If sugar, spice, and everything nice could be personified, it would definitely conjure itself in the form of Iffah Afrina. Make no mistake about her heart-warming smile and indescribable charm, for this lawyer-to-be is not here to play games.
Hailing from the challenging science stream, she was expected to continue down the same road, but deep down, her passion reflected otherwise. She considered embarking on a path that aligned with her interests. From there, she factored in how she can give back to society. Not long after, Iffah arrived at a fork in the road — a white coat or a black robe.
As she stepped forth with the latter in sight, she felt relieved to have the support of her family members. Seeing their investment in the humble legal knowledge she shares with them, her passion and aspiration to share it with a larger audience to promote legal literacy burned brighter than ever.
Besides law, Iffah has always been a lover of the arts. From an age as early as six, she indulged in performing arts —specifically music and eventually, theatre. Her love for the arts is also reflected by her multifaceted hobbies — singing, playing musical instruments, writing her own songs, and expressing herself through poetry. She believes her passion for the arts kept her passion for the law ablaze, due to its fluidity. More often than not, she is able to transpose her creativity in her legal works because ‘law is a form of art anyway.’
In this piece, Iffah dug deep and unearthed valuable gems she has collected in law school — from her time at the forefront of student leadership to her performance before virtual moot courts.
Do you mind sharing with us how your passion for law was nurtured?
‘During my foundation studies, I realised that I genuinely enjoyed learning law. I felt like I was finally able to learn about the things that I am interested in.’
Iffah’s Foundation in Law days did not only affirm her interest in the legal sphere, but they also sparked her growth in different vocations, from debates to Model United Nations (‘MUN’) Conferences. These experiences rendered Iffah curious about how laws work in sync with the times. Eventually, she realised that almost every aspect of life is intertwined with the law — an area that she wanted to venture into more.
Her lecturers also played a pivotal role in shaping her view on the legal world. Their unfaltering encouragement and sage advice continuously shed light onto Iffah. A wise one once told her that ‘being in the legal industry is never easy, but hard work will never betray you.’ Little did Iffah know, this quote would soon become the mantra behind her decisions in university.
What was it like leading the faculty’s primary student organisation, the University of Malaya Law Society (‘UMLS’), particularly in the new normal?
‘I have always believed in the purpose and function of this organisation; it has and continues to contribute a lot towards the students’ growth. That was one of the reasons why I wanted to run for President.’
Reminiscing her journey to presidency, it all started with the annual student elections. Without hesitation, Iffah committed herself to the gruelling process. The main reason behind her unwavering determination was her admiration for its functionality. She elaborated on two different reasonings for this. Firstly, UMLS provides room for the Executive Committees’ professional and personal growth. Secondly, it benefits the student body holistically by earnestly looking after their welfare needs and exposing them to the legal world. This sense of fulfilment gradually motivated Iffah to give back through the very organisation, by providing a nurturing environment where others can gain what she did, if not more!
Alas, every rose blossoms with thorns. Albeit the seamless operation on the surface, her UMLS days required strategic planning coupled with strenuous effort. ‘Steering the ship during a pandemic was no doubt a difficult role’, but she was steadfast to lead UMLS through the new normal with her board. Clearly, the pandemic had shifted the dynamic of UMLS. Although their events managed to garner steady online followings, it was not comparable to the physical experience of being together — be it as an Executive Committee member or a participant. She further disclosed that virtual events require different approaches from conventional ones, and the physical distance between members may have complicated the chain of communication.
Nonetheless, in embracing a positive mindset, Iffah took this turbulence to grow her familiarity with regard to managing responsibilities in an online setting, especially since the new normal is here to stay. All in all, she is eternally grateful to be given the trust to lead an organisation as great as UMLS. Iffah expressed her tremendous gratitude to the 2020/2021 UMLS Executive Committee for their unwavering dedication despite the taxing times. To be able to carry the faculty’s prime organisation during such ominous times, her leadership skills are certainly uncontested. For advice, Iffah has broken it down into three crucial attributes.
Firstly, stay true to a purpose. When undertaking responsibilities, we are not just required to fulfil expectations, but to also work out the risks. She emphasised that the first person searched for after every mishap would be the leader, and prompt resolutions are expected. ‘Everyone will turn to you, come hell or high water. As such, you cannot back down no matter how hard it will be. If you know your purpose, you will keep going.’ Evidently, strong resilience is a must.
Secondly, always remain grounded and humble. Despite her natural talent in management, Iffah holds on to her values. In her own words, ‘being a leader does not mean that you are above others.’ Being aware of your responsibilities as a leader would allow you to better understand the needs of those who are relying on you.
