Hairul graduated with a First Class Honours LL.B. degree from the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 2016, coming in top of his class in the third and fourth years. He started his legal career as a Deputy Public Prosecutor at the Attorney-General’s Chambers, before moving into his current role as a Justices’ Law Clerk at the Supreme Court of Singapore. During his time in NUS, he won numerous mooting competitions, including the Jessup National Rounds 2016, WongPartnership Arbitration Moot 2014 and Mallal Moots 2013. He was also the Director of Training of the Mooting & Debating Club and organised the inaugural “Things I Wish I Knew in Year 1” talk for incoming freshmen. Hairul is also a cynophobe (i.e. he is afraid of dogs) because he was once ferociously chased by a stray dog (with “lethal” intent) for more than a kilometre.
This Letter is addressed to his 21-year-old self, mid-way through his first semester of law school in Year 1, when he was facing several setbacks and had very low self-esteem.
Your first two months of law school have been rough and miserable. You now have the ominous feeling that you are eventually going to fare badly in your law degree. You regret the decision to read law and can’t help but wonder if you would have fared much better in a less demanding course of study.
During this time, you will undoubtedly feel that, despite your best efforts, things are simply not working out. Regardless of how hard you work and the late nights you pull, you still have not been able to see positive results or satisfaction in your work. To start things off, you received a “C–” grade for the first LAWR [now LARC] assignment. This incidentally also happened to be the lowest grade in the class. When you consulted your Professor with the assignment and asked her what was wrong, she replied “EVERYTHING!!” You were crestfallen. Next came your first timed exam in law school, which was on Singapore’s legal history. When the question asked “What were the factors…”, you read the question as “What were the events…” Unsurprisingly, you were heavily penalised and it was another “C–” in the bag.
After these poor grades, it is only natural to question whether law is for YOU. At this stage, what I will advise (which might sound ironic to you at this stage) is NOT to put yourself down for bad grades. As long as you keep trying and not be afraid to fall, I can assure you that things will only get better. No matter how helpful advice from seniors can be, the lessons that sting the most are personal experiences at “failing”. Treat these results as opportunities to learn from the mistakes made. Consult the Professors for help at the earliest possible opportunity and closely work with them to see improvement in your work. As you will eventually get to hear from some of the most incredible legal minds that you will have the privilege of working for in the Supreme Court, one who shuns failures shuns progress, and success preceded by failed attempts will almost invariably be more permanent than mere success.
Another worry that has been plaguing you is that you find yourself to be less eloquent than some of your peers. Since you are interested in a career in litigation, you resent that you have drawn the short end of the stick because you don’t have the gift of the gab. I think it is natural for you to feel this way. But this should not dissuade you from giving moot competitions a shot. Given your lower starting point, you will unsurprisingly falter and get knocked out in the prelim rounds of your first couple of moot competitions. But again, the precious insights gleaned from why you “failed” in these moots will translate to become your strengths and eventually lead to some successes in other moot competitions. So keep enrolling in these competitions with the mindset of learning and improving and you will thank yourself later for doing so.
Once you get thrown into the working world, you will start to realise that a good advocate does not necessarily have to be eloquent. Whilst it may be a “good-to-have”, it is not a “must-have” for excellent advocacy. Instead, the ability to rigorously analyse and clarity in arguments are the indispensable skillsets. Fortunately, these are skills that can be honed and continuously fine-tuned as opposed to being naturally gifted with. So as long as you constantly practise your advocacy, I am optimistic that you will eventually become reasonably competent at it. Don’t expect there to be such a thing as an end point when it comes to advocacy – there isn’t one! Keep learning and never let the hunger for growth and experience fizzle out. The day you feel that good advocacy requires no skin off your back, is the day you have given up on improving. It will be a continuous and arduous journey but I can assure you that it will be an exciting one.
Amazingly, as upset as you are now, this will not be your last brush with disappointment. Life will always present novel and unfamiliar challenges. But you will survive those days too, as you will survive this day. View these difficulties as opportunities for you to upgrade yourself – the best way to grow would be through resolving them instead of sidestepping or taking the easy way out. No matter how insurmountable these encounters may seem, I want you to know that you have what it takes to face them head on. You can do it! If you have no faith in yourself, how can you expect others to place any faith in you? Believe in yourself! Don’t bow down. Never quit.
Most importantly, never forget that you are not walking alone in this endeavour and others are also shouldering their own struggles. Through these shared difficulties, you will forge strong friendships and create indelible memories of law school that you will deeply miss and treasure after graduation. You are never going to get back these undergraduate years – make the most out of it. Don’t get too caught up in the chase that you forget to stop and smell the roses. We are next to Botanic Gardens after all!
With much love,