Lim Ru Yee, better known as Serina, is currently in her final year at the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya (‘UM’). She grew up in Sungai Petani, a lively yet serene city up north of Peninsular Malaysia. Perhaps her time there has somewhat led to her adoption of the same qualities; albeit introverted by nature, she maintains a prominent presence within the University.
As the current President of the University of Malaya Campus Election Committee (‘UMCEC’) 2020/2021, Serina proved to be a trailblazer in her own right. She steered the committee to orchestrate the first-ever online election in UM’s long history — in a pandemic, no less — a task which they have triumphantly accomplished. She has also contributed to the Faculty’s ethos of mooting, representing UM in various eminent moot competitions. Some of her most notable achievements include bagging the First Runner-up for the Best Memorial Award in Asia Cup 2021, ranking at the Top 60th percentile for the Global Rounds in the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot 2021, and being a Semi-finalist for the International Rounds of LAWASIA International Moot Competition 2020. Beyond all that, she has also partaken in community development projects. Serina has worked with Baitul Bahiyah 2020/2021 to aid Rohingya refugees around Kuala Lumpur and was alongside Jom Tanam Pokok 2019/2020, a campaign aiming to raise environmental awareness.
With her outstanding portfolio, it is safe to say that Serina has employed her law school days to the fullest extent. Despite the stature that came with that, Serina did not hold back in this interview — sharing the peaks and valleys of the path she took.
How did you decide to read law; was it predisposed by the things you have faced in the past?
‘I have always wanted to speak up against injustices, but I was afraid to do so back then. That fear exists due to my lack of merit because people tend to disregard others who might not be as well-versed.’
From a very young age, Serina has always been the straightforward one. She found no upsides to sugar-coating if it simply works to diminish the concern at hand. Nevertheless, this approach has its disadvantages, painting her as a defiant character. In consequence, Serina learnt to bite her tongue in certain situations. This certainly does not mean that she grew oblivious to her surroundings, for it merely meant that she learnt how to pick her battles.
Back in the day, a staff member in her school often employed corporal punishments to enforce discipline amongst students. One burning question that kept popping up in her mind was ‘whether schools are allowed to employ such measures on their students.’ Her wariness to speak up, coupled with the fact that her peers saw no wrong in the staff member’s approach, led Serina to let the matter slide eventually.
One eventful day, her school organised an education fair, which gathered spokespeople from several esteemed institutions. With the various options presented before her, she was like a kid in a candy store. However, of all the booths, the one that she gravitated to was the UM Faculty of Law booth. She recalled the compelling pitch made by the Faculty’s representative that sparked interest in a primary school student to study law — supplementing her burning desire to fight for what is right.
Serina admitted that at first, she had doubts about her decision. The second-guessing stemmed from her insecurities of not amounting to some of her more outspoken peers. In turn, this made her contemplate whether she had blundered in deciding to enter law school.
It was not until Route to Moot that she reconnected with the little girl that appeared eager to get into law school. The annual event reminded her of her intention to give a voice to her moral compass and speak up against the injustices around her. From that moment on, she grasped onto that sense of clarity whenever that self-doubt creeps in.
Serina had her roots in performing arts before branching out into law
What drew your attention to mooting, and how did it propel you through law school?
‘It all started with Route to Moot. Prior to that, I was hounded by intrusive thoughts, but the encouragement that I received from the senior mooters drove me to do better.’
In 2019, Serina participated in her first moot competition — Novice Arbitration Mooting Competition (‘NAMCO’). She learnt a lot from that experience, yet her team fell short when pitted against another team from UM in the Quarterfinals. Although her team saw an end to their NAMCO journey, it was a bittersweet moment as the opposing team went on to win the competition. Nonetheless, her personal achievement as the Fourth Best Oralist further consolidated her interest in mooting, as it acted as a prelude for the invigorating path ahead.
Of all the skills that she picked up, Serina emphasised that having courage is key. The ‘key’ does not refer merely to a figure of speech but rather quite literal. Without it, the months of preparation might not be able to materialise the envisioned potential. It is also well-known that the mind plays tricks when one is under the spotlight. As such, when facing these heart-in-the-mouth situations, take some time to soak it all in and be reminded that the submission must go on, one way or the other. Surely, it would be better to submit with tenacity rather than with uncertainty and hesitation. Echoing the sentiments of her mooting coach, no one has put it in better words than Yoda himself, ‘Do or do not. There is no try.’ Despite the hiccups, Serina was glad that she indulged in mooting, for it was integral to her growth as a law student.
