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.
Sufiah Yusoff, a final year student from the Faculty of Law, University Malaya.
Sufiah Yusoff, known to many as Sufiah, is a final year student at the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya (“UM”). A prominent figure to the members of all the student bodies in the Faculty, she played a role of being the trailblazer for female representation within UM’s student politics. However, behind the myriad of accomplishments, that she has accumulated throughout her four years of undergraduate study, lies a passionate individual who sacrificed her leisure time for the benefit of other students.
Hailing from Perlis Indera Kayangan, Sufiah attended Derma High School for her secondary education. It was during this period of time when she discovered her dream of pursuing law. Her passion for law was kickstarted after her teacher Puan Norazlina binti Hassan queried, “what do you want to do in the next phase of life?”, to which she hesitantly answered that she intended to read law.
“As the time went by, I pondered on the answer that I gave to my teacher. I never told anyone else about my ambition including my parents”.
Sufiah managed to secure a placement in the Foundation of Law program offered by Universiti Teknologi MARA, which later became the stepping stone for her to venture into the realm of excellence in UM. This exemplified the butterfly effect, where one small question led her to decide on her education path and in turn, would benefit countless members of the Faculty of Law in her quest for the betterment students’ well-being.
“Who would have thought that the question was actually a guidance from God to me? If you are reading this Cikgu, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to you.”
Sufiah remained an unsung hero despite her contributions as the Law Faculty’s Student Representative in UM’s Student Representative Council 2019. Her position of power was never utilised for the purpose of self-gratification. She worked tirelessly to initiate the Law Food Bank initiative to aid B40 students within our faculty, with the guidance and advice from a few lecturers. Whilst most halt at performative virtue signalling to indicate support for vulnerable communities, her altruism and commitment transformed these ideals into tangible outcomes. This sheer tenacity has benefitted the underprivileged in terms of living comfortably within the university’s gates, a feat that warrants our admiration.
“It has been a joy for me to be able to help those in need and struggling to live in KL — a place where everyone is expected to live a luxurious life. Our students are not excluded.”
Sufiah and Carson Lim after their fruitful discussion with Dato’ Associate Professor Dr. Johan Shamsuddin, Dean of Law Faculty on their initiative
Her accomplishments did not cease to exist when she steps out of the Faculty as she was also entrusted the position of the Interim President of the Student Union this year, shattering the glass ceiling by being the first female student to hold this esteemed position. This achievement prompted Sufiah to urge more female students to be more active in student politics. She then highlighted her concerns on the lacklustre representation of women within politics in general. Specifically, Malaysia only has 14.4% of women representatives in the Malaysian Parliament as of 1 February 2019. Her uncompromising determination to venture into a male-dominated field, one where she has excelled in, should serve as a token of reminder to everyone that the capabilities of an individual should not be measured by gender. As stated succinctly by Sufiah:
“If you’re saying that only men are suitable for the position, then you are seriously misled. After all, it only takes one of us to disprove this rhetoric. Being idealistic is everyone’s forte, but to work the idea of breaking the stigma takes more than just one step. Of course, there will be a few challenges here and there, you may feel uncomfortable because the stigma is real, but I believe women in this day and age have been nurtured to become the voice, not just the represented voice.”
Sufiah as the Law Faculty Representative under Suara Siswa
Being an Interim President would bring an abundance of pride to any individual, but Sufiah’s most fulfilling moment as a student representative stemmed from her unforgettable experience as a Chairperson for the Legal Affairs Division. She was tasked at reforming the student parliament, which previously had no codified rules or guidance when debates occur. This task proved to be a Herculean task, but once again, she persevered. She made strenuous efforts to analyse and set up a suitable framework for the student parliament to operate, one that is structurally distinct from Malaysia’s Dewan Rakyat. The amount of effort in resolving this complexity was not in vain, as the guidelines that she constructed were referred to and abided by in the Malaysian Parliament Sitting 2019, and will continue to be utilised in future student parliamentary proceedings. To complement this impressive feat, the guidelines set precedent for other universities to follow. Clearly, she has no trouble living up to the formidable image and reputation that she, and many others, had set for herself.
Besides her work in relation to student politics, Sufiah served as a legal intern at the State Legal Advisor Office in Penang. Her notable achievements include reviewing the Penang State Museum Board Enactment 1972 and she was assigned to amend the language used in this particular enactment, which was written in archaic Bahasa Melayu. The task required her to redraft sentences without changing the meaning or technical terms within the enactment. As much as this task was challenging, the joy and fulfilment she felt in completing the task superseded the hardship she faced. Not only did this developed her potential in the intricacies of deciphering the law, but it had also heightened her appreciation for our national language.
Moreover, Sufiah is a firm advocate for experimenting with the different branches of law when interning. This belief stems from the idea that an internship is an eye-opening experience that grants insight on various fields. She affirms this ideal by stating:
“There are so many branches in law. Please do not confine yourself to one path only. An internship is where you experience the hands-on materials and precedent, it is where you see the law taking place. As for me, I would suggest for you to do your internship at a place where you can experience both being in-house counsel and a litigator. Even if going to court is not your preference, at least be there once.”
Sufiah’s prominence in the activities she participated in is indicative of her high aptitude in various fields. Even as an emcee, she boasted numerous accolades. She was recruited as an emcee by the Ministry of Education Malaysia for large-scale events such as the UNIMAKER National Competition in 2018 and 2019, as well as emceeing in the Industry-Academia Dialogue with Dato’ Seri Haji Idris bin Jusoh. Despite her high aptitude in emceeing, she does put in the hours to live up to her potential. She actively volunteered herself in many minor events held by UM in her first year. This honed her abilities to adapt to situations and be spontaneous — skills that are integral as a good emcee.
