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.
Jacqueline Hannah Albert, born and raised in Johor Bahru, is currently a final-year student at the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya (UM). Fondly recognised for her trademark smile, most people who have met her would describe Jacqueline as having an uplifting presence. Jacqueline is regarded as the embodiment of an all-rounder, or as one could say, a ‘Jacq’ of all trades. Throughout her years in law school, she has proven herself to be an intellectual powerhouse and a resilient individual who is always ready to take on new challenges. Armed with an array of experiences gained through volunteering, mooting and client consulting, there is more to Jacqueline than meets the eye. Hence, what encapsulates Jacqueline as a person is her remarkable achievements coupled with a desire to pursue enriching experiences and to uplift the less-privileged communities in more ways than one.
Prior to entering UM, Jacqueline had already been exposed to environments that drove her to improve her assets. Unbeknownst to most, Jacqueline went through 13 years of schooling in all-girls institutions from primary school to pre-university. She believes that these competitive environments amongst highly motivated students were an empowering part of her upbringing, quoting that ‘if you can survive in an all-girls school, you can do anything. Being in that environment could either make or break you’.
Jacqueline was cautious about wasting the time she had. She and her peers strived to avoid complacency by taking it upon themselves to pour their hearts and souls into whatever responsibilities they undertook. By doing so, it did not only pushed them beyond their comfort zones, but also gave them a glimpse of how difficult life can be. Jacqueline reminded herself that doing things half-heartedly would not serve her well in the long run, deciding instead to fuel her passion towards worthy engagements. She thinks that this little reminder is important because people often latch onto things that do not serve them. Eventually, they become drained and deterred from reaching their maximum potential.
While living away from one’s family poses its own set of challenges, Jacqueline was blessed because her family never made the distance feel far. They had always been her biggest driving force to work hard, which in turn enabled her to thrive in multiple environments. They never pressed her to pursue academic excellence either — a rare occurrence in most family institutions. Such autonomy allotted her the opportunity to explore different paths that piqued her interests. Jacqueline was comforted by the thought that at the end of the day, whichever path she chooses to walk, her family will always be behind her.
Unfortunately, not everyone was as encouraging. During her Malaysian Higher School Certificate (STPM) years, she witnessed first-hand discrimination for her choice of taking STPM. Since STPM was perceived to be inferior compared to other avenues such as Foundation and Matriculation, the negative perception of the public exposed Jacqueline and her peers to discouraging words, some of which even came from her very own teachers. However, she believes that some students who opt for STPM do so because they could not afford other options; their choice certainly does not suggest academic deficiency. Always an advocate for fair treatment, Jacqueline thinks that society should be more encouraging to these students as STPM could be their last shot in furthering their education. This experience moulded her perception of the inequities of life and sparked her purpose of fighting for education inequality later on with Small Changes.
As time flew by, Jacqueline passed her STPM with flying colours which eventually led her to read law in UM. She deems herself extremely privileged as not everyone can be afforded the same privileges: supportive family members, healthy competitive friends and little worry about things besides studying.
When asked whether doing law was a long-time ambition of hers, Jacqueline amusedly claimed that it could not be further from the truth. As a child, Jacqueline wanted to be a nephrologist — or in the layperson’s term, a kidney specialist. This interest was partially influenced by her exposure to the medical field by her mother who works as a nurse. As Malaysia still lacks nephrologists, being one of the skilled few was a challenge that Jacqueline wanted to undertake. However, one fateful conversation with her mother had her re-evaluating her career choice. The revelation that medical practitioners may be involved in negligence suits sent chills down her spine. Soon afterwards, Jacqueline had her heart set on being a legal practitioner, nurtured by her affinity for the literary works of Jodi Picoult and the mind-grabbing depiction of lawyers in a Singaporean drama series called ‘The Pupil’. She felt that law school was a match for her personality; she was vocal in school and could not stay silent in the presence of injustice — foreshadowing her innate affinity for the law.
Jacqueline arrived at the Faculty without any expectations in mind, carrying only the determination to do her best in all her endeavours. Luckily for Jacqueline, she started off with the right footing. She never shied away from asking questions and strived to be ready at all times. Despite the hefty workload, she enjoyed the intellectual process of thinking analytically and critically to arrive at logical conclusions. The fact that these skills are utilised to tackle practical situations fascinates her even further.