It goes without saying that mooting comes with a strenuous amount of work — researching, drafting, reviewing, practising, and finally, competing. Such is the rationale for the requirement for mooters to have the ability to manage said workload, apart from their existing commitments. Serina pointed out that her time management has immensely aided her in the process.
On top of that, the in-depth understanding of the subject matter expected of mooters has pushed her to hone her research skills. Despite the stereotype that researching and drafting are second nature to law students, it is worth bearing in mind that mooting requires reading beyond the law school syllabus. Taking complicated subject matters into one’s own hands would be taxing on anyone, including Serina. She confessed that it took her some time to learn the ropes, but it was certainly a blessing in disguise. The skill set is transferable to any setting and field — from law school assignments, preparing paperwork for court hearings, to even writing proposals for organisations. As such, it is an opportunity that law students should not let pass by!
For those unfamiliar with the mooting scene, Serina explained that there are two types of moot competitions — arbitration and court settings. The former requires a certain level of business-mindedness, as they often involve disputes between companies. In these competitions, policy-centred arguments are highly valued as they tackle the root of businesses, such as maximising profits. For the latter, legal jargon and formal salutations are used aplenty since they replicate real-life courts. There is also a stronger reliance on written law and precedents.
Little did Serina know, her impressive feat in NAMCO 2019 would be an overture to her splendid mooting career
How did you manage your way through mooting, and what were the takeaways from the obstacles you faced?
‘I noticed that many people want to be different and shine in their own ways, and I have seen how important interpersonal skills are — that is when I decided to break out of my shell.’
Given her incredible mooting career, it is not unusual to have rough patches gone unnoticed. Serina revealed that her diffidence got the best of her at times, but she managed to pull through because comparisons only drove her to do better. She reminded everyone not to compare things blindly and instead focus on things that are within their control. Understandably, this is accrued over time, as hindsight does not come easily. Instead of beating herself down, she attempts to work on her shortcomings.
Adapting to the copious amount of workload was no walk in the park either. Regardless, Serina refuses to let these adversities stand in her way — holding firm to the optimism that there are greater heights to climb. Whenever faced with mental blocks, she would request time extensions, apart from seeking help. Fortunately, these have helped her along the way.
As a gentle reminder, Serina believes that people should be more forgiving towards themselves, and acknowledging their limitations is a good start. She also hopes that more people would form good relations with one another because as far as healthy competitions can go, we are all here to learn. In moot competitions, every team member must play their part as the only way to move forward is to move together as one.
Serina and her supportive teammates for Asia Cup 2021
It is admirable that you have chosen to utilise your skills by helping the next generation of law students in UM. How was your experience as a Student Mentor for both Route to Moot and Lex Imprimis?
‘I am sure there are some first-years who are like me. I had many questions, but I am not the type to ask.’
A parallel that she noticed between the two organisations is that both are profusely intertwined with academics. In Lex Imprimis, she was asked to share her tips for academic research and using Microsoft Word but unfortunately, she could not make it for the scheduled slot. As for Route to Moot, she talked about the formalities, approaches for moot problems, and memorial writing styles. Avowedly, her experience with moots has equipped her with the knowledge to be passed on.
With that said, talking before a crowd is a whole other ballgame. Serina shared that her bashfulness posed some challenges within that aspect, but eventually, her altruism took over. She stresses that the art of giving back is vital, and even likens the individuals within law school to a big family. ‘If you ask for it, everyone would be more than happy to help you out. Since I learnt from my seniors, I feel that it is only right that I pay it forward.’
In the grand scheme of things, her role as a student mentor was the polar opposite of her time as a participant. From there, Serina had to tailor the programmes accordingly to best suit the eager first-year students.
For instance, Lex Imprimis has mentor groups that would discuss selected topics amongst themselves, to ensure that they have an in-depth understanding of said materials before approaching the mentees. In her opinion, more organisations should employ such mechanisms to avoid overwhelming their stakeholders because the goal is ‘to inform them what they need to know, instead of everything there is to know.’ On the other hand, Route to Moot’s laid-back setting allowed her to hold engaging conversations with the first-years. Ultimately, her preparations afforded her more room to manoeuvre the sessions accordingly.
Serina was also a Pemudahcara Mahasiswa (‘PM’) for Tuanku Bahiyah Residential College, where she met her amazing juniors
COVID-19 has abruptly changed the campus election scene, compelling universities to swiftly switch to digital means. How did you and your fellow committee members adapt to this radical change?
