Samuel Leong is an alumnus of the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya (‘UM’) who graduated in 2009. Back in the day, he was instantly recognisable for being ‘that 6’4 chap with a ponytail and orange Crocs from the Faculty of Law’. Throughout his varsity years, Samuel managed to gain the full campus experience, acquiring a string of achievements along the way. Within the Faculty, he has cemented his reputation as an eloquent mooter, representing the Faculty in the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition (‘Jessup Moot’) for three successive years and being a member of the team representing Southeast Asia in the 2007 Commonwealth Moot Competition. Beyond the Faculty’s red brick walls, Samuel was a member of the UM Christian Fellowship and a student representative in the Student Representative Council of the University of Malaya (‘MPMUM’), which is presently known as the University of Malaya Students’ Union (‘UMSU’). He is currently based in Singapore as an Associate at Norton Rose Fulbright, one of the largest international law firms in the world.
Samuel spent most of his earlier years in SS 2, Petaling Jaya. Being the second child out of the three boys in his family, he noticed that the ‘middle child tendency’ has stuck with him. He would always try to go against the flow and stand out from the crowd. This became more apparent when he broke the mould with his siblings. Growing up with two brothers who excelled in Mathematics and Science and later became engineers, Samuel felt the urge to distinguish himself. From an early age, Samuel had a knack for words. Thus, he decided to enhance his God-given talent by taking part in writing, public speaking and singing. Most of these skills were honed during his time at the church, where he enthusiastically participated in the church choir and drama teams. Samuel later identified these experiences as early exposure to the ‘performance’ aspect of the legal profession.
Samuel displaying his acting chops during a theatre performance for church
Samuel was an active student at the Faculty of Law. He had made a name for himself through various means, such as participating in the Mock Trial and Orientation Week Programme. However, his most significant contribution to the realm of excellence was his mooting tributes. Before enrolling in UM, Samuel had a hand in debates during his high school and pre-university years. His initial attempt at mooting was not an impetuous one. In fact, unlike most other first-year students, Samuel had already heard of the intellectual sport prior to joining the Faculty. One factor that drew Samuel to mooting was its close similarity with debating — conducting research, working on delivery and presenting before adjudicators were integral facets of both ventures. Mooting also appealed at the time because it offered rare opportunities to travel abroad to represent the Faculty.
Samuel recalled that the mooting culture was not as ubiquitous as it is today. Back then, the Faculty sent representatives to very few competitions, such as the Jessup Moot and the International Humanitarian Law Moot. Accordingly, Samuel had to compete fervently to gain a seat at the table. His mooting journey began as early as his first year when he auditioned for the Jessup Moot. Initially, Samuel’s success in mooting was unanticipated because it did not start off on the right foot. He shared that during an audition, he had misinterpreted a moot question involving the conclusion of a contract. In legal terms, ‘concluding a contract’ refers to a stage when the parties have reached a consensus, thus finalising the terms of the contract. However, his misunderstanding of the concept resulted in his submission taking the wrong approach. Despite the rookie mistake, the audition panel that included Datin Grace Xavier was nonetheless impressed by Samuel’s wit; thus, he was selected to be the reserve for the Jessup Team in his first year. Ultimately, he went on to represent the Faculty in the Jessup Moot for the next three years in a row. He is grateful to Datin Mary George, who coached the team at the time, for having repeatedly putting her trust in him.
His hard work and sheer dedication inevitably made mooting a part of his identity in law school. Some notable achievements under his belt include being crowned the Best Oralist twice for the Jessup Moot National Rounds and reaching the Jessup Global Rounds 2009 in Washington DC where he was ranked 45th in the general oralist rankings.
In reminiscence of his old mooting days, Samuel described mooting as a strenuous yet significant part of his law school experience. Mooting requires substantial commitment, for example allocating long hours for preparation, attending classes for subjects beyond the syllabus and having intensive training sessions. As daunting as it sounds, Samuel highly encourages law students to try their hand at mooting because the skills picked up in the process would go a long way. He admitted that his acquired proficiency in conducting legal research, preparing cases, drafting written submissions and interacting with judges have tremendously helped him navigate through his career. He developed the ability to understand various laws quickly and to be more critical in crafting and scrutinising legal arguments.
‘Mooting serves as good training for advocates as it requires you to have a 360° understanding of your case. There are not many experiences in law school like it. Then comes the advocacy aspect; if you know your case and have fireproofed it, you will gain the confidence to defend or assert it. Overall, mooting provides a hands-on experiential lesson about the value of being prepared, knowing your materials and having confidence.’
For those who seek to refine their oral delivery, Samuel recommends watching television shows. He believes that this ordinary effort would facilitate picking up and emulating the characters’ accents, nuances and structures, thus improving oral advocacy by sounding more natural and persuasive. His personal favourite in law school was the hit legal-oriented television series, ‘Boston Legal’.
