About this segment: Person of the Month is an initiative by the University of Malaya Law Review which aims to feature a prominent member of the University of Malaya’s Law Faculty towards the end of each month. The purpose of this segment is twofold. Firstly, to give due recognition to the contributions of our student leaders and secondly, so that their achievements might inspire other members of the Faculty towards greater success.
David Lee Chee Hou is a final-year student at the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya (‘UM’). Raised in Batu Gajah, Perak, David is well-known for being a generalist in law school, primarily dabbling in legal research. To many, his avidity for varying experiences is his defining trait. His outlook on life — ‘do not put all your eggs in one basket’ — propels him to fearlessly experience everything law school has to offer. Without this mentality, he would never have been able to power through countless events and programmes that shaped the person he is today. Aside from his responsibilities as a final-year student at the Faculty, he is currently working as a paralegal in Ow & Partners and holds the position of Senior Advisor at the Asian Law Students Association (‘ALSA’) Malaysia.
Like any other aspiring law student, law was one of David’s choices in pursuing tertiary education. Initially planning to further his studies in Singapore, David secured a scholarship under the Kwok Foundation that required him to pick either the field of economics or law. At first, David wanted to fulfil his original dream of being an economist, and taking economics at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore ran parallel to his ambitions. However, the conditions of his hometown community in Kampung Chendrong Batu Gajah tugged at his heartstrings. The community that he grew up in lacked the means or knowledge to seek legal advice and was ill-protected from abuse and manipulation. Owing to this, David made it his mission to contribute to underprivileged communities, and reading law was his best shot at accomplishing that dream. He worked hard and saw his effort bore fruit as he passed his Malaysian Higher School Certificate (‘STPM’) with flying colours.
In his first year, David considered himself a passive student, or in his own words, ‘a small potato in the Faculty’. The competitive law school environment was daunting to him. Upon arriving at the realm of excellence, David encountered the main hurdle — his language barrier. Coming from multiple Chinese schools, his command of English was not as fluent as his counterparts. He had to put in extra effort to construct words correctly in his mind before mouthing them into sentences. Unfortunately, the demands of David’s scholarship did not give him much breathing room either, as he was required to maintain a CGPA of 3.5 and above to secure his scholarship. These troubles isolated David into a corner, and he refrained from joining any co-curricular activities in his first year. At that point in time, David believed that maintaining grades was what mattered most to him. Regrettably, David’s newfound perception of law school did not turn out too well for him. Being active in activities is the norm in the Faculty. Looking towards his friends who actively joined clubs and competitions, he slowly became conscious that his passivity made him lose out on numerous opportunities. As David had already placed all his cards on academics, he pondered whether it was the right move. The realisation that he wanted to participate in more than just academics impelled him to be more active in extracurricular activities.
Lex Ordinem was David’s turning point when he joined the programme as a member of the Orientation Week Committee (‘JKO’) in 2018. He was grouped with other extraordinary JKOs who thrived in academics and maintained mastery over English — all the skills David wished he had. He was in awe of the co-curricular accomplishments his fellow JKOs managed to gather whilst still maintaining excellence in their studies. These sparks of inspiration became the motivation for David to cultivate and showcase his capabilities. David decided that he wanted to achieve greater heights and emulate their accomplishments.
‘My friends planted a seed in my heart. Their accomplishments are amazing, and I wanted to become as great as them.’
