Natalie Ooi Wan Qing, fondly known as Natalie, is an alumna of the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya (UM). Graduating from UM in 2011, Natalie is often remembered alongside her teammates for their remarkable feats in high-profile mooting competitions, notably the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition (Jessup Moot) and the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot (Vis Moot). Beyond the Faculty, her rising career as a litigation lawyer and co-founder of a law firm is certainly one for the books.
Hailing from the Pearl of the Orient (Penang), as every proud Penangite should be, Natalie came from a close-knit family that values honesty and integrity above everything else. Despite her triumphs, Natalie says her parents always reminded her that one should not allow the past to dominate the present; they should remain in the realm of memories and have served their purpose. However, her winning yet humbling journey is one worth celebrating as a proud alumna who once sought knowledge in the halls and corridors of the UM Law Faculty.
Inspired by family members she holds close to heart, Natalie decided to pursue law since her younger years. Her late uncle was a senior lawyer with 40 years in practice. She reminisced the days spent at her late uncle’s law firm doing research and assignments while utilising the comfort of his library. This represented her initial steps into the legal fraternity. Apart from that, Natalie was also inspired by her elder brother, Nicholas Ooi, whom she looked up to for advice in moments of doubt. Nicholas is a visionary who embodies generosity — and these are the two qualities which Natalie strives to possess.
Natalie with her late uncle, Mr Ooi Teik Hoe (middle), alongside her parents and brother, Mr Nicholas Ooi when she was called to the bar in May 2012
After completing her Malaysian Certificate of Education (SPM), she further took the Malaysian Higher School Certificate (STPM) — knowing that her preferred choice had always been to read law in a local university. Nevertheless, such life choices rarely go according to plan. Upon finishing her STPM, Natalie’s path came to a crossroad as she was bestowed a golden opportunity to pursue Actuarial Science at the University of Melbourne. Nevertheless, fate took its course when she received an offer to study law at UM, which she accepted in a heartbeat.
Natalie’s four years at the Faculty were nothing short of incredible and inspiring. She represented the Faculty in two grand-slam level moot competitions — the 2010 Vis Moot and the 2011 Jessup Moot. She affectionately mused that these adventures would remain etched in her memory permanently. However, her journey in attaining these mooting accolades was met with adverse circumstances.
‘The 8 Fairies’ — Natalie and her best friends on graduation day, with Associate Professor Dr Azmi Bin Sharom
Beneath all the grandeur, participating in the 2010 Vis Moot proved to be a difficult journey. Resources were minimal as the Faculty did not formally recognise the competition back then. Still, Natalie did not bow down to such obstacles and gathered her few trusted friends on a fund search. Driven by determination and the dream of visiting Europe, they eventually collected sufficient funds to join pre-moots in Leuven, Belgium and Düsseldorf, Germany before competing in Vienna, Austria. The Faculty recognised Natalie’s commendable effort in the competition as it is possible to chart your own path and learn from the process.
Natalie’s experience in Vis Moot demonstrated her potential and skill as a mooter, and with this mental fortitude, she earned her place to represent the Faculty and Malaysia in the 2011 Jessup Moot. Often dubbed as the Olympics of the mooting circuit, the International Rounds of the competition, held annually in Washington, D.C., was a challenge for Natalie even after being crowned as the Best Speaker in the National Rounds. Although the team fell short of the team trophy, they impressively won several major writing awards in the International Rounds. They bagged the Alona E. Evans (Evans) Award, placing 8th for the Best Memorial at the International Rounds, and the Hardy C. Dillard (Dillard) Award, placing 9th for the Best Combined Memorials at the World & Qualifying Rounds. She vividly remembered some tears were shed, including Datin Professor Dr Mary George who was the team coach, when Malaysia’s name was announced for the Evans awards (the Dillard prize was announced post-competition). Looking back, Natalie recounted that the 2011 awards were milestones as the Faculty broke its 13-year wait for another Jessup award (the last awards won by a UM team were in 1997 when the team was quarter-finalists and having also won both the Evans and Dillard awards whilst the 1998 UM team won the Dillard award). Natalie considers the pinnacle of her mooting career to be when her world champion opponent congratulated her and complimented her skill.
