Vol 13, Issue 1
In late June 2017 after final exams, I commenced a 6-month internship in a Singapore law firm. I can’t remember why I did this without any hesitation. I made up my mind almost immediately after I saw the Singapore “Work Holiday Pass” (WHP) from a website. Having sat the Chinese Bar and MLS’s common law training, it was not that hard to find an internship position. After receiving the WHP from the Singapore authorities, confirming my salary with my firm, and finishing my “Leave of Absence” procedures with Stop 1, I left Melbourne right after the last exam and started mymemorable adventure in Singapore, a country I’ve never visited before.
Internships in Singapore are like clerkships in Australia, usually 3-4 weeks. So when my Singaporean colleagues asked, “Why are you here for so long?” I said: “Just taking a break from law school lah”. They laughed at me, and said, “How come working is more relaxing than studying?”
Well, the relaxing part does not come from a mathematical workload comparison, but from an overall experience of international lawyering. When I joined the firm, there was no one with legal Mandarin ability so I became involved in all types of Chinese-related matters. It was pretty interesting to observe how ‘east meets west’ in terms of language, legal practice and the thinking patterns of clients. Especially where there is a cross-border dispute, law is no longer made up of the straightforward concepts I learnt in class, but becomes more vivid and complicated. Singapore is naturally an international centre due to its geographic location. It sits in the middle of giant countries like China and Australia, connecting other Asian players like Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam. Singapore is also home to a mixture of cultures and religions, and a well-mixed background of clients. Singapore law belongs to British common law, but like Australia, it diverged from UK in many legal fields.
Since August, when UK and Singapore school began, interns gradually left and I was the only one in office. I started to assist on more matters involving more legal sectors and jurisdictions. Before this internship, as a foreign law student at MLS, I was aa real minority in the MLS cohort. So I always thought, “I wanna be a global lawyer”. But now, if you ask me, I have so much to say, but don’t really know where to start. It means mastering multiple languages, mastering the laws of numerous countries, understanding foreign clients and their societies and “where they come from”, keeping an open mind to the diversity of human philosophies, living a very busy life chasing time zones, and potentially losing the chance to be a local expert. It is just not as good-looking as the phrase “global lawyer” per se. It means so much to learn, so much to accumulate and so much to sacrifice as well.
Besides daily work, the six-month period from June to December was truly an enjoyable vacation: travelling around southeast Asia, tasting delicious foods (especially all kinds of durian!), making new friends, experiencing every “must”for a “Work Holiday” experience. Now, preparing to fly back to Melbourne, I seem to have forgotten how much I disliked some subjects (e.g Admin law!) and how anxious I was at Level 3 library. I cannot tell whether the things I worried about will still bother me next semester onwards, but I think this long break could fuel me to handle the pressure. After all, there is a bigger world outside Carlton.
Weite Li is a second-year JD student
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