Apart from being inspired by his fellow JKOs, David found passion in Lex Ordinem. He joined Lex Ordinem 2019/20 in his third year as the High Committee
Being inspired by people around him, David joined ALSA Malaysia and LawNite (now known as ‘LexGala’) in his second year. His contrasting experiences in these two organisations of opposing natures were uniquely interconnected; he learnt skills from one organisation and apply them to another. To illustrate, one of David’s most memorable experiences was when he overcame financial difficulties that beguiled LawNite. Granted the mantle of Vice Director, David and his team procured a plan to gain sponsorships. This was an uphill battle, as the celebratory nature of LawNite makes it difficult to obtain sponsors. Owing to his experience as a Public Relations Officer of ALSA Malaysia, he learnt how to draft sponsorship proposals and pitch them to private firms. Thus, he came out with the idea of applying a similar method of obtaining sponsorships for LawNite. Notwithstanding the risk it posed, David continued with his plan and successfully garnered sponsorships from E-law Database and Gan Partnership. This sequence of events presented a breakthrough moment for David’s leadership. It taught him that every problem could be solved if one had enough knowledge and experience. This triumph pushed him to seek more exposure on anything he was able to put his hands on.
‘We have to show to them that every cent donated to us was worth it, and we managed to do just that.’
David with his members of LawNite 2018/19 at the Renaissance Hotel
Upon his promotion to Secretary-General of ALSA Malaysia in 2019, David confronted new administrative hurdles. During his tenure, he was at the forefront of many administrative reformations, such as the creation of a database for ALSA Malaysia members and managerial standard operating procedures. His largest obstacle, unfortunately, was the members of ALSA Malaysia themselves. At the time, members were dropping out at an alarming rate, taking a strain on ALSA Malaysia’s hefty workload. Consequently, David had to mould himself into a mediator to solve the issue. Understanding that the art of leadership is balancing, he had to demonstrate empathy and obstinance simultaneously while dealing with the members. This experience sharpened his skills as a peacemaker and enhanced his abilities to liaise with conflicting parties.
Another notable experience under ALSA Malaysia was his appointment as the Chairperson for the ALSA International Mediation Competition 2020. David was grateful for the opportunity as this competition was the first of its kind in Malaysia. In preparation for his role, David was compelled to sift through unfamiliar components of the competition, as the competition is quite different from standard arbitration competitions. As the Chairperson, he was assigned to establish relationships with mediation judges outside of Malaysia — which in turn connected him to cross-boundary networks. All in all, David affirmed that ALSA Malaysia had indeed matured him. He became guarded of rash decision-making as he understood that each choice could greatly impact the organisation.
He suggests students who wish to join ALSA Malaysia to always keep a level head. ALSA Malaysia allows for great exposure due to the melting pot cultures of various traditions from different law schools across the nation. David opines that finding the middle-ground between these cultures is the key to succeeding in ALSA Malaysia.
‘You cannot be self-centred in ALSA Malaysia. This is a platform to grow. Different skills can be learnt here compared to only being active in the clubs within the Faculty.’
David acting as the Chairperson of ALSA International Mediation Competition — the very first mediation competition held in Malaysia
While David was very active in ALSA Malaysia, he also took part in legal research. David’s passion for legal research was borne from his promise to contribute to society. A by-product of his burning pledge, Legal Aid for Everyone (‘LAFE’), was created alongside three of his friends: Carson Lim Chin Hou, Tan Jel Mee and Athena Yu Yun Lei. As LAFE aims to educate the public on legal matters, the team of four would answer legal questions posted on LAFE’s Facebook page. David was tasked with researching the questions posed on the Facebook page and answering them accordingly. Oftentimes, the questions touched on legal aspects that David was not familiar with. Yet, the novelty of these areas did not dispirit him from providing adequate suggestions to the queries. It instead further bolstered his passion for legal research. During his time in LAFE, he observed that interns and part-timers — LAFE’s usual clientele — were the most vulnerable to exploitation as there were no explicit laws to protect them.
‘Everyone attending the Faculty’s admissions interview would make promises to captivate their interviewers, like “wanting to contribute back to the society”. My question is, do we really act upon those promises?’