‘You know you made it when your world champion opponent from Moscow State University, Russia congratulates you and says, “you are good”.’
Natalie with her teammates and coach, Datin Professor Dr Mary George at the 2011 Jessup Moot award ceremony
In mooting, Natalie never intended to surpass anyone. Rather, the long list of the Faculty’s mooting achievements served as her target and motivation to strive harder. She ardently believes in the efficacy of teamwork during her mooting journey. Her experiences proved that when one really intends to go far, it is best to march together rather than alone. Natalie counts her blessings as she was privileged to be part of a team who trusted each other. Despite the challenges they underwent, her teammates never failed to have faith in each other and that everything will work out if they put their best foot forward. Above all, their undying support towards each other presents a cheerful reminder for Natalie during trying times.
‘The best part about this experience is that my Jessup teammates are still my closest friends today, and we support each other a lot through ups and downs. The trust and bond are life’s treasures and something that money cannot buy.’
Completing her bachelor’s degree in 2011, Natalie recalls that the memories and nostalgia in her UM days will not be forgotten. But, as one chapter ended, another chapter beckoned, from that of a law student to a budding lawyer. She did her pupillage under Dato’ Lim Chee Wee in Skrine. Natalie had a profound experience working at the firm, spending six years and two months of her legal career there. Her breadth of practice ranged from civil to corporate litigation whilst also doing judicial review on town planning matters. She is indebted to her pupil master and boss for his guidance throughout her Skrine days. As Dato’ Lim was the Bar Council Chairman during that time, Natalie was given invaluable opportunities to work with the Bar Council in its initiatives.
Amongst all the opportunities accorded to Natalie, perhaps the most gratifying was the chance to partake in drafting the Bar Council’s Draft Peaceful Assembly Bill. Apart from that, Natalie was also a part of the Bar Council’s observer team to the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia’s (SUHAKAM) Public Inquiry on the Allegations of Violations of Human Rights on Bersih 2.0. She fondly recalled drafting the Peaceful Assembly Bill alongside the former Bar Council President, Dato’ Yeo Yang Poh. Natalie gave her best efforts to assist in the drafting process until its completion, despite being a pupil at the time. From working late nights to locking the office door, Natalie persevered through it all.
Besides, Natalie’s flair for writing legal articles adds up to her charm. Under Skrine’s Legal Insights segment, she published two articles entitled ‘Mind Your Words — Hedley Byrne & Co Ltd v Heller & Partners Ltd’ and ‘Reforms to Rules in Dividend’. The articles examined the law of economic loss and proposed amendments to rules on dividends under the Malaysian Companies Bill 2013. As her focus shifted to greater things, Natalie found herself delightfully immersed in listening to various points of view and learning from them.
In 2016, Natalie was promoted as a Senior Associate at Skrine. In the process, Natalie acknowledged that she accumulated a wealth of knowledge in the legal field that benefited her greatly. When asked about essential qualities that aspiring lawyers should ponder prior to kickstarting their career, she answered, ‘with honesty and integrity’. Holding dearly onto her father’s reminder, ‘having a good conscience is more important than having a good head’, Natalie practised as a legal practitioner by keeping those words close to heart.
‘I think that it is possible to practice law with honesty and integrity. Practice is a marathon, so endurance is also key.’
Adamant to helm into the legal world on her own terms, she established a law firm with her elder brother, Nicholas, in 2018. Natalie is proud of her decision as becoming a co-founder and partner of Ooi & Ooi was one of the most memorable moments of her career. She described the decision as a bold move and a leap of faith. Undeniably, building a firm from the ground up is no easy venture. Despite being a newly established firm, Natalie and Nicholas’ hard work paid off when they won the Rising Law Firm of the Year award in the Asian Legal Business (ALB) Malaysia Law Awards (MLA) 2020 — a prestigious award which recognises outstanding performance by new and upcoming law firms in Malaysia. This award was another milestone for Natalie as it was the firm’s debut win in the ALB awards and in the said category. In addition, in August 2020, the firm was also ranked as a Notable Firm in Dispute Resolution by Asialaw Profiles 2021.