‘Our suggestion to have an online election seemed unfeasible to many, but after some hard-line persuasion, we finally obtained the green light from the university administration.’
First off, Serina would like to express her gratitude to her UMCEC team members who have stood by her side throughout the tedious process. Initially, some believed that the university election should not be held during the pandemic — delaying the elections to an undisclosed date. Naturally, it did not sit well with the masses, for it was as though the students’ rights to a free and clean election were snatched away. Owing to that, Serina and her team were all for the online voting system. They maintained the student’s voices as the paramount consideration before making any decision, in alignment with the principle of democracy. Luckily, with the support of the University of Malaya Students’ Union (‘UMSU’), they were authorised to proceed with this year’s campus election. The Centre for Information Technology (‘PTM’) also played a huge role in mitigating virtual risks, such as electoral fraud and system errors.
Looking back, it was an arduous task to execute, especially with the pressure of catering to a wide range of stakeholders and time sensitivity. Despite the race against time, the team managed to go above and beyond — resulting in the highest turnout rate ever recorded, at 53.57 per cent. Needless to say, this is a huge milestone for Serina and her team. In their fight to uphold integrity and transparency to the highest standard possible, everything else was simply the icing on the cake.
Serina and her UMCEC team worked relentlessly to ensure that the virtual election was a success
How would you describe your experience as a female leader? Additionally, how did you manage expectations, handle criticisms, and use your time there to facilitate your growth?
‘Expectations should be put based on merits, not on gender.’
Even in this day and age, gender discrimination remains prevalent. Throughout time, it has perpetuated a toxic working environment for women across the board. Serina recalled many who still set lower expectations for women. Although some might feel as though women are granted free passes, this practice feeds into the harmful notion that women are less capable than their male counterparts — one that could not be further from the truth.
The only way to unlearn these stereotypes is to face the naysayers objectively. By focusing on the constructive portion, the criticism received may also serve as a double-edged sword. Not every comment is meant to discourage the recipient as they may originate from a sincere place, despite the sting they leave. By being mindful of the feedback received, one would have the chance to improve themselves without being too troubled by the harsher remarks. Besides, continuous exposure to negativity would only take a toll on one’s mental health.
Serina’s pragmatic attitude has allowed her to truly comprehend the issues at hand before resolving them
How can one be a better leader?
‘As a leader, you are largely responsible for the rise and fall of the organisation.’
Serina believes that the question of successfully leading a tenure can be answered threefold. Firstly, learn to listen and accept the view of others. This is a crucial attribute because it inculcates a profound level of understanding between members of the organisation. Hearing a team member out would mitigate the room for errors, and improving on the concerns raised would also enable a more holistic body of work.
Secondly, leaders must strive to create a democratic workplace. Being a leader is different from being someone’s boss, as the title and responsibility alike call for a more collaborative spirit. Whenever a team member displays outstanding performance, give them the time and space to shine. Serina also finds that sometimes, all they need is someone to fall back on. With the necessary support, people tend to show up better and might even surprise you in the best of ways.
Lastly, afford some time for risk management. In UMCEC, there was a lot of risk management involved since there were information leaks. By considering a backup plan or two, there can be a more seamless transition in the occurrence of unforeseeable mishaps. Serina explained that the process of managing risks continues for the whole journey. In the pre-event stage, the organisers should consider ways to minimise risks. They should be on the lookout for arising abnormalities during the event. After the event, the team should revisit and dissect the entire event for better management in the future.
Undeniably, individual leadership styles might vary from one another, but a rule of thumb is to ensure that the interests of the organisation and team members are well-met.
What is your outlook on female representation in UM’s leadership roles? On top of that, how can we cultivate an environment that encourages more female involvement in leadership?
‘We definitely lack female representation in UM.’
From Serina’s observation, it is disheartening that women are often given smaller positions in university-level organisations. Within the scope of UMSU, for instance, despite the female representatives within the board, they would rarely be at the forefront. This occurrence is partially due to the first-past-the-post voting system. Albeit representatives with the highest number of votes represent their respective Faculties and Academies, the internal ranking is decided exclusively between the elected representatives.
Moving forward, Serina hopes that female representatives will be awarded positions that reflect the support they gained. The diversity of electees amongst the higher-ups would only add to the value of an organisation by supplementing the diversity of perspectives and amplifying females’ voices to be on par with that of males.
Serina is also optimistic to see more female participation in leadership. It is vital to step beyond one’s comfort zones as adaptability is another skill that should be possessed — particularly in today’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (‘VUCA’) world.
‘You are your own limitation. If you set aside that mindset, you are good to go!’