Lastly, observe and learn from others. This translates to emulating people who you can draw inspiration from, especially when you are in need of enlightenment. To contextualise, Iffah was never shy to seek advice from previous UMLS Presidents, demonstrating that you should never stop learning regardless of the highs you may reach.
As the only female in the High Committee of UM Law Society 2019/2020, Iffah is truly an inspiring embodiment of women’s empowerment.
While others chose to start anew in different organisations, you chose to focus on UMLS and subsequently served the organisation for a total of three years. Why did you choose to stay?
‘Honestly, the lessons and experiences I gained from the three years were highly valuable and cannot be earned anywhere else.’
Primarily, Iffah’s adoration for UMLS stemmed from the life-changing experience she gained. She had witnessed how her interpersonal communication skills, crisis management, event coordination, and conflict resolution have reached new milestones. The organisation’s constant liaising with the faculty administration and external parties within the legal fraternity have consistently polished her work ethics. Additionally, the wonderful camaraderie established within the organisation became a source of joy for her.
Starting out as an External Relations Officer in 2018, Iffah was catapulted out of her comfort zone. To visualise, the bureau is all about networking and building connections with established legal firms and corporate organisations. As a first-year student, it was truly a huge responsibility to be entrusted with. She recalled a nerve-wrecking experience when she made marketing calls to firms to pitch UMLS’ career-building programmes. Her next tenure as the Secretary, on the other hand, contributed to her understanding of administrative processes. Unknown to her at the time, these experiences were vital to her later presidency.
Although some might opine that Iffah did not diversify her experiences, she explained that her time in UMLS proved the exact opposite. Throughout her three-year stint in UMLS, the student body executed a wide coverage of events — ranging from career networking, academic writing, and cultural programmes, to sporting events, well-being initiatives, and establishing a website. With a proud smile on her face, Iffah believes that ‘there really is endless learning in UMLS.’
The Executive Committee of UM Law Society 2020/21 who made the first ever virtual tenure successful
You were also the Director of Lex Imprimis for 2020/2021. How did you successfully carry out the responsibilities during this event? Besides that, what do you hope to see in Lex Imprimis’ future?
‘It was a difficult process for sure, but during that moment, all we could think of was getting at least a programme done for the first-years.’
Iffah has always believed in the importance of having a proper orientation, as it is the seniors’ responsibility to help the first years integrate into the faculty. Initially, the orientation programme was paused due to COVID-19. From there, multiple aspects had to be recalibrated to fit with the uncertainties of the online semester.
The High Committee members fought valiantly alongside Iffah for its execution. Due to the constraints of the event held online, several events were scraped to fit the setting. Simply put, online orientations are completely different from the conventional scenes, and personally, she wished that she could had done more. With that said, she hoped that the programme had left a positive impact on the then first-years. Iffah remains hopeful for Lex Imprimis’ continuity, as it had allowed the students to reap numerous benefits — especially in terms of character building.
What is your secret behind multitasking?
‘I just cannot sit still. For me, there are learning opportunities everywhere, and it would be a waste to not grab them.’
In her first year, Iffah soared in her swift management of multiple roles simultaneously: a Faculty Achievements Editor (now known as a Features Editor) of the University of Malaya Law Review (‘UMLR’), an External Relations Officer of UMLS, and a Publicity Bureau Member of the First Residential College’s HIJAU organisation. Given the relatively less hectic first year, Iffah sought to explore new things and to learn as much as she could. By taking on a myriad of chances, she was able to identify her proficiency in specific areas, which led to her eventual success as President of UMLS. Albeit tiring, she found the struggles worthy of her gain today. It even turned out to be one of the best years of her university life.
For Iffah, an important element to managing such commitments would be to work hard and smart. Working hard does not equate to losing oneself, but rather giving your best regardless of the setting. On the other hand, working smart translates to knowing what works best for you, particularly in achieving your goals. Applying this approach to academics, Iffah had recognised early on that the most effective method for her is through teamwork. During the days of physical classes, Iffah and her friends would gather at the faculty’s student lounge, dividing and conquering different topics by studying and making notes together.
‘Know that you are not alone, and do not be discouraged from reaching out for help. Most importantly, do it as soon as possible, because once you drown, it is hard to resurface.’
Iffah could not stress this enough as most people would avoid reaching out in fear of burdening others. Such thoughts must take a back seat, and just remember to do the same when you are presented with the chance to return the favour.
All in all, she reminded that, ‘You should not bite more than you can chew, because as impressive as juggling multiple commitments at once sounds, excessive roles may destroy you. You know yourself better!’
What was your internship experience with Petroleum Nasional Berhad (‘PETRONAS’) like?