David’s introspection on his vow to make positive changes continue to weigh on his mind. A prominent projection of his involvement in LAFE was to join the UM Legal Aid Clinic (‘KBGUM’). As KBGUM is an established entity, his experience in KBGUM was more wholesome and unique. Compared to LAFE’s informal practice of responding to all inquiries, KBGUM’s scheme to first assess the legal issues involved before agreeing to provide legal aid was more organised and methodical. David’s obligations in KBGUM also differed slightly; he was tasked to provide legal advice to real-life clients instead of virtual ones. Nevertheless, the invaluable time spent in LAFE accustomed David to drafting legal opinions, thus contributing to his work in KBGUM. David encourages his juniors to join KBGUM, stating that learning to break down complex legal jargon to terms understood by laypeople is a tremendous exposure.
His fondness towards legal research was cemented when he became a research assistant for several Faculty lecturers. This includes the works of Datin Professor Dr Mary George, Dr Saw Tiong Guan, Dr Zalina binti Abdul Halim and Datin Grace Xavier. To David, the remuneration offered pales in comparison to the enthralling opportunity presented before him. As a research assistant in writing and reviewing textbooks, David was entrusted with searching for and analysing legal authorities by referring to external materials. Admittedly, most of his spare time went into completing tasks in the library and scouring through mountains of materials relevant to the research topic.
Amongst the credible hours he spent exploring materials, David’s best recollection of legal research was when he was parked under Dr Saw Tiong Guan for a project, ‘Reforming the Film Censorship Act 2002 and Other Relevant Laws for a More Artistically Vibrant and Commercially Viable Film Industry in Malaysia’. Being a research assistant under this initiative was staggeringly different from the others — David did not have to delve into a pool of legal authorities anymore. Instead, he transcribed interviews with film directors, searched for films censored from the year 2000 to 2009, and occasionally watched artistic films. Since then, David has been hooked on such abstract films. He is of the view that copious life lessons can be extracted from artistic films, and he encourages others to join him in his curious penchant. Another exciting experience was being under Dr Saw Tiong Guan and Professor Richard Powell from Nihon University for a research project titled ‘Bilingual Court System in Malaysia’. Afterwards, he assisted in research under the guidance of Dr Saw Tiong Guan once more for a media textbook.
David’s experience as a researcher even extends beyond the walls of the Faculty. Notably, he was selected to be a part of the Legal Research Unit for Monash University in September 2019. Unlike his prior experiences, David’s duty was to examine the death penalty under the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952. Under the supervision of a Monash University lecturer, he was tasked to not only find legal authorities, but also to interview High Court justices.
David’s time as a research assistant proved crucial to his growth as a law student. A legal researcher’s responsibility is to continuously review newly found legal authorities and place them in a presentable draft within the given deadline. Mastering this imperative is paramount to becoming a good lawyer — a law student would acquire an abundance of skills once legal research becomes a routine effort. He invites all law students to commit to legal research throughout their time in university as lecturers understand and recognise that students may face a steep learning curve. If mistakes were made, most are forgiving with only a slap on the wrist. However, in the legal fraternity, any slip-up may be fatal. David hardly finds firms that are lenient towards mistakes done in legal research. He ardently advises students in legal research to always practise caution.
‘If you are a technician, you need tools to get your job done. Lawyers, on the other hand, need legal research skills. Research skills are the lawyer’s best tool.’
Connections are another tool in his armoury which David insists upcoming lawyers should endeavour to obtain. David’s journey to widen his network eventually led him to become one of the Student Ambassadors of Kuala Lumpur Bar Committee Young Lawyers Committee (‘KLBC YLC’), a group dedicated to promoting the interests of junior members of the Kuala Lumpur Bar. Other than jointly managing the KL Bar E-Moot Court Competition 2020, KLBC YLC gave him the chance to not only associate with other inspiring law students, but prominent lawyers and judges as well. Interacting with such established individuals was an eye-opener for David; each of them carries their own exclusive story. David consistently strives to put himself on the grid as establishing himself early posits him ahead in the legal world.
Being the experience explorer that he is, David had a short stint in mooting during his second year. An opportunity came knocking on his door when his friend, Jessica Lim, needed a replacement mooter for the Internal Mooting Competition 2019 (‘IMC’).