A common misconception among law students is that mooting will only be helpful to those who plan to be barristers. Samuel concedes that although the statement is true to an extent, he believes mooting should not be limited as so. The practised skills that come with mooting apply to all branches of the legal profession. This includes in-house legal counsels and legal advisors, as these roles also require skills in drafting legal documents, breaking down legal jargons for their clients and convincing their clients about the correct legal position. Even if one does not plan to work within the legal fraternity, it is worth noting that such transferable skills would significantly boost one’s marketability in the labour market.
Samuel with his teammates and Datin Professor Dr Mary George in front of the United Nations Headquarters in New York during the Jessup Global Rounds 2009
Apart from his extensive mooting accolades, Samuel also took part in campus politics. In his third year, he ran as an independent candidate in student elections, wherein he was successfully elected as one of the two Faculty of Law representatives to the MPMUM. Despite not being part of the winning faction (Aspirasi), he was entrusted with the Deputy Secretary post for the International Relations Committee.
His involvement in student politics led him to discover the exciting process of election campaigns whereby candidates sought to engage with their constituents. To do well, candidates must display commendable interpersonal skills during their brief campaign speeches and debates. Participating in campus politics taught Samuel the art of persuasion and a different kind of advocacy — one that is more convivial. In spite of the hurdles, the experience left a lasting impression on him. Campus politics notably trained him in delivering effective elevator pitches, and being able to convince someone in a concise yet cogent manner is a valuable skill indeed. Not only does it consolidate one’s competence, but it also aids one in completing work in a shorter amount of time. Understanding that time is a finite luxury, this ability can be favourably utilised in any setting requiring advocacy, even more so in a fast-paced working environment. Some of Samuel’s achievements in MPMUM include being part of the UM delegation to Universitas Al-Azhar, Medan and closing a deal with The Sun for the daily supply of newspapers for the Law Faculty.
‘All these opportunities came about because I was a UM law student at the time. Perhaps it is difficult for students to wrap their heads around these daunting commitments amidst learning topics like the elements of a Quistclose trust, but there really is something special about being a student at the best law school and the best university in the country.’
Standing out amongst the crowd is Samuel during his graduation day in UM
After receiving his Bachelor of Laws (‘LLB’), he commenced his pupillage at Raja Eleena Siew Ang & Associates (‘RESAA’), one of Malaysia’s established law firms. The firm was chosen as per the guidance from his mentor, Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Dr Visu Sinnadurai who suggested that Samuel experience working at a medium-sized firm. Samuel described his time in RESAA as immensely insightful. Since he was the only pupil there at that time, he was given the opportunity to assist his pupil master in various areas of the law, such as legal research and drafting in civil litigation, administrative law, insolvency and real property transactions.
To budding lawyers, there is no one-size-fits-all rule to choose a firm for pupillage. Samuel’s suggestion is to join a place that would best serve the purpose that one seeks. For instance, some people choose firms based on their sizes. The unique selling point of larger firms is that they could offer pupils more resources. They are generally more well-funded and capable of channelling more investments in the latest electronic databases, research tools and training. They would also have a larger clientele which would expose the pupils to more diverse and challenging learning opportunities. On the flip side, although smaller and medium firms may not necessarily have as large library and training budgets, their smaller operations provide a more personalised learning environment. Pupils would not have to encounter as many bureaucratic procedures compared to large-scale firms. The smaller departments would allow the pupils to interact more with their pupil masters and have a go at different job scopes within the firm.
Another factor to consider is the teaching method at the firms themselves. Some firms opt for a more focused approach by assigning pupils to pupil masters. So, throughout the nine months, the pupil will only assist and serve the pupil master in his or her related fields. However, other firms employ the work pool model, where work is distributed among the pupils, irrespective of which team or area of law the work relates to. If one prefers learning in a more structured approach, the former might benefit them better. In contrast, if one is up for the challenge and has enough self-reliance, there is no harm in trying out firms with the latter setting. Looking for firms that are likely to retain their pupils is also one of the strategies to consider because it would give law graduates a rough overview of the firm’s inner workings. The pupillage period is a vital part of the pupil’s learning process in the legal fraternity. Thus, law graduates might as well shape their journey according to what suits them best. Indubitably, Samuel’s broad insights on this matter would greatly benefit the students who will be or are currently seeking pupillage opportunities.
After his pupillage, Samuel furthered his legal journey in becoming a lawyer by pursuing his Master of Laws (‘LLM’) at Columbia Law School (‘CLS’). Samuel’s motivation to further his studies stemmed from his desire to acquire more knowledge and gain recognition from a more internationally-renowned institution. It was also part of his journey to self-discovery because he had always wondered whether having a master’s degree would alter his career path. Normally, students right out of law school would not be accepted, as the LLM programme in CLS is generally catered towards candidates with some work experience. His prowess in mooting elevated his candidacy and even assisted him in receiving the Fulbright Scholarship when then helped him gain a spot at CLS. At CLS, Samuel was named a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar, an award given in recognition for the superior academic achievement of law students.
