Benjamin Kho Jia Yuan, a final year student at the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya.
Kho Jia Yuan is a final year student at the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya. More fondly known as Benjamin, he hails from Johor Bahru yet is legally a Sarawakian. He is a big fan of Crayon Shin-chan, squash, bread, and lame jokes. The joy he finds in reading, especially the Harry Potter Book Series and Jin Yong’s Novels, is perhaps the only contender for his love for Wantan Noodle. Some recognise him for his intellectual prowess, others for his involvement in a multitude of projects, with a spice of volunteerism and a sprinkle of mooting. Yet, behind his formidable achievements lies a kind, compassionate and dedicated character who constantly strives to gain new experiences.
Surprisingly, Benjamin did not aim for law school from the get-go. He revealed his initial ambition of becoming a teacher after completing secondary school, as he firmly believed that education could make a difference in lives of many students. However, his parents persuaded him to do law, following the footsteps of his uncle and aunt. Marvelled at the pervasiveness of law, he decided to venture into the realms of law, as he explains:
“Law is present in everything we do. Purchasing items from a shop, following speed limit of roads, posting comments on social media, tying the knot, making a will; the law controls all our behaviour like a gapless web and a seamless fabric. Such overwhelming nature of law always blows my mind.”
Benjamin’s passion and diligence in the pursuit of legal knowledge rewarded him with several accolades of academic achievements, including multiple Dean’s List Awards, the Abdul Raman Saad & Associates Book Prize (best student in Cyber Law), and the Syed Kechik Gold Medal (best student in Jurisprudence and Legal Theory).
Benjamin receiving Dean’s List Award from Dato’ Dean Associate Professor Dr Johan Shamsuddin bin Hj Sabaruddin.
When asked about his studying tactics, Benjamin humbly shares that aside from luck, the secret to his success is cultivating effective study habits. He strongly advocates for the use of active studying. He emphasises the need to think about the information received and making it part of our general knowledge, rather than passively taking in information. In this manner, memorisation and application of information become easier.
His golden tip in taking notes is to “listen more and write less”. For instance, he would stop writing the moment the lecturer explains a difficult concept and would listen attentively until the concept is fully grasped, after which he would jot down a few key phrases for future reference. Also, to him, a good night sleep is just as essential as hard work. “Just like a plant, we need to nourish it for it to blossom and bear fruit.”
Despite his academic excellence, Benjamin does not believe grades are everything. He relates:
“At the end of the day, it is not about what academic achievements you have accomplished in law school. Academic achievements do matter, but they do not define you. They show your ability to answer questions and regurgitate information. But they do not show every amazing quality and personality you have. You are not your grades. You are much more than what they make you look like!”
Indubitably, Benjamin’s worth goes beyond his grades. His commitment to faculty, college and university activities are such that one wonders where he even finds the time to study. His feat of securing a placement in the First Residential College for four consecutive years has always amazed many.
Benjamin, with his partner Jia Wei, emceeing the Grand Finale of the 16th National Varsity Chinese Debate Competition 2018.
He has contributed a great deal to the faculty, notably through his legal writing under University of Malaya Law Review (“UMLR”), such as the widely acclaimed “Double Trouble No More: The Striking Down of Double Presumptions for Drug Trafficking by The Federal Court” and “An Assessment of the Peaceful Assembly (Amendment) Bill 2019: Bouquets and Brickbats”.
With five articles published on UMLR’s online segment, Benjamin’s ability to transform complex legal ideas into a layman-friendly piece of work illustrates his aptitude in legal writing. He was particularly moved when a senior lecturer of the faculty, Dr Farah Nini Dusuki, commented: “Keep writing, as not many have the ability, nor the want, to put down legal intricacies into comprehensible sentences.” Knowing that his work aids his fellow peers to better understand the law makes the experience even more fulfilling.
Benjamin was also very involved in the Orientation Program, most notably being the Head of Academic Bureau in the 2018/2019 edition. The spirit of a teacher still is in his blood, for he loves to help juniors making a smooth transition to law school life. A proud moment for Benjamin was rolling out the ILAC Workshop for the Orientation Program. He introduced the workshop to assist the first years, having witnessed that many struggles with problem-based questions in exams. With the workshop, he hopes the first years can master the technique and utilise it as best as they could, to pave way for their future academic pursuits.
Benjamin giving the ILAC workshop during the Lex Ordinem Orientation Week 2019.
Benjamin never spent an idle moment in the faculty. He was a committee member of Asian Law Students’ Association University of Malaya (“ALSA UM”), Tun Suffian International Human Rights Law Moot Court Competition, UM Consti Team, and also a journal editor of UMLR.
Also, he had the privilege of going for two outbound programs under ALSA UM for two consecutive years: one to Southwest University of Political Science and Law of China, and another to National Taiwan University of Taiwan. He expressed that going on these outbound programs was one of the best moments of his life:
“The cultural immersion that occurs through a student exchange program is the perfect environment for special bonds that transcend our differences and make us realise how similar law students around the world truly are, sharing the same ambition and vision to uphold justice!”