Natalie with her friends, Datin Professor Dr Mary George and Mr Nicholas Ooi at the Ooi & Ooi firm opening in July 2018
However, the accolades did not stop there. As co-founder and partner of Ooi & Ooi, Natalie was recognised by ALB as one of Malaysia’s Rising Stars 2020. She also picked up two individual nominations in the ALB MLA 2020, that is the Women and Young Lawyer of the Year (Law Firm) categories. While the legal industry seems to see fewer senior women litigators, Natalie believes that the glass ceiling on female leadership in Malaysia has already been shattered — save for a few improvements here and there.
‘On female leadership in the legal industry, I would say that the glass ceiling has already been shattered. Our current Chief Justice and the composition of women judges in the Federal Court are testaments to that. However, there can always be more female representation in decision-making process generally.’
Aside from her personal accolades, Natalie never forgets to give back to society. The generous spirit she possesses — an outcome of her nurturing positive environment — continually keeps her on the look-out for those in need. Natalie shared one of her warm memories of reaching out to Myanmar law students who were organising their first-ever Myanmar rounds of the Jessup Moot competition in 2019. The team invited Natalie and Nicholas to help them with preparations for the competition. Natalie recounted that it was an eye-opening experience; she was touched to see the students’ persistent efforts despite limited resources. Nonetheless, Natalie would normally keep such initiatives quiet as she believes that ‘What values you hold as a person and what you do are more important’.
Although her work as a litigation lawyer remains her top priority, Natalie also spends time to indulge in her favourite activities. During her pupillage, she re-discovered her love in ballet. Proving that age is not a hindrance, she even took the Royal Academy of Dance’s Discovering Repertoire exam in 2018, after a decade’s hiatus from ballet examination rigeurs. She continues to dance weekly to date, saying that now it is more of a form of workout to maintain good posture and grace. She also loves giving her dog weekly baths, which she quips is ‘a therapeutic ritual’. Natalie acknowledges that being in practice means having to endure a certain amount of stress daily, so good time management is important. Shopping, travelling and catching up with television shows are also some of her favourite pastimes that help her de-stress.
Natalie with friends and ballet tutor, Raja Rozmin Rashid (middle), at a ballet performance in 2016
Standing firm with honesty and integrity is Natalie’s advice towards law students out there. She believes that having a clear conscience is essential for a good night’s sleep despite temptations that may lead and turn a person in the wrong direction. She stresses the importance of being a good person and continuously striving to do good for society. To this day, the proverb ‘you shall reap what you sow’ remains Natalie’s mantra.
Natalie firmly believes that legal education continues beyond the halls of educational institutions. Regardless of which institution you graduate from, education is not limited to formal learning experiences. Aspiring lawyers should always willingly take comments and criticisms for self-improvement. Natalie empathises with the fact that mistakes are inevitable in our youth. However, perseverance is the key to get to where we want to be as every cloud has its silver lining.
‘Firstly, I do not see myself as having had a very successful career. I am still a young lawyer who is now managing a young firm, and I have a long way to go. Secondly, I do not share the sentiment that I have an impeccable education. To my family and I, education is not limited to formal learning experiences in an educational institution. It is and should be much more than that. What you are as a person and what you do are more important than where we study.’
As a final word, Natalie hopes to see UM law graduates go even further and strive for uncharted territories, at the same time to put their advantage to good use, and always be ready to lend a helping hand to those in need without expecting anything in return. Natalie says, ‘I received a lot of help from mentors and seniors along the way, and the right and just thing to do is to pay it forward.’
Written by Yasmin Taib.
Edited by Azra Athirah.
Reviewed by Celin Khoo Roong Teng and Luc Choong Guong Sang.