Most people may only see Jacqueline’s accomplishments on a surface level. The hard work, sacrifices, passion, interest and even fear behind the scenes are usually kept away from the public eye. Still, not all is smooth sailing, as waves of doubt would occasionally shake her confidence. She overcame these trying moments by attempting to make the rough patches less painful, reminding herself that it is all part of the process — for no greatness can be achieved without adversities. For Jacqueline, the hurdles in law school show that she was destined for the course. It is the sense of fulfilment that arrives after solving complicated problems that makes every single effort worthwhile.
One cause that Jacqueline holds dear to her heart is volunteering. The calling was inspired by her mother, a dedicated nurse who is willing to go the extra mile to aid her patients. Jacqueline sometimes wondered if her mother ever grew tired of the strenuous efforts; admittedly, going that extra mile can be very demanding and draining at times. It is the passion to help others that kindles the effort to keep going, and Jacqueline was apt to replicate this.
‘My mother inspires me to love what I do everyday, even if I feel tired because passion and compassion will continue igniting and remind you of why you started.’
For Jacqueline, her early days of volunteering began in high school when she joined the Kiwanis-Key Club to lend a hand in serving the community. Then, she elected to take on a bigger challenge by participating in MYCorps, an initiative by the Ministry of Youth and Sports, where she was one of the lucky students chosen to volunteer in Cambodia. She remembered being the youngest participant and the hard labour it took to build latrines for over 20 families. The trip was a life-changing experience; it further boosted her enthusiasm for volunteerism and heightened her desire to make a difference. Upon returning from the trip, Jacqueline was determined to concentrate her talents towards more humanitarian causes. In 2016, she discovered Small Changes Malaysia, a volunteering network that aims to empower the community. This time, she gained a new perspective of volunteering from the other end of the spectrum — as an organising committee instead of a volunteer. Planning projects from scratch allowed her to obtain professional growth in volunteerism. Naturally, her love for humanitarian work also grew in spades.
Jacqueline during a humanitarian mission in Cambodia building latrines and having community engagements with the locals in Kampung Cham
‘The most captivating part of volunteering is that it teaches humanity. Nowadays, despite being able to connect at the tip of our fingers, we are disconnected now more than ever. This is not only caused by isolation, but also due to constant comparisons which in turn give rise to hatred. Volunteering helps us see beyond that, and makes us realise that we are all blessed with different capabilities. Besides, by being more aware of societal issues around us, soft skills such as empathy and teamwork will also be enhanced. We will be motivated to use our abilities to formulate practical solutions because the common goal is now shared with a group of motivated people. Truly, the only way to really make a change is by standing as a united front and not being segregated.’
Volunteer work is invigorating for Jacqueline. Occasionally, she encounters the challenge of keeping everyone’s spirits up. As a team leader, it is an onerous burden to carry. The ability to juggle multiple responsibilities is a skill that most university students pick up along the way. Sadly, that would also mean prioritising certain commitments above others. The voluntary nature of the volunteer work makes it challenging to ensure that everyone channels the same degree of effort, especially participants who join with the sole purpose of enhancing their credentials. When it affects the planning and execution of the project, she will step in to implement the necessary measures to keep the project afloat.
While there is no perfect solution, Jacqueline notes that communication is key. Sometimes, she was forced to remove half-hearted participants and focus on gathering the committed ones on board instead; she confessed that these harsh decisions were never easy. She hopes that more people would give ‘The Fix’ by Michelle P. King a read, especially on the three stages of fixing a problem — acknowledging, understanding and taking action. If one were to emulate the lessons in this book, no one would surely take volunteering as lacklustre.
Jacqueline and her team during a Medical and Dental Awareness Camp in Pulau Omadal, Semporna
Jacqueline’s background in law complimented her involvement in community-based initiatives. The thought process practised in law school trained her to identify the inadequacies in legal regimes of the causes she advocates for. An example is her analysis of the Education Act 1996. On paper, the enrolment of children into primary schools was made compulsory; yet the enforcement of the policy is close to none — perhaps due to the conflict between objectivity and practicality. Jacqueline reasoned that although it is ideal to mandate primary education for all, it would be unfair to penalise parents who could not afford primary education for their children due to socioeconomic constraints. Jacqueline’s critical thinking skills, developed from studying the law, enabled her to question the conscionability of certain laws towards marginalised groups in society.
In the Faculty, Jacqueline immersed herself in more community-based projects by joining the UM Legal Aid Clinic (KBGUM), of which she is currently the Student Advisor. The pro bono aspects of the organisation appealed to her like a moth to a flame. She encourages others to join KBGUM as they can fulfil their moral obligations whilst also enhancing their armoury of skills. The uniqueness of KBGUM is that students have the chance to assist real-life clients, similar to running a small firm. Naturally, interpersonal skills, creativity, critical thinking, teamwork, law firm management and breaking down legal jargon to laypeople’s terms will come into play. In return, KBGUM offers invaluable experiences that ease the transition from law school into the working world.
