without your opponent opening their mouths (in legal jargon - you fail to establish a prima facie case)...

* * *

Rule #3: Logic is simple

Yes, it really is. A logical argument is something that anyone without legal background - even your engineering roommate or Mom - can follow, and ideally, believe.

Why do we struggle so hard coming up with arguments then?

It's because we are too inundated with the law, and also the facts. We are torn between two equally strong arguments, and you feel that it's a waste if we don't use them both. So we try to force them through.

'Satire + Public Interest'

So the memes were purely for fun? But hold on - isn't public interest based on fair comment, which requires some degree of due diligence and fact-checking...

Those two aren't exactly contradictory ideas. Still, it's tricky to argue that the memes were made in jest on one hand, but also that they can trigger some serious public debate, whistle-blowing by insiders, and investigation into the corruption allegations by the good cops on the other hand. Both ideas draw upon two different factual narratives that don't mix well together.

Keep it simple. Stick with one story, and run with it. Don't try to cover too much ground and pull off too many fancy moves - you'll only end up tripping over your own feet. Cut out needless complexities and empty soundbites (e.g. prismatic).

More often than not, it's the simplest of words which make the biggest of impact.

Oh snap, Thanos has the Time Stone... #logicfail

* * *

Hopefully, that wasn't too heavy. LOGIC is not exactly the sexiest of topics to talk about. But believe me, LOGIC is what makes the judges sit up and listen to you.

So here's a quick recap:

LOGIC is supreme, not the law.

LOGIC is subjective, not absolute.

LOGIC is simple, not complicated.

Two Moot Infinity Stones out of the bag, four more to be revealed...

Saturday, June 1, 2019

LAW (Moot Infinity Stone #1)

You're ready to moot. You're dying to win.

"ALL RISE!" the bailiff shouts. The judges walk in. Your hand starts to shake...

Are you truly ready? Are you truly good enough to win?

Truth is, most of us aren't. Mooting is war. And to win in any war, you need to best all the other warriors on the field. You need sharp weapons. You need strong allies. Above all, you need that extra super power to give you an edge...

So what's the secret to winning in moot?

It's a question I've pondered long and hard, for the past few years guiding raw and battle-hardened mooters at the trenches. And one day, during a miserable journey home in retreat after defeat, a spark of enlightenment lit up in my head.


There are six stones, with single-word names all starting with 'L'. And those who can unlock their powers combined is bound to conquer the Moot Court Universe (MCU)!

So what are these six stones?

Not so fast, kiddo. Let's not spoil the suspense. One stone at a time. Takes a while to explain the full extent of powers embodied in each stone. So for the next 6 weeks, I will reveal the six stones, one by one.

And the first Moot Infinity Stone is...LAW

"I can MOOT all day!"

* * *

Seems pretty obvious and truistic, right?

Moot is about law. Moot is for law students. In almost every competition, a big chunk of the marks is allocated for "Knowledge of Law" (and sometimes, there's even a follow-up criteria for "Application of Law").

But what does 'law' mean in the MCU?

Is it the numbers of authorities? Citing the best case in your favour? What if there are no cases on point at all?

There's no complete definition of 'law', nor any fixed yardstick to grade the strength of legal authorities. Law is indeed an essential weapon in mooting. But not many of us use it well - and sometimes, we even end up cutting ourselves.

To truly unlock the power of LAW, one has to understand a few fundamental truths about what LAW is and does (and what it isn't and doesn't). It's not as simple as you think. Or maybe it's something you always long suspected but dare not accept...

* * *

Rule #1: Law is a means, not an end

Yes, many of us are naturalists and constitutionalists at heart. The rule of law. Fiat justitia ruat caelum (let justice be done even if the heavens may fall). No man is above the law.

Put away your idealism. You're not writing a Ph.D thesis. You're mooting a fictional case in front of a panel of judges who may have just skimped through the moot problem for the very first time over coffee in the morning (which probably happens in the real courtroom as well).

Sure, some competitions in the MCU provide a bench memorandum for judges. Some judges take the time to painstakingly read the written memorials. Some judges are even experts in the area of law related to the moot.