Benjamin with his friends from UM (Jonathan, Jia Shen and Sing Zhi) and Taiwanese caretakers, in Tamsui, Taiwan when he was joining an outbound program to Taiwan.
Amid his busy schedule, Benjamin made time to lend a helping hand to others. Spurred by his altruistic personality, he committed himself to various activities envisioned to help communities in need, such as Legal Aid Clinic, Operasi Khidmat Masyarakat ASTAR, ASTAR Caring Team, and University of Malaya International Humanitarian Mission in Cambodia 4.0 2018.
His involvements in volunteerism afforded him the avenue to help the needy, besides serving as a temporary escape to his worries, adding some spice to his otherwise stressful life. He believes that helping, even in the smallest ways can bring change within a society, “It is the society that brings us this far and giving back to the society is just reciprocating all the kindness and assistance we received, and one way to do it is via volunteering.”
Benjamin taking a photo with Uncle Hasan, his foster family while volunteering in Cambodia under University of Malaya International Humanitarian Mission in Cambodia 4.0 2018.
Being a Student Advisor in the Legal Aid Clinic of UM Law Faculty (“KBGUM”), he had the opportunity to engage in pro bono work and solve real-life legal problems. He found the experience in dealing with actual clients extremely rewarding. He highly recommends legal aid to juniors, as seeing how the law affects people will help put black-and-white legal jargons in class into perspective. Seeing clients walk out of the clinic with a wide smile plastered on their faces, expressing gratitude for the work he has done, is arguably the most heart-warming scenes for Benjamin,
“It is their feelings of relief and solace that make me feel that, ultimately, it is not lucrative monies, winning of suits, nor profound power that is my objective of becoming a lawyer, but to resolve the problems of those who are in need of legal assistance, so that they could get a decent night’s sleep when they get home. Law clinic taught me that greatness is not what we have, but what we give.”
Benjamin (centre) with other student advisors of KBGUM and his clinic supervisor Pn Aisyah Soberi in a Clinical Legal Education class.
Looking back, he was surprised at the number of activities he joined, with each one different in its tasks and duties from the other, “Law school is never a bed of roses. I have had times where I felt like I am walking on a tightrope, fine balancing yet with no end in sight.” He recalls the difficult times amidst juggling all these responsibilities, where he felt like he could never catch up to anything, buried under an overwhelming workload yet swamped with due tutorials and assignments. Nevertheless, he managed to power through the hardships.
At his core, Benjamin is an optimist. He strongly believes that every cloud has a silver lining and that if he does his best, he will have a chance at that shot. He realises that being a pessimist will not help him, neither will stressing himself out solve the problem. Instead, he overcomes those moments by being cheerful as he believes happiness is the key to conquer anything. He unwinds stress with little fun things that make him content:
“I watch Crayon Shin-chan and Kangsi Coming. I chit-chat with friends, talking about trivial matters in life. I jog and exercise at night. I read a good novel in bed. These enjoyable activities bring me joy and lift my heart, alleviating my stress.”
Benjamin’s philosophy in life is simple — be happy. This photo was taken when he was in his outbound program to University of Political Science and Law of China.
Besides academics and various projects, Benjamin also took part in mooting. He is set to join the Cyber Law Moot Court Competition in November 2019.
His first stepping-stone was the 2016 Novice Moot Competition during his first year. Unfortunately, his journey was short-lived when his team did not advance further than the preliminary rounds. He later decided to put his mooting career on hold, not because his spirit was marred by the defeat, but because he felt he did not have time to fully commit to its rigorous preparation and practices, as he was busy with many other projects to secure a placement in college. He refused to join more mooting competitions because he knew he could not commit whole-heartedly, and he would never join anything if he could not dedicate himself to it. He was determined to stand by that rule.
But he did not truly give up. His longing still lingered as he says:
“My desire to join mooting never quenched. It is still burning in my heart. Numerous opportunities for mooting competitions I have let go, and now finally I am in my final episode in law school. Now I no longer have to fight for hostel placement. Finally free like a bird, I mustered all my courage and signed up for the audition for Cyber Law Moot Court Competition.”
The moment he found out that he was selected for the team, he was thrilled! His ambition of joining another moot competition finally came true and he is adamant on putting his best foot forward in the name of the faculty.
When asked about his plans, he states that he is open to all opportunities that come his way and is prepared to try any role, be it a practising lawyer, judicial officer, deputy public prosecutor or lecturer. He anticipates the forthcoming challenges in the next chapter of his life and is very much looking forward to it.
Benjamin believes that one can do a lot of wonders in law school and should make the best of it.
When asked on a message to his past self, and by extension his juniors, it was that law school will certainly take up valuable years, thus one should make the most of them. However, one should be cautious to not have too much on his or her plate and always prepare for some time off. In his wise words:
“There is no single ‘law degree experience’; know and choose what you really want and go all out for that! Believe me, you can do a lot of wonders here, in this law school, in this realm of excellence!”
Written by Azra Athirah. Edited by Karim Ariez, Peh Qi Hui and Tan Jia Shen.