Jacqueline and her fellow KBGUM Student Advisors during the Induction Training
The biggest takeaway from her time in KBGUM is knowing that access to justice is a privilege. In reality, not everyone can afford the right to be protected by the law, especially without financial means. Other circumstances such as lack of exposure, geographical limitations and different education backgrounds may also impede their right to justice. This understanding would be unfathomable without opportunities granted by KBGUM to explore those struggles, and Jacqueline is grateful for it.
On top of that, Jacqueline was featured as a speaker for TEDxUniversityofMalaya 2020: Perspectives to impart her vast knowledge of volunteer work to the public. The opportunity to converse about a topic close to her heart posed quite a challenge. Besides the content creating process, the idea of speaking publicly in a formal setting was daunting. Nonetheless, Jacqueline rose to the challenge and practised as much as she could to ensure that the event would proceed well. Thankfully, she got through it on a positive note. To Jacqueline, what matters most is that she spoke sincerely from her heart and played her part to spark empathy through volunteering. The event was an exceptional experience for her — both humbling and intimidating. Getting to overcome her fear of public speaking was a plus point as well. With that, she promptly checked it off her bucket list.
Jacqueline featured as a speaker for TEDxUniversityofMalaya 2020: Perspectives whereby she presented her speech: ‘Volunteerism: You & I?'
Participating in volunteerism and humanitarian work has undoubtedly sculpted Jacqueline’s character and opened her eyes to the concerns of underprivileged communities. She urges interested individuals to participate in the noble venture. She believes that many people would like to help but are perhaps uncertain of the ongoing societal issues and how they could offer assistance. On this, Jacqueline advises starting small. She shares that illustrating the situations faced by different beneficiaries and acknowledging the struggles of society could be the needed push to kickstart the process. ‘It takes a personal eye-opening experience for someone to volunteer. There is always a story as to why people start volunteering.’
She also emphasises believing in change.
‘Some people tend to downplay their abilities. They do not think they could make a difference. However, such a mindset should be ousted because — believe it or not, change is inevitable. Some changes may be invisible at a glance, but upon closer attention, surely one can see the bigger picture. Even striving to become a better version of ourselves is change, so keep moving forward and remember that a community is made up of individuals after all. When all individuals bring changes to their small circles, it could have a ripple effect throughout the entire community.’
Apart from her extensive contributions to volunteering, Jacqueline also garnered impressive accolades in mooting. She started her mooting journey in her second year as her active involvements in Small Changes made it almost impossible to do so earlier. The minor setback, however, did not deter Jacqueline from proving that she has what it takes to be a mooter. Her first experience in the professional mooting circuit was the Novice Arbitration Mooting Competition (NAMCO) 2019, which became one of her best ventures. With the guidance of her team members and coaches, her team ended UM’s two-year drought of the NAMCO championship trophy, defeating their long-time rival, the National University of Singapore (NUS) in the final round. When she was selected to join the UM team to battle in the UM-NUS Friendly Mooting Competition 2019, she worked twice as hard to deliver results, taking on the uphill task of retrieving the champion title from NUS. Consequently, the team did not disappoint — cementing Jacqueline’s spot as a formidable mooter.
Jacqueline alongside her teammates, Ms Toh Zhee Qi, Ms Jowena John, Mr Fabian Meringgai and Ms Clara Jane (not in picture) at NAMCO 2019. They were trained by their coaches, Mr Raphael Kok and Mr Iqbal Harith
She described the key feature that drew her to mooting was its resemblance to actual courtroom proceedings. However, she pointed out that mooting is not as glamorous as depictions by the media. Long hours of preparation made prior are tedious, but surely every second of it will become a memorable experience if one is up for the challenge. To those interested in mooting, she underlined the preparation stage as the most crucial part of the process. The groundwork of researching arguments with supporting authorities cannot be faked before the panel of cognisant judges. Ultimately, it is the confidence in the mooter’s preparation to give way for their style and advocacy to shine through.
Jacqueline and her UM-NUS Friendly Mooting Competition 2019 teammates, Mr Neoh Kai Sheng, Mr Tan Jia Shen and Ms Saradha Lakshmi
Jacqueline’s insightfulness on the importance of being well-prepared benefits her everyday life as a student as well. She applies the same principle to tutorial sessions where students need to advise hypothetical clients using the theories learnt in class. Inevitably, a lot of work is needed to sufficiently ready oneself, but one can never expect growth without going through pain.