But seriously, do you think that the law really matters in a moot? That the judges have a checklist of answers? That they're actually thinking: "Oh, she just cited Nicaragua v USA! 5 marks! Oh, she knows the facts of the case. 5 more marks!"?

Of course not, kiddo. Watch the judges closely. Are they furiously taking down notes or listening attentively with the occasional scribbling? The latter, usually. That's not to say that the law doesn't matter. Of course, it does - but just not in the way you're thinking. Your arguments is the ends, your authorities is merely the means. Law is secondary, law is supportive.

Moot judges are impressed by not how much law you know, but how well you can twist and turn the law to reinforce your argument.

Right and wrong is a matter of perspective

* * *

Rule #2: Law is grey, not black and white

As mooters, we're always searching for the best argument. And having found it (or so we think), we'll try to build a wall of authorities around to protect it.

But no legal argument is without weakness. No amount of authorities can make an impregnable fortress.

For every legal principle has exceptions. And every legal principle can be applied in different ways.

You have a landmark case right on point on the facts? Whoops, your opponent or the judge just distinguished it!

You have majority and history on your side? Whoops, a new case just came up to overrule them or restate the law in less favourable terms!

Every legal authority - even those which don't seem to favour you at first blush - can be turned and twisted in your favour. Or there's usually an opposite authority that can counter an unfavourable authority. Or if you're really short of authorities, there's always equity, policy, justice, and all the fancy out-of-the-box stuff to turn to.

In fact, somewhat counter-intuitively, a good argument usually doesn't even need protection. It can stand alone in the battlefield. It's armed with the purest form of LAW - principles. A single principle can defeat an army of authorities...

* * *

Rule #3: Law is about principles, not authorities

When we think of law, we often think of statutes and cases. Technically speaking, that's right. Primary sources of law. Binding precedents.

Truth is, LAW is about principles - basic first principles. Good faith. Estoppel. A party can't blow hot and cold. Yes, the fancy out-of-box stuff... No, that's not quite right. Principles are smack right in the centre of the box! In fact, it's actually the statutes and cases that are peripheral, spinning around the principles.

Moot submissions are compressed within 15-20 minutes - submissions that would usually take a few hours or even days for lawyers to present in actual practice. There's no bundle of authorities, no flipping through cases after cases with a fine comb.

Time is short in the MCU. Which makes principles even more impactful than authorities. Top mooters understand this well. Which is why they can explain the law in succinct terms so clearly that judges are left nodding their head even without hearing an authority.

When mooters lose, a common complaint goes: "But our law is better!". But that's a rather naive way of envisaging what the law is (or rather, should be). Sorry, that's loser talk.

A top mooter uses LAW with precision, like a sniper rifle. They can win an argument and the judges' heart with a single shot. Beginners blasts away 101 cases, like a machine-gun. None of the bullets hit, and they whine about how they made more shots.

You win a moot by hitting the bullseye, not by firing away the most shots.

Whoops! Missed your shot, agent!

* * *

LAW is a powerful cornerstone in moot. That's obvious enough.

But truth (and trouble) is, most mooters understand little of how the LAW actually works in the MCU (and real world).

LAW is a means, not an end itself.

LAW is grey, not black and white

LAW is principles, not authorities.

I can list a couple of more 'truths' on LAW. But those 3 basic rules should suffice to drive home my point - that we need to change the way we view and use the LAW in our mooting battles.

And that's just one stone to capture and master. Five more stones to go...

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Creative Real Asians (Price Media Law 2019)

Strolling down the narrow cobblestone streets of Oxford wrapped in layers of wool and leather, we could easily be mistaken as tourists. Giggly kids dropping by town for gratuitous shots of selfies against the Harry Porter picturesque.

Our diminutive size and fresh-out-of-puberty looks weren't turning heads upon arriving at the Price Media Law Moot Court Competition (Price Media) either. Teams from all over the globe - America, Middle-East, Africa and Europe - gathered to battle for this year's crown. And if asked to guess where we're from, most people would resort to some head-scratching, squinting, and frowning.

"China? Korea? Singapore?"

I can understand the confusion. All three mooters from University of Malaya (UM) are Chinese (make that four, if you include me). Pasty skin, slit eyes, scrawny limbs - the whole dim-sum package. Besides, Price Media's Asia-Pacific Regional Round (where we qualified from) is hosted in China annually.