David and his teammates for IMC — Mr Danial Imran, Ms Zafirah Jaya and Mr Zachary Yeoh Yuk Bing
Albeit possessing zero experience in mooting, David was determined to prove himself. By approaching his friends who are experienced in mooting, such as Caysseny Tean Boonsiri and Tan Jia Shen, David diligently enhanced his mooting skills up until the day of the competition. Fortunately, his efforts bore fruit. Notwithstanding his team’s lack of prior mooting experience, they became the First Runner-up in IMC 2019. Afterwards, David partnered with one of his IMC teammate, Danial Imran, and Christina Erin Ong to represent UM in the Chooi & Company + Cheang & Ariff Mooting Competition. They exceeded all expectations and bagged the Champion trophy. However, his winning streak did not end there. Alongside his teammates, David also became the First Runner-up in the Cyber Law Moot Court Competition in 2019.
David and his teammates, Mr Danial Imran and Ms Christina Erin Ong celebrating as Champions of the Chooi & Company + Cheang & Ariff Moot Competition
Considering his remarkable accolades, David’s immense potential in mooting is clear. As all good things come to an end, the Cyber Law Moot Court Competition signified his last run in the mooting circuit. David admits that this decision was driven by his enthusiasm to find more distinctive experiences beyond mooting. Indubitably, David never settles in his comfort zone. He was motivated to expand his horizon as wide as possible to gain a myriad of exposure and skills. Specialising was never in his dictionary either, proving true to his motto ‘do not put all your eggs in one basket’. He fervently believes that the key to success is to be as versatile as possible.
‘I never thought of specialising in mooting. I wanted to join more organisations from that point onwards. I want to have all the skills that I can take.’
David alongside his teammates and coach, Ms Amiratu Al Amirat, in the Cyber Law Moot Court Competition which marked the end of his mooting career
In his quest to broaden his capabilities, David sought to attain more work experience in legal firms. He is currently a paralegal in Ow & Partners — the very first firm he was attached to back when he was a first-year student. Despite being a smaller firm, Ow & Partners fits his exuberant personality exceedingly well. Prior to this, he had the privilege of interning under Lee Hishammuddin Allen & Gledhill where he usually undertook legal research. The working experience there was certainly worthwhile. However, David had a different direction in mind for his internships; he hungered for more opportunities to work independently. In the end, fate pointed him towards a new path different from the ones he had before: being a paralegal in a comparatively smaller firm. The broader job scope of a paralegal in such a legal firm satiated his thirst to undertake larger responsibilities. Assigned to a profusion of duties, David got the hang of drafting agreements and meeting clients — a task paralegals are rarely entrusted with. Due to this, David advises students to seek smaller firms for internships. He personally thinks that it will provide a surplus of wisdom and know-how. Although the responsibilities in small firms are sometimes intense, such pressure spurs David to excel in his ventures.
‘When you work in a small firm, they lack manpower and will need you to participate more in their operations. As a result, you will have more exposure. This exposure is what we need when we practice.’
David during one of his earlier internships at Lee Hishammuddin Allen & Gledhill
Aside from being a paralegal, David is also a legal support officer under the All Women’s Action Society (‘AWAM’). AWAM’s primary purpose is to protect victims of sexual harassment — aptly designating them as survivors rather than victims. Under AWAM, David would receive messages every day from survivors with the onus of responding and helping them to the best of his abilities. Other than searching for authorities that may bolster a survivor’s case, he is responsible for probing other helpful organisations if the survivor is out of state. David also acts as the intermediator to bridge communications between the police and the survivor. His job is especially crucial when survivors face difficulty in reporting to the police due to language barriers. In those situations, David assists them by ensuring that the police understands the message sent across by the survivors. He then follows up on the police report so that proper action is taken immediately. David understands that time is vital in sexual harassment cases where explicit pictures of victims may have been circulated if police action is delayed. His commitment to AWAM is a testament to David fulfilling his promise to aid the community up until today.