In addition to mooting, Jacqueline was also the Champion of the Harun M. Hashim National Client Consultation Competition (NCCC) 2020. Jacqueline felt that NCCC is different from mooting, though both are equally gratifying. She described the former as focusing more on the lawyer-client relationship as opposed to the lawyer-judge interactions in the latter. Each of them serves different purposes — NCCC requires participants to offer legal advice and solutions to their clients, whereas mooters need to command persuasiveness while presenting cases and addressing the judges’ concerns. In terms of preparation, Jacqueline felt that NCCC is more factual compared to mooting since it heavily relies on the scenario given on competition day. Because of this, participants need to anticipate numerous possibilities based on the theme. Jacqueline is indebted to her teammates, mentors and coaches whom she credits for the success. Without their feedback and support, none of it would have been possible.
Jacqueline and her NCCC teammates, Mr Danial Imran, Ms Christina Ong, Ms Puteri Zarina Hanim accompanied by coaches Ms Aisyah Soberi, Mr Simon Alexander Wood and Dr Najwa Rosli (not in picture)
Another monumental event in Jacqueline’s law school journey is the European Union Study Trip in collaboration with Bangor University 2019. She was extremely grateful to be given the opportunity alongside another outstanding student, Ms Zafirah Jaya. It opened her eyes to the need for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to catch up with its European counterpart — especially in terms of regional cooperation and dispute resolution mechanisms. Jacqueline is grateful to the Dean of the Faculty of Law, Dato’ Associate Professor Dr Johan Shamsuddin Sabaruddin and the Deputy Dean, Datin Associate Professor Norbani Mohamed Nazeri for handpicking her and Ms Zafirah Jaya to be a part of this engaging learning experience.
Jacqueline and Ms Zafirah Jaya during the European Union Study Trip
Even with the weight of numerous involvements on her shoulders, Jacqueline succeeded in striking a balance between her co-curricular activities and academics. She bagged the Dean’s List Award for almost every semester, thus breaking the misconception that it is impossible to join many different activities and excel in all of them. Getting the award was certainly a morale booster. Notwithstanding this, Jacqueline contended that understanding the lessons taught is more important than remote memorisation. ‘The process is as equally important as the goal,’ says Jacqueline. She has a few tips that may help facilitate effective learning.
The first step to doing well in studies is to understand oneself. By identifying and acknowledging our strengths and weaknesses, it would be easier to sort out immediate steps towards self-improvement. Experimentation could be a useful tool for self-discovery because everyone is distinct from one another. Retaining focus is equally important as well. Jacqueline believes that the optimum state for knowledge absorption in classes and tutorials can only be achieved when a student is fully immersed. To do so, distractions should be kept at the utmost minimum. Time management is also a key factor: Jacqueline suggests using a planner to track the hours spent in a day. She always plans her week ahead to optimise her daily schedule.
‘By visualising time, you will eventually realise that time is just an illusion. Like any other illusion, if you do not get it, it will definitely get you. So, save yourselves from the unnecessary anxieties and panic attacks and start planning now!’
Besides, note-taking is also a significant component of studying. Notes should represent one’s understanding on the topic, not mere copies of textbooks or transcripts of lectures. After all, law students are trained to be lawyers, not stenographers. Notes should also be updated consistently. By revising them, one can have a more comprehensive memory booster. Notes are also customisable, so should one prefer having them in interactive settings, digital notes might be the best fit. For a traditionalist like Jacqueline, inking them down is always the way to go. Another reminder is never to be complacent because the highest fall hurts the most. No one should ever think that they are superior to others because everyone is going through their learning process. Being open to disagreements, especially when doing law would be a great way to spark meaningful discourse because the law can be flexible, and so can we.
‘We should not be too focused on competing with one another but actually learn to collaborate to see each other’s point of view with respect. That is how you learn. That is what intellectual discussions are all about — critical and conflicting points discussed on difficult issues.’