Serina with her team and the university administrators during the announcement of the live results for the UM Campus Election
Why should more people join community-based activities?
‘Once you learn something, you should not keep it to yourself. Try to teach others what you can.’
By helping others, one may be reminded to be more grateful for what they have. Beyond that, one would also forge a better understanding of their community. One of the projects that left a lasting impression on Serina was Baitul Bahiyah, whereby she worked hand in hand with the Rohingya refugee community around Kuala Lumpur. Though often misunderstood as shiftless people, they are highly resilient and inquisitive. From that experience, she grew more mindful of the simple things in life, like a roof over her head and food on the table. The realisation that some people might not be as lucky has encouraged her to be a better version of herself.
Your presence in UM is wide-ranging, encompassing involvements at the Faculty, residential college, and university levels. How different is one from the other?
‘Residential college and university projects have introduced me to people from various strata of society, whereas Faculty involvements aided my networking with members of the legal fraternity.’
The inner workings of the three levels are very much alike, all revolving around dealings with their respective administrations. The difference, however, lies in the participants. Students from various faculties participate in residential college and university level projects — familiarising Serina with the UM community in a holistic manner. These projects have also exposed her to university administrative matters and methods to utilising their systems, procuring items, and raising funds. Such is the case for Faculty clubs, only that it involves a less diverse pool of students in academic settings.
Serina also brought up the ability to converse in multiple languages as a plus point. Every so often, language remains the impediment to smooth communication between people. This hitch is also undeniably accentuated by the plurality of UM’s community. As many still grapple with the language, she shared that English might not be the best medium for daily interactions. Hence, the ability to switch to Bahasa Malaysia or any alternative language would be much more accommodating to everyone involved. Again, there is no hard-and-fast rule for this — as long as the message gets across, that is good enough.
Having said that, Serina highly encourages everyone to join different types of activities to reap the most out of their time at the University.
Through her far-reaching involvements, Serina has made friends with exceptional people from all walks of life
At what point did you unearth your interest in arbitration?
‘I had quite an early exposure, and it started from there.’
Serina caught a glimpse of the field during her time as a Shipping and Freight Officer for Ezcom Electronics Sdn Bhd. As a pre-university student back then, she did not have a clear picture of arbitration. Even so, she noticed a pattern from the company’s international clients, who attempt to avoid litigation at all costs. Some would even explicitly state that arbitration would be the sole medium for dispute settlement in their contracts. With her interest piqued, she looked in arbitration. However, it was not until NAMCO that her curiosity became fully-fledged. The arbitration setting of the competition enabled her application of theoretical knowledge to work, and it has then broadened her horizons.
Currently, Serina is a student member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (‘CIArb’). To help others interested in arbitration, Serina shared some pointers that she has picked up. Besides research and oratory skills, the ability to condense complex concepts and ideas are equally fundamental. In a more practical context, such mastery would ease discussions between the various stakeholders, especially when bureaucratic or multinational organisations are involved in said discussions. Another key element is to approach the proceedings as a businessperson. Given the corporate principle that time equates with money, time loss would consequently translate to financial loss. In those circumstances, the finality of awards should be obtained as swiftly as possible whilst keeping the losses at a minimum.
Serina is glad to be part of the nurturing community at Ezcom Electronics Sdn Bhd
Have you always expected that you would come this far, or was it a convenient surprise?
‘Life is an endless journey, and you have to learn as you grow.’
In retrospect, Serina dubbed her law school journey as a mixture of both. It is reasonably expected that by working hard, she would eventually earn her spot as an indispensable asset to her teams and organisations. Conversely, she was astounded by the huge responsibilities entrusted to her. With the pairing of these two elements, Serina set off to explore multiple openings.
Serina further admitted that all of this would not be possible without the exceptional people around her for their kind assistance throughout law school. Time spent with the organisations has also done wonders in nourishing both her personal and professional growth. Moreover, she is grateful for her achievements. By acknowledging the upper hand gained from her privileges, it has made her a person of humility.
Serina with the Public Relations Department of iUM Disrupt, an international-level hackathon organised by the Tuanku Bahiyah Residential College
Please share with us on your days as an intern. In addition to that, how has your time at the Faculty helped you throughout the internship process?
‘I would like to venture into corporate-related fields, which is why I tailored my subjects and firm selections to fit that goal.’