In my head, a long monologue built up, something like:

"We're Asian. True-blood Asian. Born on Asian soil, bred with Asian culture. And by culture, I mean stuff like grit, focus, and a mouth which only open when absolutely necessary. And mind you, we're not the crazy rich Asian trope you see in movies. We ain't rich, we don't go to private school, our idea of English literature ain't Shakespeare but Harry Porter. Pardon for not being pitch perfect in English, but we each juggle 3-4 languages/dialects back home."

I don't think anyone would be able to catch all that in one reading, much more one breath.

Hence, my default answer: "Malaysia."

Yes, I know, that single word isn't much of an improvement either...

Malaysia, Truly Asia

* * *

Malaysia is a heterogeneous country. The natives are the Malays, and a myriad of indigenous tribes on the Peninsular mainland and Borneo island (who tend to sound more like our neighbours, Indonesians and Filipinos). Pockets of second/third-generation Indian and Chinese immigrants scattered all over.

Yes, we're quite a diverse bunch. Just so happens that Team UM at Oxford this year is all-Chinese (our original fourth member - who mooted in Beijing but couldn't come along to Oxford for personal reasons - is Malay). And last year, our team had two Malays, and only one Chinese. Mind you, there's nothing against the Indians and other races - statistically, as a tinier minority group, they're fewer of them in law school and consequently, our mooting teams.

Why does this cultural background matter, anyway?

It doesn't, and shouldn't. At least, not to us. We see ourselves as Malaysian first, Asian second. We see ourselves as part of a larger cultural group that surpasses race and religion.

But the reality is, after having gone to Oxford and back again, we realise that we're still held back by our distinct cultural features, if not flaws. Some judges see us in a certain light. Some place different standards upon us. The cultural bias is palpable.

When a Caucasian counsel puts forth an argument without an authority, they get a free pass with a shrug and laugh. But when we cite a chain of case law, we are vigorously attacked to no end.

And it's not just us. We hear the same 'gripe' from other Asian teams. So it's not just us feeling sore and bitter. But as much as we feel hard done by, we know that cultural bias is hardwired in humans, and hard to shake off. It's all part of the game, an obstacle that can be overcome over time.

At Oxford, we performed to the best of our abilities. But sadly, in the end, we fell short at the Quarter-Finals after winning 4 matches in a row.

Still, I believe we did enough to show the world that Asia is not a mere monolithic mass. After the rounds, a few teams and judges came up to us, asking about who we are and where we are from. It's good to know that there are people keen to know the characters, not caricatures, behind our Asian faces...

* * *

I must admit, the first time I saw Esther during the Novice Moot Competition back in 2016, all kinds of caricatures were running through my head. Her team had 3 other Chinese chicks, which didn't help to send the right signals...

But once she spoke, my initial stereotypical impressions receded. She was full of fire and passion. Her grammar was left wanting, though. A raw diamond, I noted back then, with lots of prickly parts and jarring glare when looked at certain angles...

Her first real competition came more than a year later in 2018 at the Novice Arbitration Moot Competition (NAMCO), facing off against other novice mooters from Malaysia. Her team blazed through the Preliminary Rounds until the Finals, where they agonizingly lost. But her courageous stand won her the Best Oralist of the Finals.

She joined Price Media few months after NAMCO. And that's where her brilliance really shone. In Beijing, she came agonizingly close to clinch a trophy again, and finished as the 2nd Best Oralist of the Preliminary Rounds. As Afiq dropped out of the team, she filled his role, taking on as a double agent.

"Human memory is temporary, but the Internet remembers forever" - such was her catchy opening line as Applicant, valiantly upholding the right to be forgotten.

Mooting stars may be temporary, but diamonds like Esther shine forever...

"Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?"

* * *

Her classmate, Kai Sheng, burst into the limelight even quicker. In 2017, he captured his first championship in the local Competition Law Moot Court Competition (quite a funny palindromic ring to it). And as Esther was fighting through the lower leagues of NAMCO, he was preparing for the International Maritime Law Arbitration Moot (IMLAM) in Brisbane, Australia.