Samuel with his father and late mother during his graduation ceremony in Columbia Law School
Speaking about his academic excellence at CLS, Samuel personally felt that his postgraduate studies were enhanced by the solid foundation he laid in UM. For instance, his exposure to Public International Law during his LLB course and participation in Jessup Moot gave him an advantage over his peers. The biggest takeaway from his time in CLS is the validation that UM, a local public university, could produce graduates who are equally competitive as their global counterparts. Indeed, UM is a terrific institution to complete one’s LLB, due to the rigorous legal education and training provided. The Faculty is indeed blessed to be graced with an esteemed staff of lecturers who are experts within their respective fields. He could not stress enough the prominent role UM has played in his journey.
‘The lawyer you will be is determined by your four years in UM. UM was formative, while Columbia was more about the exposure. I have a lot to thank UM for making me the lawyer I am today.’
After tracing his career trajectory, he realised that going for the LLM at CLS was pivotal. It allowed him to launch a career overseas in Singapore, starting with the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (‘SIAC’) and later Norton Rose Fulbright. For most, going through just one law school experience is arduous enough. However, Samuel did an excellent job at both, impressing both his mentors and colleagues who worked with him.
Other than working at law firms, Samuel also had the opportunity to work at the United Nations (‘UN’) as a legal intern. He first joined the UN Office of Legal Affairs as part of an externship in the LLM course. His second time with the UN was as an intern with the Permanent Mission of Malaysia to the United Nations. That experience was rather different from his days as a pupil because his responsibilities in the UN Office of Legal Affairs was more similar to that of an in-house legal counsel. The job scope includes conducting legal research and drafting legal advice in the area of private, international and comparative law relating to the UN Peacekeeping Operations, among other things. Although it might sound intimidating, working at the UN had given him a more globalised working experience. Furthermore, the skills he sharpened in law school had definitely served him well throughout the whole process.
To law students, Samuel could not emphasise enough the importance of having the ability to conduct legal research. Given where we are today, human interactions give rise to a multiplicity of issues, even the kinds that we have never encountered before. Lawyers are not in control over the legal problems presented before them. Understanding this fact, the only way lawyers can assist their clients is by understanding the legal principles and legislation through research before applying them to the scenarios at hand. Researching also sharpens the minds of lawyers by training them to have a mental framework — an asset that enables them to convey their findings more succinctly. At first, it may be challenging to get the hang of it. Regardless, just like any other skill, it can be improved with practice. Samuel fondly remembers his Political Philosophy papers for Professor Joseph Raz at CLS as the most intellectually challenging legal writing he has ever done. Nonetheless, such hardships allowed him to polish up his skills as a lawyer.
Nowadays, society has developed a more globalised mindset; more and more people are interested in venturing their profession overseas — Samuel is no exception. After years of working in the legal profession, his career trajectory had brought him to Singapore. As aforementioned, Samuel briefly joined SIAC before landing a job at Norton Rose Fulbright. To those who are still at the crossroads, his advice would be to ‘Go for it!’ He pointed out that the landscape nowadays is more competitive, so it would be wise to begin the long process of thoughtfully crafting an attractive CV even from the early years in law school. The middle child in him simply presses students to ‘Find a way to stand out!’ Unearthing a niche as part of one’s identity would make one more memorable, especially in the eyes of potential employers. Not only would it demonstrate one’s passion, but it could also be a starting point for social interactions. After all, people are more articulate and enthusiastic when talking about things that interest them. In return, this would help create a good first impression. Remember, there is no particular standard in building CVs. As long as the experiences can contribute to self-growth, then they are probably worth pursuing.
Samuel and his band from Norton Rose Fulbright Singapore (The NeRFs) giving an exhilarating performance
When it comes to adapting to the diverse working environment abroad, UM students have little to worry about. Samuel agreed that the students are lucky to be part of such a diverse demographic; not only racially and religiously, but also socioeconomically. Apart from gaining academic knowledge, the four years spent studying in this manifold atmosphere would allow students to be more open-minded and emotionally intelligent. From his experience, Samuel had no problems interacting with clients and colleagues across the globe. The words he uttered in this regard could not have rung truer: ‘It is in UM that I have finally met the various cultures and ethnicities inherent to my country, and the exposure that UM graduates receive in this aspect is indispensable.’
