About this segment: Alumnus of the Month is an initiative by the University of Malaya Law Review which aims to feature a prominent alumnus of the University of Malaya’s Law Faculty. The purpose of this segment is two-fold. First, to give due recognition to the contributions of our alumni and second, so that their remarkable achievements might inspire other members of the faculty towards greater successes.
Raphael Kok, an alumnus of the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya.
Raphael Kok, known to many as Raphael, is an alumnus of the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya (‘UM’). As a mooting coach, Raphael is commonly associated with his massive contribution in successfully guiding countless of UM mooting teams to multiple victories, nationally and internationally. Constantly raising the bar after each win, he is one of the driving factors to the mushrooming number of world-class mooters from the UM Law Faculty. Drawing a parallel to most students prior to entering law school, Raphael started his journey without even wanting to read law in the first place. As a kid who was mesmerised by dinosaurs and stars, Raphael aspired to be an archaeologist and astronaut. However, his family, which consists of UM alumni, prompted him to further his studies in UM. His diverse array of interests — ranging from history, politics, technology, and journalism — reaffirmed his decision to venture into the multidisciplinary realm of law. Thus, he acquired his undergraduate law degree from UM in 2008.
As a multifaceted student, Raphael was actively involved in a variety of faculty events, mostly due to his Executive Committee position in the UM Law Society which he held for two terms. He was also a member of the university debate and moot team — both of which allowed him to travel far and wide, such as the United States, South Korea, and Kenya. He remembered how he barely went home during semester breaks — a price he had to pay for his active campus life. Upon being called to the Malaysian Bar in 2009, Raphael sharpened his skills in civil and corporate litigation at Lee Hishammuddin Allen & Gledhill. His breadth of practice ranged from contracts to torts, intellectual property to insolvency, and employment to human rights. Five of his Malaysian cases have been reported.
Raphael at his former workstation in Shell Malaysia
His next journey accidentally stemmed from an opposing counsel who forwarded him a job advertisement with a post-qualification experience of 10 years. Despite being clearly underqualified at the time, he applied for the job out of sheer curiosity and to test himself. Four rounds of interview later, he was hired by Shell, a global oil and gas company, as their corporate counsel advising commercial and operational units across Asia-Pacific. He rose to prominence when he was named as the Malaysian In-House Lawyer of the Year by the ASEAN Legal Business in 2014.
Raphael receiving his ALB award for the 'Malaysian Best In-House Lawyer' in 2014
When asked about his achievement, Raphael simply shrugged. “I don’t think much of the award, honestly,” he said. “It’s not very different from winning the best mooter award — there is always an element of subjectivity and luck. There are many people more deserving of the award. But if there is any lesson to be drawn, it is how we should focus more on our performance, rather than obsessing over results. It is our resilience to perform at our highest level for every given task, regardless of results, that ultimately makes us a winner — maybe not tomorrow or next year, but one day. To me, being crowned as the Best In-House Lawyer of the Year serves as a validation not so much of my efforts in that particular year, but all the good work I have put in since Day One of practice.”
At the peak of his career, young and rapidly flourishing, it raised a few eyebrows on how he ended up returning to the law faculty. It all began with an invitation to become a part-time tutor, which led to students approaching him to coach their mooting teams. As he delved deeper into his newly established coaching position, he got more involved in the faculty’s mooting program. He was troubled by UM being stuck in a rut and not achieving the level of success it ought to achieve, given our pool of talent and facilities. “We hit a plateau – and stagnated,” was his blunt assessment. It took a lot of failures, soul-searching, and innovation to break through the next level. “We learnt from our rivals. We re-built our training system from ground zero. We instilled a renewed sense of collective spirit,” he explained. “Most of all, I am immensely grateful to our Dean, Dato Associate Prof Dr Johan Shamsuddin bin Haji Sabaruddin, for being patient and keeping faith with me. We had a terrible run of defeats when I first came on board. I can’t blame the students thinking the faculty got the wrong person for the job! But sometimes, we have to take a step backwards to move two steps forward.”
Raphael, with Dean Dato Associate Prof Dr Johan Shamsuddin bin Haji Sabaruddin and the UM Jessup 2019 Team (Top 16)
So what inspired his change in career pathways, from a legal practitioner to corporate counsel to academician? He believes that life is a process of exploration, education, and enlightenment. For now, he sees himself being somewhere between the first two stages, still learning and growing. However, he is quick to point out that his life trajectory is far from normal, and definitely not for the risk-adverse and faint-hearted. “To some, I am like the Joker: an agent of chaos, a man without a plan, a dog chasing cars,” he chuckled. “I totally understand why my devil-may-care YOLO attitude raises eyebrows. My life lacks stability and security. It takes a special type of boldness — and perhaps insanity — to strike down the many different pathways as I have.”
Raphael and the UM IMLAM 2018 Team (Top 4)
As the Master Yoda to the brightest of faculty mooters, it is only fitting that we ask for his advice, particularly for students who are planning to embark on their mooting journey. “In the words of the late Steve Jobs: ‘Stay hungry, stay foolish’. Never think that you are good enough, always keep pushing yourself.”
So what does he consider as the main weakness in mooters? “Ego,” he answered. “Ego makes people complacent. Ego blinds them from their flaws. Ego scares them from taking on new challenges. Great mooters are unafraid of failure, quick to correct their mistakes, and always come back stronger after a hard fall.” To aspiring novice mooters, he further advises: “Start mooting early. Don’t lose spirit if you struggle to keep up with your more talented peers. Mooting is a marathon, not a sprint. Keep running, no matter how far behind or ahead you are. The hardest part is taking the first few steps. As a wise butler once said to Bruce Wayne: ‘It’s always darkest before dawn’.”
Raphael and the UM LAWASIA 2018 Team (International Champion)
Additionally, when asked about his plans for the future, he revealed how he is not much of a planner, quoting John Lennon, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making plans”. Some goals may lose relevance over time, or better goals may emerge from new unexpected opportunities. “To paraphrase from a wise Jedi master, we should always be mindful of the future, but not at the expense of the moment,” he quipped, yet again, from his seemingly bottomless bag of pop-culture authorities. For now, his immediate focus is education. “What I’ll be doing in the next five or ten years – I honestly can’t say, because I don’t know myself,” he added. “Who knows? I may still have time to be a space pilot!”
As to what single word can aptly describe his life motto, he answered, “Ikigai”. A Japanese word with no direct English equivalent, ikigai roughly means “the reason of being”, or more poignantly: “the reason for which you wake up every morning”. Quite fittingly, Raphael’s closing remark not only offers deep insight into his life, but perhaps also our own lives.
“To have ikigai is to have a burning purpose in life so fiery that you reawaken every morning full of energy. Our ikigai can manifest in many forms — fighting your clients’ case in court, spending quality time with your family, or even tending to your Bonsai garden. Whether you are rich or poor, young or old, everyone can discover their ikigai. All it takes is honesty, and the courage not to succumb to societal pressure to chase vacuous materialistic goals like money, fame, and power. Every morning, I unfailingly wake up before 9am. Without an alarm. No matter how late I slept last night. Even on weekends. That is how excited I am to start a brand new day. That is how passionate I feel about life. Ikigai is the secret to my happiness – as well as yours.”
Written by Azureen Ibrahim.