And in the summer of 2018, Team UM reached the Semi-Finals of IMLAM, a step further than our previous historic best just a year earlier. And Kai Sheng earned an Honourable Mention by clinching the highest score for the Preliminary Rounds!

With barely any break, he plunged straight into Price Media. Being the most senior mooter in the team came with heavier responsibility, as well as pressure. And at times, he struggled, and came close to cracking. From competition law, to maritime law, to human rights law. Transitioning between vastly different areas of law - especially those not even taught in undergraduate - can be quite mentally taxing.

And on top of juggling moots with studies, he had to cope with some pressing family matters back home. Bad luck, bad timing. At one point, it seemed like we may even lose another member of the team...

But as we crept closer to the edge, he held strong. And in Oxford, he returned to form, delivering masterful submissions after submissions.

With one year of law school left, there's no telling what heights he will scale next.

"Thanks dude... sorry, er, pardon, what was it again, oh yes... Much obliged, sir"

* * *

Christina, the youngest, doesn't have as much of a glittery mooting resume like the rest. A 'friendly' moot between UM and NUS in 2018 was her first and only real taste of competitive mooting before Price Media.

No doubt, the announcement of her selection must have raised many eyebrows amongst the other students. Why her? Why not the other more senior mooters? What sorcery is this?

No sorcery, of course. But there's a bit of magic in Christina. Her composure. Her charisma. Her charm. Not too loud, not too soft, just the right amount of conviction.

In fact, her most notable achievement in a moot competition happened when she wasn't even competing! Last November, UM hosted the Tun Suffian Moot Court Competition. An esteemed panel of judges sat on the bench in the Finals - a mix of retired and existing appellate court judges. Gopal Sri Ram was the presiding judge. After the moot ended, Christina as MC came to the front to announce the results - for perhaps about 10 minutes total?

The ceremony closed. And as Gopal Sri Ram was being ushered to the tea reception, he requested to see Christina. I'm not sure how the exchange went exactly. But as it turned out, he was so impressed with her short speech that he offered her an internship position on the spot! An offer, funnily enough, he did not extend to the four mooters in the Finals itself, who all performed magnificently...

Now, that's some advocacy magic right there! A magic bound to stir up more miracles in future...

"We no Chinese, we is HUFFLEPUFF!"

* * *

Finally, a shout-out to our fifth Chinese member of the crew, our unofficial assistant coach - Suan Cui.

The name should ring a bell to anyone who's been following my moot reports. Quarter-Finalist of IMLAM 2017 (8th Best Oralist). Our anchor for Price Media in 2018 (6th Best Oralist). International and National Champion of LAWASIA 2018. Runners-Up of Asia Cup 2018.

She traveled with the team to Beijing, whilst I stayed back. And although she couldn't travel along to Oxford due to work commitments, she was there with us every step of the way, spiritually and through FaceTime. She stayed up late into the night to join in our discussions.

And more crucially, in the last few weeks leading up to Oxford, she covered for my absence as I focused on Jessup. If not of her tireless training sessions after work hours, the team wouldn't have even been in such good shape before I took over in Oxford.

Thank you, Suan Cui. We couldn't have made it without you.

"One day, kids, you'll sit on the Leather Throne too."

* * *

So what do we Asians in Team UM have in common?

Not much, aside from our strong passion in mooting (and selfies).

Our styles differ - Esther and Kai Sheng can be rather melodramatic, whilst Christina exudes cool sophistication. Our strengths also vary. Esther still struggles with language, whilst Christina and Kai Sheng have a wider vocabulary range. But it is Esther who has the most agility to switch sides seamlessly (maybe she's secretly a robot made in Japan).

Perhaps our greatest strength - as well as weakness - is that we are really a bunch of individuals who don't sound alike at all. We're creative by nature. We create our own style, our own destiny.

Some may not appreciate the creative side of us, some expect us to conform to a certain standard of submission. That's fine. We can't control what others think of us. But what we can do - which we will keep doing - is giving people something different to think about each time we moot.

Yes, winning in moots is still our ultimate goal. And the best way to win in moots is to offer something truly special that all other teams can't.

A different perspective to the case. A stamp of individuality. A spark of magic.

We're creative. We're real. And we can't get any more Asian than that.