It is quite conventional for law students to intern at large-scale firms, but for Serina — she completed her internship at Hoe & Ahmad Zaki, a boutique-sized firm near her beloved Sungai Petani. She had the chance to work with the Banking Litigation Department under the tutelage of a senior female lawyer — a strong female figure that Serina was honoured to learn from. Her day-to-day work includes drafting court documents and advising clients on the latest legal developments. She was proud to say that she was able to execute the tasks given within her own autonomy throughout her internship. Such a work culture guided her to be independent and enabled her to track her progress more transparently. This trust invested in her can perhaps be credited to her competence shaped by the renowned rigour of the UM Faculty of Law.
A recurring challenge that Serina faced involved navigating through an unfamiliar subject. During the earlier days, Serina was in the dark about banking litigation. Without relevant exposure, she was entrusted with reading up meticulously on the related legislations before advising the clients. Notwithstanding that, she was glad that she took Land Law and Islamic Banking Law, as they taught her the accurate terminologies, which is vital during the drafting process. On that note, Serina recommends that law students choose their subjects cautiously as it can influence their legal careers.
Mooting has provided Serina with an avenue to sharpen the skills she learned in law school
Have you ever found yourself in precarious situations? In those situations, how did you get back on your feet?
‘When you start something, do it until the end.’
While holding on to her commitments, Serina shared that one of her biggest struggles was hyperthyroidism. The condition — which causes fidgeting, losing focus, and light-headedness — has constantly forced her to be on medication. To an extent, it has also reduced her attention span, thus obstructing her routines. She admitted that when she was younger, she did not comprehend the weight that came with responsibilities. If her heart was not into it, she has a tendency to leave things unattended. As she grew older, she realised that running away would only make things worse for herself and the people around her. Her late mother’s final wish for Serina to be accountable has also acted as a constant reminder for her to push on, come hell or high water.
Whenever she finds herself in unfavourable situations, Serina would take a breather to take some stress off her mind. She later added that if worse comes to worst, one should learn to let go. While it might sound like the worst-case scenario for some, the mindset is a sunk cost fallacy. There is no point going down the same path with the hopes of arriving at a different destination, so perhaps the better option would be to pursue a different trail. People should also learn when and how to say ‘No.’ Though the word may connote frank dissatisfaction, it is a huge deed for oneself, especially if one already has too much on their plate. Instead of keeping up a charade of productivity, it would be much more effective to make up for it with a well-rested mind.
Lastly, Serina believes that everyone should find tranquillity in the things that they enjoy. Life is worth too much for us to stress about work alone; hence we might as well carve out the time and space to indulge in our own safe spaces. For Serina, that would be watching anime. As her friend Ashwin Kumar has put it, ‘If it would not bother you for the next 10 years, there is no use in worrying too much about it.’ Maybe, we all need an Ashwin in our lives to inject some sense into our lives, especially during troubling times.
Serina’s time with her late mother will be cherished forever
In hindsight, what would you change about your law school experience?
‘I wished I joined more clubs and activities because I could have learnt more things.’
Serina opined that law students should not restrict themselves in terms of their involvement. In the UM Faculty of Law, we are fortunate to have clubs that cater to a wide range of interests. As a matter of fact, the Faculty is also open to ideas for new clubs. That way, everyone would have the opportunity to cover the areas of their liking while improving their soft skills. Setting the guilt aside, she jested that she has roughly a year left to grab such opportunities, so it might not be too late after all.
Serina feels blessed to be surrounded by friends and family members who have provided her with a solid support system
Where do you see yourself in the next phase of your legal career?
‘I am still somewhat tied to my company, but I do have other plans.’
Currently, Serina is working as a Shipping and Freight Officer on a contractual basis. It provides quite the learning curve — permitting her to pick up an array of expertise, including Maritime Law. Besides that, she is keenly anticipating her journey in corporate litigation — perhaps focusing on employment, tax, and maritime matters. Once she has accumulated a few years of working experience, she plans to sit for her professional arbitration papers.
All in all, Serina has made it clear that although her path might seem like a bed of roses, she has had to endure the pain from thorns protruding hither and thither. At this juncture, Serina would like to pay tribute to her father, who has and is still single-handedly working hard to raise his children. She is also indebted to her late mother, whose pearls of wisdom still guide her through life. She then expresses her gratitude to Ivan Lai Jiashen for his nomination and unwavering support through it all. Not to forget, her friends who have always lent their ears to listen to her woes. To tie it all together, Serina would like to express her gratitude to all of her past and current interactions, for they have all taught her a thing or two — whether they know it or not!
Written by Sirhan Sidqi.
Reviewed by Ee Jie, Ashley Khor, and Chelsea Ho Su Ven.