The very idea of stepping into the working world is terrifying, let alone for someone in their final year. To ease the disquietude that entails such uncertainty, Jacqueline found it favourable if she could get prior experience in the working world. Last year, she managed to secure internships under various firms, government organisations and even academic research for 12 months consecutively. Among them, her time with Messrs Jerald Gomez & Associates was definitely one of the highlights of the experience. Since the firm offers learning opportunities in criminal and civil litigation, both of which are her favourite disciplines of law, it was the perfect avenue for Jacqueline to delve into the legal world. She was also blessed because the partners, legal assistants and pupils there were very supportive. When she assisted them with research and arguments, they would kindly provide constructive feedbacks for her improvement. The time constraints for the heavy workload compelled Jacqueline to efficiently produce the best solutions within the shortest amount of time. Before she ended her internship there, she had the privilege of taking part in preparation for a pro bonocase with Dato’ Jerald Gomez himself. The words he uttered then — ‘Give what you can even though you only have a little’ — would remain etched in her mind for years to come. The values Jacqueline attained from this internship are priceless and she will carry them with her wherever she goes.
Jacqueline and her colleagues during her internship at Messrs Jerald Gomez & Associates
With the current development of the pandemic, there is no telling when the world may return to life before COVID-19. Although people are starting to cope better with the situation, the longing for the little things that were taken for granted continues to persist. Jacqueline, for example, yearns for the brick-and-mortar university experience. Spending time with her friends, attending lectures in the lecture halls, having tutorials in seminar rooms and greeting the lecturers in the hallway have eased her hardships in law school.
Still, Jacqueline has a few projects to look forward to. Currently, she is working on a computer literacy workshop for two indigenous communities in Selangor. She also individually raised money to build a home for an indigenous family, for which she exceeded her target and fulfilled her promise to complete a half-marathon. Jacqueline hopes that the pandemic would be over soon so that she could meet the beneficiaries and continue to make a difference.
Hidden behind the façade of a student who has it all are countless late nights, sacrifices made and tears shed for the sake of meeting her self-expectations. Jacqueline owes it to her grandmother for motivating her to do better and to persevere. She would also like to thank her friends — especially Ms Izni Syazwani, Ms Joyce Kung, Ms Gan Meen Myng, Mr Lau Yong Sheng, Mr Benjamin Mah, Mr Zarchary Yeo, Mr Tan Jia Shen, Ms Florence Yeap, Mr Anson Liow, Ms Aleysha Kaur Bhatia and Ms Lee Jing Xuan — for always being with her throughout law school, even during her darkest days. She stresses the importance of surrounding ourselves with supportive and caring people so they can always pull us back on track.
Jacqueline with some of her closest confidants who were always with her through thick and thin
Above all, we should remember to care for ourselves. Some people are too focused on achieving their goals that they often neglect to check on themselves. Consequently, they exceed their limit and overwork to the point of deterioration.
‘Our limit is analogous to the elasticity of rubber bands: if overstretched and it does not snap, it just means that you are lucky as you got away with it. If it snaps, the efforts would be counter-productive because it would lead to many side effects: sickness, stress, impaired sleep, anxieties and depression. Try to take in tiny breaks in between work to clear your mind. Come back stronger!’
When asked about her regrets, Jacqueline’s biggest ones were thinking that she was not good enough and constantly fearing the judgemental eyes of others. If given the opportunity, she would tell her first-year self to follow her heart. ‘The naysayers do not matter because at the end of the day, what matters most is what you think of yourself. They will not be the one carrying the guilt of your omissions, so might as well live a life that you are satisfied with.’ However, Jacqueline appreciates her past experiences as those trials and tribulations helped shape her into the person she is today. By giving her younger self an upper hand, perhaps things would turn out differently. Even so, she would let things proceed just as it was in the past so she could learn from her struggles.
Jacqueline could not wait to see what lies ahead in the future
Regarding her future arrangements, Jacqueline is just as curious as all of us. Although she does not have a fixed plan yet, she is considering quite a few prospects, such as working with different ministries to draft policies and assisting the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in humanitarian missions. However, one thing is certain: she would undoubtedly complete her pupillage and practise first. As for other plans, she eagerly looks forward to seeing what the future holds.
For the avid readers of this article, Jacqueline has a piece of advice that would be handy for surviving law school, and perhaps even for navigating through life as a whole.
‘Grow at your own pace. Always remember that you are human and that it is okay to feel all sorts of emotions, especially when you are going through tough times. You can be inspired but stop trying to be anyone else who you think is “successful”. Define your own success. Ask yourself what you want and fight for it. Work towards it; do not just dream about it. Do not let fear limit yourself because the notion of success is often glorified. We do not talk about the mistakes and failures we go through to be where we are today. Remember that you are not meant to be a replica of that person you aspire to be, but you are meant to be the person you want to be. There is no one and there will never be anyone who can replace you, so why not work on being the best version of yourself?’
Written by Sirhan Sidqi.
Edited by Azra Athirah.
Reviewed by Celin Khoo Roong Teng and Luc Choong Guong Sang.