Sufiah, as the emcee for the UNIMAKER National Competition 2019
Nonetheless, it was Sufiah’s willingness to start from humble beginnings that enabled her to network and receive offers to large-scale events. Her involvement in a book launch in conjunction with Yayasan Tun Suffian was the stage that gave her recognition from Datuk Yaacob Merican and YM Tunku Sofiah. This opened the floodgates of opportunities for her. To name a few, she covered events involving a biography launch of Allahyarham Tan Sri Dr Abdul Aziz Abdul Rahman and the Memorial Lecture by Yayasan Tun Suffian with Judge Eddie Durie.
Sufiah’s exceptional Curriculum Vitae (“CV”) transcends her work experience, as she is also an accomplished mooter and debater. As for mooting, she represented the Faculty in four national level competitions. In the Pertandingan Penghujahan Mahkamah 2018, she continued to showcase her mooting credentials as she was the recipient of the Overall Best Oralist award. However, her journey in mooting was not seamless. She joined tournaments that required a thorough understanding of Shariah Law, such as the National Shariah Court Moot 2018. The complexities of Shariah Evidence Law along with many unfamiliar Arabic jargons were large obstacles that she had to face as a non-Shariah student, particularly in the 2018 competition. In true ‘Sufiah Yusoff’ fashion, her talent and hard work came to fruition as her team ranked first in oral submissions.
Sufiah and her teammates in the National Shariah Court Moot 2018
As most of the students in the Faculty of Law are active in English moots, Sufiah had strongly emphasised the importance of diversification and familiarising oneself with mooting in Bahasa Malaysia.
“When you're practising later, you can find that most of the lower courts use Bahasa Malaysia as the main language. It is good if you are well-versed in English law jargons, but don't forget that Bahasa Malaysia also has its own unique jargon. Do you know the meaning of ‘suai manfaat’? Join BM moot to find out!”
The amount of commitments and achievements Sufiah had accumulated over the years also came with heaps of stress. She subsisted by choosing to indulge in an array of Anime series during these times, with Assassination Classroom being her current favourite Anime. Till this day, she possesses productive solutions in dealing with stress, a trait that many students yearn for. She enjoys cleaning and ensuring her workstation is always tidy. Her optimum method of dealing with stress is joining debate competitions, which has enabled her to perfect her CV whilst destressing.
“It gives me a wholesome feeling whenever I get to talk about any motion without being subjected to any rules apart from the etiquette. Being able to interpret the motion that my Coach gives me is a feeling that I can't even describe. You are forced to enlarge your thinking capacity, more than what a normal student would normally do. Debate has taught me to filter my arguments in a sense that I only speak about something that is relevant.”
As a result, she had amassed many debate achievements. To name a few, she emerged as the champion of the Presidential Debate 2019, where she debated on the relevancy of race-based parties in forming Malaysian governmental policies. She was also the semi-finalist for the ASTAR Debate Open 2018, SPRM Anti-Corruption Debate 2019, as well as the Selangor Chief Minister’s Cup Debate 2019. Concluding her extensive list of debate achievements, she was also the quarter-finalist of the ASTAR Debate Open in 2020 and the Pertandingan Debat Diraja in 2019.
Sufiah after being crowned the champion of the Presidential Debate 2019
Additionally, she has also been a prominent figure in the International circuit, evidencing her holistic development. She participated in the Asian Student Environmental Programme in 2018, where she was given the opportunity to arm herself with extra knowledge on Malaysia’s rainforests. Her deep understanding in the nuances of the environment clearly depicts Sufiah’s tenacity in any activity she chooses to partake in. She recollected:
“I learnt many things on the Ex situ species (a form of conservation utilised by Rimba Ilmu in which various species of flora and fauna are bred outside of its natural habitat) and the climate that is suitable for species in the herbarium. We went to Putrajaya Agricultural Heritage Park and was given the explanation on how important it is to stabilise the population of fish in our ecosystem and how much our country depends on mangrove trees alongside the river, sea, and even lake — the lake acts as a liver to our country as it filters everything.”
Additionally, she had participated in the Airlangga ASEAN+3 Youth Conference and Cultural Festival in Surabaya, Indonesia. The theme of this event was “Responding Belt Road Initiative for Global Sustainable Development”. She had amassed a wealth of knowledge regarding the potential of the scientific and industrial collaborations from the Belt and Road Initiative, the impact of the trade war between China and the United States to the global economy, and many more economic theories. She was also the Student Advisor for the Clinical Legal Education Outbound Programme. These events created many memories, she fondly recalled being forced to dance in a cultural event along with meeting new friends and acquaintances.
As much as Sufiah has a considerable amount of achievements one could have collected during their undergraduate years, she is still human and not impervious to the occasional feeling of being overwhelmed.
“There are many bittersweet moments here in law school. There were times when I really struggled to conform to life here. In the end, I believe that if there is no struggle, there is no progress. Therefore, I am very thankful that I've been blessed with many thoughtful people around me. Thank you, you know who you are.”
Sufiah’s message to the members of the Faculty of Law is clear: the journey within law school is overwhelming, especially since the faculty comprises of many talented students. However, she strongly believes that students should not conform to the conventional metrics of success, but instead create your own definition of success. She also urges students to be patient with themselves, to follow their genuine beliefs, and to never be swayed by the opinions of other people.
As for the future, Sufiah does not have a plan laid out as of yet, but she aspires to be in criminal litigation. Given her exemplary work ethic and selfless commitment to gender and economic equality, let us sit back and watch, as the ripples of her contribution to society manifest themselves.
Written by Luc Choong .