Monday, November 11, 2019

We Are The Champions Of Asia... Again (LAWASIA 2019)

Last year, University of Malaya (UM) emerged as the LAWASIA Champions for both the Malaysian National Rounds and International Rounds - upon our return to the competition after a decade-long hiatus.

Was our victory a fluke? Beginner's luck? A feat achieved by a once-in-a-blue-moon golden generation of mooters?

Not at all. Last August, with a brand new team, we successfully defended our title in the Malaysian National Rounds.. Just last week, we traveled to Hong Kong as the reigning International champion, slugging out against law schools from Singapore, India, China, Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong and Malaysia for 4 grueling days.

On the last day, two teams were left standing: Team UM and the National University of Singapore (NUS). A repeat of last year's final. And once again, we prevailed over our more illustrious neighbours with a close but unanimous 3-0 vote...

Yes, we're the LAWASIA Champions of Malaysia and Asia - for two years in a row and counting!

Malaysia, Truly Asia

* * *

This year, our path to victory was strewn with different, unexpected challenges.

There were only 9 teams in the International Rounds, a stark decline from 14 teams last year. Singapore Management University even withdrew last-minutely due to a travel advisory policy. The political unrest in Hong Kong had cast a spectre over the competition.

Lesser teams doesn't necessarily make the competition easier. Statistically, a smaller pool increases the likelihood of the stronger teams facing off each other in the early stages.

True enough, the luck of the draw conspired to pit the eventual Top 3 teams - UM, NUS, Advanced Tertiary College (ATC) - against each other in the Preliminary Rounds. In fact, for our very first match, we were already crossing swords with NUS.

The three-corner fight was truly cut-throat. Our win-loss-tie record ended up to a rock-scissor-paper deadlock: UM beat NUS (3-0-0), NUS beat ATC (1-0-1), ATC beat UM (1-0-0).

(Technically, Team UM is evenly tied with ATC as we defeated them in the Malaysian Final).

ATC strikes back!

* * *

There was a noticeable drop of moot arbitrators, too.

A few matches in the Preliminary Rounds only had a panel of 2 arbitrators. Our Final against NUS had 3 arbitrators, instead of a 5-member panel like last year.

The impact is not just in quantity, but also quality. Some arbitrators seemed like last-minute replacements - their names were not included in the booklet, and more importantly, their questions betrayed some lack of familiarity with the moot record. At the other end of the spectrum, some moot arbitrators knew the record inside and out, and kept pushing the mooters to their limits.

(Now, just to be clear, this isn't intended to a critical rant against the organisers and arbitrators. I'm fairly sure that the situation in HK must've put off some lawyers from attending the LAWASIA conference, and consequently, depleted the pool of judges. Much thanks to those who stepped up!)

The conundrum is this: There could be a vast gap of expectations between different arbitrators on the same panel. Some preferred to hear the basic 'bread-and-butter' principles (e.g. construction of arbitration agreement, procedural rules, etc.), some dove deep into the peripheral but practical parts (e.g. order of sale, third party rights, etc.). Some preferred a simplistic submission, some required the mooters to deal with the real issues like real lawyers do.

It's difficult for mooters to find a delicate balance to please both types. After all, 20 minutes of submission is not a long time. Sometimes, winning the heart of one arbitrator would make you lose another.

Overall, it was truly a great learning experience to moot before senior lawyers and judges. Their questions left us doubting the very essence of our submissions (in a good way!), their feedback were enlightening. Without them, we would not have been able to reflect on our mistakes, and improve our performance in future rounds.

After a stunning loss in the Semi-Final Round that came very close to eliminating Team UM, we were certainly not in a great physical shape and mental state entering the Finals. Fortunately, one particular moot arbitrator (let's just call him 'Yoda') gave us perhaps the best advice ever - to not over-think and over-prepare, and instead to "be in the moment".

And in the Final, we stayed focused, calmed our nerves, and raised our game. Thanks, Yoda!

Dress rehearsal for the Final: UM v NUS (featuring 3 eminent arbitrators including 'Yoda')

* * *

Last but not least, special thanks to the LAWASIA Committee - Raphael Tay, Lai Mun Onn, Chye Yoke Wah, and the rest of their small but efficient crew.

Much thanks as well to the Hong Kong Shue Yan University. You kept the mooters well-fed with lunch, and a steady supply of coffee and cookies. The student volunteers were professional and committed. Thanks for hosting us, thanks for the superb 5-star hospitality!

And to the other competitors - well done! We saw incredible spirit from all teams. You made us doubt ourselves at every corner. On any other day - who knows - the outcome may have turned out differently, and some other team would have been jumping for joy instead of Team UM.

LAWASIA has been nothing short of a spectacular adventure this year - exhilarating, enlightening, and exhausting. Our best moment is not coming onto stage to collect our Championship trophy, but every step and misstep of the way that brought us from KL to HK.

For the second year, Team UM reigns supreme as the Champions of LAWASIA. Congratulations, Esther, Nevyn and Zafirah! And may be the Force continue to be with us in 2020...

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