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.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

I'm Not A Role Model, And Neither Do You Need One

As a teacher, it's inevitable for many of my students to look up to me as a role model.

No, I'm not humble-bragging, it's just one of those things that naturally happen in life. Youngsters idolising a local celebrity. Juniors aping their seniors. Pupils following the footsteps of their masters.

And it's not just me. Anyone can be a role model. Anyone is an elder to someone younger.

Most mentors, I notice, tend to launch straight into their life story and go like "When I was at your age..." They can only speak from their own personal perspectives and experiences.

I'm not like that. I try not to talk too much about myself. Instead, I will draw examples from the lives of people that I know, people more closely connected to my student.

A teacher doesn't need to function as a role model. And there are plenty of good reasons why.

Yes, listen up, child... listen to Uncle Raphael carefully...

1. Our starting points are different

The cold hard truth of life is that none of us are born equal. Some are born dirt poor, some born filthy rich. Some live in a happy family. Some barely have a quality time with their overworked parents.

I grew up in a lower-middle class family. We didn't have many luxuries, but we had enough to get by life with a peace of mind. I regularly spoke English from a very early age. I was a geek, reading came as second nature to me. My teenage years was during the Internet boom, but way before the virality of social media.

So when a millennial ask me for advice on how they can improve their English fluency, I feel I'm at a loss. I can advise them to read more books and the English news. I can advise them to watch more English dramas.

But such advice usually don't work. Because they don't really address the root of their problem. Their short attention span. Their lack of curiosity. Their over-dependence on social media lingo like 'wru' and hashtags.

If I had to be terribly honest with them, I would simply say "My English is so good because I lived during a time where reading was my only source of entertainment (and my parents weren't rich enough to buy me video games and toys)"

That's something hard to fix, unless one has a time machine or fundamentally changes their living habits.

2. Our life choices are different

My older brother was a typical good role model. And yet, it irked me that teachers and friends were always comparing both of us, and telling me to follow his footsteps.

He entered University of Malaya (UM) a few years before me, studying Accountancy. In a matter of three years, he managed to pick up and master Mandarin (which both of us were hopeless at, being Cantonese). He was active in community projects. He dabbled in debates off and on.

My trajectory took a different turn. I gave up learning Mandarin after a month or two, despite being equally surrounded by Chinese in law school. I focused on debates and mooting, doubling down on my English mastery. So whilst I did had slightly better debating achievements to show for, my social circle was not as diverse as his.

Life is about choices and compromises. We're not super-humans. We can't ace exams, be active in societies, be a sporting champion, and also find the time to pick up 5 other foreign languages.

So as much as I like my own life, it's not right for me to advise someone to follow my footsteps unless they truly share my beliefs and priorities. If they're more like my brother, then I would share to them his experiences instead.

How millennials typically react to my constructive criticism

3. Our life challenges are different

Some things in life can't be anticipated and planned for. A death in the family. A long-term relationship turning sour. A sudden quarter-life existential crisis.

I'm quite fortunate in that I haven't experienced much tragedies in life (except self-inflicted ones). So I'm probably not the best person to get advice from when facing a life-changing event. I'll still try to offer some general advice, or cite some personal examples of people that I know. But ultimately, I wouldn't put much weight on my own piece of advice.

Students come with 101 problems, serious and trivial, real and imagined. Family issues. Crazy boyfriend. Scholarship requirement to maintain 3.5 CGPA. Part-time job.

The advantage of being a teacher is that I know lots of students. So usually, the best advice I dispense to them goes like, "Hmm... X also went through the same problem, you should try talking to her."

I'm trying my best to understand millennials, but ultimately, millennials understand millennials best.

Beware of Role Models

So that's why I'm not fond of holding out myself as a role model.

And ironically, I often find that most people who proudly hold out themselves as 'role models' aren't fitting to be one.

They're egocentric, not empathetic.

They're manipulative, not sincere.

They're chasing for likes, not caring for friends.

They're more concerned in building their own legacy, not helping other people's lives.

They're Sith Lords in disguise, not noble Jedi Masters.

Ta da! The cycle of your training is complete! (Don't I say I didn't warn you XOXO)

Ultimately, it's fine to admire and learn from an elder. We can be teachers, we can be guides. But no need to worship us, no need to imitate us.

All we ever hope is for you to chart your own life destiny.