In October 2020, Samuel reached another milestone in his career. He was ranked as one of the Future Leaders 2021 by the Who’s Who Legal Directory for arbitration, an impressive accolade that only recognises the foremost legal practitioners throughout more than 150 countries. He explained the selection process as being based on a series of surveys conducted among legal practitioners worldwide. The surveys contained a list of individuals who are in the running for the award. Those who receive outstanding feedback from their peers would then be eligible to be inducted into the directory. Hence, Samuel admitted that it was not something that he could have achieved on his own. He would like to thank all his mentors, friends and people he has met throughout his career for their utmost support. Additionally, Samuel underlines that the attributes of a good lawyer include, but is not limited to, being sincere, genuine, kind and paying it forward. This is particularly true when a lawyer addresses the concerns of the client.
‘Generally, people do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.’
With the fast-paced development of the law, the industry is becoming more competitive than ever. As such, one could not expect to remain relevant by having a lackadaisical attitude. Therefore, it is vital to persistently keep up with the latest legal advancements to always have an edge. Nowadays, the opportunities to learn are omnipresent; experts in various branches of law conduct webinars, allowing people to learn in the comfort of their homes. Having discussions with peers would also be beneficial to gain a different perspective on things.
Following years of work after graduating from law school, Samuel confessed that his expectations of working in the legal profession have changed. For instance, back in law school, he always imagined that he would be attending hearings in courts. In reality, his line of work as an arbitration lawyer has more limited avenues for oral advocacy. Since arbitration hearings do not occur as often, junior arbitration lawyers might not have many opportunities to deliver oral arguments. As a result, more weight is placed on perfecting written advocacy instead. In contrast, should one venture into litigation, chances are there would be more oral advocacy involved.
Although Samuel has achieved a great deal by now, he does not fixate his most memorable moments to any accomplishments in particular. He expounded that his sense of fulfilment comes from the acknowledgement that he has done a decent job, whatever the outcome may be. Finishing cases, receiving favourable awards after an arbitration and pleasing his clients are simply components to a job well done. Samuel strives to continuously find pleasure in his job to motivate him to do better. This inspires him to be more appreciative of all the work he has done and will continue to do.
‘For a litigation lawyer, or even in dispute resolution, your results are the culmination of your work. It can be up to four or five years’ worth of work. So that is definitely memorable.’
Besides his extensive commitments as a lawyer, Samuel is also an active member of the community. Continuing on Samuel’s history in church-related endeavours, he is involved in leading and conducting Bible studies for churchgoers. Recently, he became a Management Committee member of the Malaysian Association in Singapore (‘MASIS’), a voluntary organisation that provides networking opportunities for Malaysians in Singapore. For the 2021 Chinese New Year celebration, they organised a heart-warming initiative to match Malaysian students with Malaysian families residing in Singapore. Since international travel is prohibited due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this initiative gave Malaysians stranded in Singapore a chance to experience reunion dinners and created a sense of being home again. Consequently, this effort was well-received by the participants.
Samuel’s life seems to be engaged with endless happenings, even more so after becoming a new parent. Samuel shared how his outlook on life has changed and the challenges presented. Previously, he had no problem working around the clock, but after welcoming his children into his life, he had to compromise and prioritise their wellbeing. His attempt to balance this newfound responsibility alongside his work commitments is certainly commendable. Not many people can live up to the expectation of being a dedicated father and employee at the same time, yet Samuel is managing both responsibilities exceptionally well. It is challenging to live away from his family, including not benefiting from ‘yé yé’ or ‘gōng gōng’ (grandfather to the children) to take care of the kids, he joked. Fortunately, his bosses have been understanding as well.
Samuel with his beloved wife and two children
Beneath the perks of being a law student and a lawyer, it is understandable that life can get overwhelming at times. Alas, the struggle of working under a hectic schedule is said to be part and parcel of this chosen life. Hence, Samuel suggests law students to have a supportive circle. The number of people in a social circle is immaterial, as long as they are willing to go the extra mile to show support. The presence of encouraging companions would definitely help ease one’s law school journey. Recalling his time in law school, he credits his buddy, Kwan Will Sen, for always taking the time to help him study and pushing him to do better.
To the current law students, Samuel wishes that they would make full use of their time in the Faculty. When in doubt, they should remind themselves that they have rightfully earned their spot there, and they should never downplay their capabilities. Although sometimes their self-confidence can take a beating from just being a ‘freshie’ in law school, always remember that it is all part of the process. At the end of the journey, they would see that it was necessary for their growth — both as a lawyer and a human being.
‘I wish UM students realise the value of their brand earlier, even while in law school; what an achievement it is to go to UM law. You are already part of a valued fraternity of lawyers and law graduates. Society recognises that brand of excellence, and you should be proud to use it, for worthwhile purposes, of course.’
Written by Sirhan Sidqi.
Edited by Azra Athirah.
Reviewed by Celin Khoo Roong Teng and Luc Choong Guong Sang.