‘It was a privilege to be under the tutelage of such an experienced and seasoned supervisor who inspired me greatly. She was also generous in providing me ample opportunities to learn, while dropping valuable nuggets of wisdom throughout the process.’
She recalled her internship days earnestly, mainly due to the inclusivity practiced by the Technology, Data, and Commercialisation Unit that she interned in. She was part of the team administering intellectual property law matters and overseeing the legal processes of technology commercialisation. Interestingly, with supervision, Iffah was often given tasks similar to that of a legal counsel in the unit, and she felt honoured to be entrusted with such a hands-on experience. She was also given the opportunity of observing how legal advice is dispensed to clients, and there she witnessed the instance where ideas from the drawing board come to life.
Interning with such a massive corporation like PETRONAS was indeed an eye-opening experience for Iffah. She explained about how the experience exposed her to the idea of ‘client management’. As lawyers, clear and delicate communication with clients is a must, due to the interests at stake. However, this is an area that law students can mainly pick up through internship opportunities.
Considering everything, she expressed her gratitude to PETRONAS for the opportunity and the skills she acquired.
For students interested in following a similar path, Iffah suggests inquiring and applying through the faculty. Since the number of internship spots offered by PETRONAS are very limited, keen students must stay alert and apply immediately once the application period commences. Having an illustrious curriculum vitae (‘CV’) would also go a long way in leaving a great impression. Most importantly, be yourself and let your personality shine through!
On that note, Iffah also suggests to register for the Clinical Legal Education elective or join the Legal Aid Clinic when the opportunity arises, as it will provide the necessary career exposure and enhance one’s client management skills, among others.
Despite being the only intern under the Technology, Data, and Commercialisation unit, the wisdom Iffah earned throughout her internship with PETRONAS was invaluable
Recently, you have made quite a splash in the pool of mooting competitions. What is the story behind that?
‘Truthfully, I do not think I will ever be good enough as a mooter, because for me, there will always be room for improvement. Always open your mind and heart to learn from your coaches and teammates. All of my success are attributed to them and I was lucky to be able to work with such wonderful people.’
Iffah’s first encounter with mooting was through Route to Moot (‘R2M’), which left her in awe of the faculty’s finest mooters and their plethora of achievements. Brimming with inspiration, she immediately auditioned for the Novice Arbitration Mooting Competition (‘NAMCO’), but alas, her hopes were dashed when she was not selected to represent the faculty. The fallout led her to other opportunities — making it a blessing in disguise, to say the least.
As time progressed, Iffah came across mooting yet again, but this time it took the form of a compulsory course in her second year. She dubbed it as a joyful experience, crediting it to her amazing partner in court, Fatin Nazihah. They received ‘A’ grades together, which bloomed her interest in mooting. However, due to her commitments with UMLS, she stashed her aspirations aside.
Upon completing her presidency, Iffah decided to audition for the 16th LAWASIA International Moot Competition 2021 (‘LAWASIA’). Even then, cloudy doubts lingered on her mind as she contemplated her ability as a mooter. It mainly materialised in the form of constant worries, as she feared that she would never fill in the shoes of past mooters. However, she was grateful to have her best friend Zhee Qi, who nudged her to take the first step. Entering with zero expectations to win, Iffah was genuinely surprised and thankful for the outcome — finishing as the 1st Runner Up for the International Rounds, standing strong as the Champion for the National Rounds, and receiving the Mah Weng Kwai Challenge Trophy Award for Best Mooter!
Iffah’s LAWASIA Moot victory was a life-changing moment, thanks to her supportive teammates, Mr Syafiq Tazri and Ms Jowyn Saw
Ever humble, Iffah mentioned that she owed it all to her coach, Mr Raphael Kok, alongside Ms Lee Suan Cui, Ms Esther Hong, and her astounding teammates for the intensive training sessions they supported each other through. She also admitted that her Best Mooter feat was beyond her wildest dreams, and how surreal it was to hear her name announced.
Following her success in LAWASIA, Iffah contemplated her next step in her mooting journey. Seeking advice from her circle, most of them advised her to aim for the highest peak, namely, the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition (‘Jessup’). Heeding their words, she rose to the challenge. Just like that, another remarkable feat was added to her name, as her team had won the Malaysian National Rounds for Jessup 2022! As they head onto the Global Rounds happening through March and April, we wish Iffah and her team the best of luck.
Iffah alongside her all-star team for the 2022 Jessup Moot — Mr Ignatius Joel, Ms Carmel Grace, Mr Akhmal Amaluddin, and Mr Nevyn Vinosh
Underneath it all, she shared that those aiming to join mooting should be willing to undergo the rough patches too. To name a few, mooting will test one’s ability to balance academics and moot preparation, as the preparation may span across months. It was indeed a heavy burden to carry, but Iffah successfully conquered them, as reflected by her Dean’s List Award in the recent semester.