On top of the countless experiences amassed within the legal realm, David has also been privileged enough to participate in the International Culture and Education Exchange Programme (ICE) in 2017. He travelled to Sungshin Women’s University in Seoul, South Korea, where he attended different cultural classes and learnt about various cultural facets of the country. His group also visited a myriad of historical landmarks. Among them were the Gyeongbokgung Palace, Nami Island, Cheonggyecheon River and the National Museum of Korea. As fun as this may sound, David treasures being able to learn about the historical and cultural nuances of South Korea — one that can only be taught by experiencing in person.
David had a great time during the International Culture and Education Exchange Programme at Sungshin Women’s University in Seoul, South Korea
Notwithstanding his dedication to legal work, David moonlights as an over-the-phone interpreter, which happens to be his niche passion. He works for Vietranslate, a translation service company regularly utilised in the United States market. David used to be a freelance interpreter, but his services under Vietranslate has been more enjoyable. His most momentous service was when he had to interpret in a court setting. Employed as an interpreter between the judge, advocate and witness in an employment tribunal, David was able to apply his legal roots — this time in a completely different position. Still, the work of an interpreter is actually harder than it looks, as the mere mastery of language could not solve the problem of words and phrases getting lost in translation. One needs to have a considerable amount of general knowledge in order to utilise the most accurate terms. Interpreting poses quite a challenge, which energises and occasionally entertains him in his pastime.
David’s multitude of responsibilities throughout law school makes one wonder how he managed to juggle his time efficiently. For David, being too busy is a myth. Once David is determined to do something, he will make time for it regardless. Against the backdrop of a ruthless environment, it is inadequate to depend solely on time management. Prioritising his abundant obligations is essential to maintain his functions. Despite taking up numerous jobs at once, David is aware of his limits. He would never bite off more than he could chew as he believes that such an attitude would disrupt his entire workflow.
‘Some people may think I am crazy for taking up so much work. You cannot imagine how much coffee I took during those times.’
David beside Federal Court judge YA Dato’ Mary Lim Thiam Suan and Her Ladyship’s registrar, Mr Chai Guan Hock, with his batchmates Ms Florence Yeap Xiao Qing and Ms Siti Nurfatin Fatini bt Shaiful Kamarul
David would have succumbed to the hefty weight of law school if not for his support system — his friends. He is indebted to Emily Feng Shi Qi, who lent her shoulder for him to cry on regardless of the disparate time zones between Australia and Malaysia. On top of that, he is extremely grateful to Madam Aisyah Mohd Soberi for mentoring him when he was under KBGUM. He sends a big thank you to his mooting mates — Caysseny Tean Boonsiri, Tan Jia Shen, Christina Erin Ong and Danial Imran — and best friends — Sara Jane Jayamana and Anson Liow. Not to forget, he sends all his love and appreciation to Te Gong Dui — his study group through thick and thin.
‘It is nearly impossible to go through law school alone. You need to have friends along for the ride.’
David alongside his support system throughout law school, Ms Emily Fang Shi Qi and Ms Sandra Leong Yin San
As for his plans in the near future, David intends to continue as a paralegal until he graduates this year. Even after these four years in UM, his biggest ambition is to work overseas — though this time in Australia. His dream is to become an advocate and practise in Australia in hopes of seeking a better work-life balance there. Nonetheless, his personal vow to society will not be forgotten; he is determined to continue taking pro bono cases to aid the underprivileged. David’s underdog story tells a tale of growth that we should always try to emulate. His hunger for knowledge is truly unparalleled, but with it, he developed a humane sense of integrity that not many possess. The world would probably be a better place with more Davids — the people who keep their word to the very end.
David would not have become who he is today without the support of his best friends
Written by Eizad Arian.
Edited by Azra Athirah.
Reviewed by Celin Khoo Roong Teng and Luc Choong Guong Sang.