As someone who only began competitively mooting late into her third year, Iffah’s triumph over this steep learning curve is nothing short of outstanding. For those who fret that is too late to embark on such an adventurous journey, there is only one vital piece of advice that Iffah would pass on — to take the first step to try out for auditions; ‘If you don’t try, you will never know your own capabilities. Life works in mysterious ways.’
Before mooting, another exceptional aspect of her oratory journey was her experience as a moderator. To mention a few, she moderated for the faculty’s Debat Calon Pilihan Raya Kampus Universiti Malaya 2021, the Malaysian Youth @ Safer Internet Day Forum 2020, and the COVID-19 Fight: The Economic, Political & Legal Standpoint of the Movement Control Order (‘MCO’) Webinar 2020.
‘It is vital to keep the conversation alive and coherent as a moderator. As a law student, I have adopted the ability to pinpoint pertinent concerns to be discussed in the forum.’
Her colourful years in the public speaking arena have accustomed Iffah with the task of handling the microphone in front of a crowd. Her days as an emcee also contributed significantly to building her confidence — which afforded room for her spontaneity during events. Despite the waves of nervousness that crash every now and then, Iffah feels that being well-prepared ensures a smooth-sailing discourse.
Her years of oratory experience played a significant role in shaping her proficiency for moderating
Looking back, what drew you to give back through community-building programmes, and what causes do you think should be paid more attention to?
‘To be honest, I think my contributions are relatively minute. But even then, I try to give back as much as I can. When contributing to the community, try not to be intimidated by others. There are various avenues to contribute, and none is better than the other.’
Iffah’s sense of purpose essentially catalysed her constant involvement in community-building programmes. She developed the philosophy of ‘if you can help, you definitely should.’ She hopes that her participation can benefit others, and that it will eventually blossom into a wholesome butterfly effect. Regardless of how big or small, it boils down to lending a helping hand — primarily during these trying times. Gazing into the future, Iffah has set her heart out on increasing legal literacy among laypeople, among others. Additionally, despite tackling mental awareness and women empowerment during her tenure in UMLS, she wishes to proliferate her efforts in spotlighting the same since such causes are close to her heart and remain significant in fostering a better environment for the future.
Where do you see yourself in the days leading up to your graduation and near future?
‘Let us see where life takes me! I am excited to further learn and grow.’
After her pleasant internship experience, her interest in intellectual property law and corporate commercial law remains at the forefront. Nevertheless, she remains open to other possibilities that knocks on her door. As for her remaining days as a law student, Iffah hopes to finish her last semester with a bang and to start preparing for the legal industry.
Are there any pearls of wisdom that you would like to share?
‘I would like to emphasise that your journey will not always be bright and sunny, nor will it always be adorned by the glitz and glams of achievements. There will be really dark days at times.’
Iffah made it a point to recognise the vicissitudes of life. There will definitely be times when one starts to question their own worth or feel like giving up. Some roads will be filled with stress and waves of overwhelming emotions. Speaking from experience, the online academic setting had left herself questioning her motivation to move forward. As a people-oriented person, human interactions, especially with her friends, are one of the things that make her day. However, COVID-19 had placed an enormous brick wall, limiting social interactions.
In acknowledging the fact that we are all humans with emotions, it should also come naturally that effective ways of stress management are vital. For Iffah, she turns to her friends or seeks solace in arts and writing. She prompts everyone to identify their very own healthy outlet.
Ultimately, Iffah accented that she owes her success to her family, especially her parents who sacrificed so much for her. She dedicates the same to her strongest support system since day one in the faculty — Zhee Qi, Sofi, and Mun. She would also like to give a special shout out to her friends who have helped her throughout this journey.
The remarkable people who complete Iffah’s support system — Mr Ivan Lai, Mr Ahmad Muntazar, Ms Toh Zhee Qi, Ms Ain Sofiya, and Mr Abdul Karim.
Iffah also expressed a special thank you to her educators, from her lecturers to her instructors, teachers, and moot coaches, who shined light when she was lost in the dark. She is also grateful for her seniors, batchmates, colleagues, and her moot teammates, who she learned a lot from.
To every person she had crossed paths with, Iffah hopes that she has left a positive impression, for she has definitely picked something up from each encounter. She believes that the person she is today, stands as an amalgamation of all her interactions, and for that, she will forever be indebted. Finally, she notes that her journey in law school is ending, but she is looking forward to the future and is thrilled to face it head on!
Written by Siti Nur Radhwa.
Reviewed by Sirhan Sidqi, Ashley Khor, and Ee Jie.