Contributed by the National Young Lawyers Committee
“The Bar needs to be united”
Wong Fook Meng graduated from the University of Malaya and was called to the Bar in 2000. He practises in Malacca and is the out–going Deputy Chairperson of the NYLC for the 2006–07 term. He is a leader in his local church, regularly writes for Graduate Christian Fellowship and an adviser to the Multimedia University Christian Fellowship. He passionately believes in developing a young Malaysian identity in the context of a globalised world. While he is proud to be a Malaysian, he reads American books, drinks coffee from Starbucks, buys “made–in–China” products and practises the Japanese martial arts of Aikido.
As his term draws to an end with fresh elections due to be held at the 1st NYLC meeting on April 20, his “side–kick” from Malacca, Desmond Ho talks to him.
How has it felt leading the NYLC this term?
It has been a great ride. I got to meet and work together
with some of the best and brightest young lawyers in the country. It was a most
Have you learnt anything?
I learnt that it is easy to ‘just talk’ but the real
challenge is to ‘walk the talk’ and translate plans into reality. The Committee
for the past term had undertaken many new initiatives and projects and I guess
the workload is breaking off the seam at most members’ schedules! However, we
believe in what we were doing and though there was a lot of blood, sweat and
tears, there was also a huge dose of fun in working together! Also, I learnt
that in a large Committee like the NYLC, there are bound to be a divergence of
views on many issues and it was a challenge to manage all the different voices
and yet cast a single overarching vision for everyone.
Why are you not seeking re–election?
Well, I want to give way to others to take up the position.
The NYLC is meant to be and has been a fluid Committee. I would like capable
leaders to take over. On a personal level, I want to spend more time doing lay
preaching and building up the young adults group in my church.
What do you wish to see for the future of NYLC?
I wish to see the NYLC as a breeding ground for the future
leaders of the Malaysian Bar. This is the place where young lawyers can step up
to the plate and take up the challenge of contributing to the profession and
society. Also, I hope to see the NYLC addressing the concerns of young lawyers
and at the same time be the conscience of the Malaysian society, involved in
social justice. Under very able and dynamic leaders, it is beyond any shadow of
a doubt that the Committee will go places and reach great heights in the new
You were recently elected into the Malacca State Bar Committee. The State Bar elections have seen young lawyers emerging once again amongst the ranks of senior lawyers in the State Bar Committees. What can we expect from the young lawyers holding positions now that you are one of the said young lawyers?
I believe young lawyers can provide some fresh winds of
change to the various State Bar Committees. Having worked with many young
lawyers at the NYLC, I believe that young lawyers have a lot of originality,
initiative and enthusiasm to serve the Bar. Also, in the area of information
technology, young lawyers can make significant contributions in utilising
cutting–edge technology for Bar administration purposes. But I hasten to add
that young lawyers can reach their full potential only with the guidance and
encouragement of the senior and experienced members of the State Bar Committees.
The blend of experience and enthusiasm will be the recipe for success.
You are heading Publications and IT in the Malacca State Bar Committee. What about plans for the Malacca Bar and its members?
We will continue with the many new projects which we started
last term. It is very interesting to see a sort of ‘revival of spirit’ within
this usually quiet State Bar. Some of the things we are doing include assisting
the refugees in the Machap Umboo detention centre, giving talks on crime
prevention and law in secondary schools, giving legal advice on radio,
conducting interesting topics under our Professional Development programme,
having a public talk on local government, starting a Malacca Bar website and
working together with the Multimedia University Law School to give a practical
edge to their legal education curriculum. You can see that our plate is pretty
You actively advocate a balanced work–life. How do you go about practising this in your daily life?
One must be intentional in pursuing a work–life balance. We
cannot leave important things to chance as it will usually be eclipsed by the
tyranny of the urgent. For me, practising law in Malacca makes it easier to
achieve a work–life balance. Spiritual and physical health, and family are of
paramount importance to me. I spend large chunks of my time doing things which
many people deem as old–fashioned and irrelevant in the 21st century such as
spiritual meditation and prayer. But I find that having a robust spiritual
centre gives me purpose, freshness, vigour and calmness as I go through the
rough and tumble of legal practice. I am also actively involved in my church.
For exercise, I play badminton regularly and since the beginning of this year I
practise Aikido, a non–aggressive form of Japanese martial arts. And of course,
I spend a lot of quality time with my family. They are the treasure of my life.
I also build margins in my schedule to ensure that the major things in life are
given due attention.
What advice would you offer to lawyers who wish to have a balanced work–life in bigger cities like Kuala Lumpur, where the lifestyle is so much different from Malacca?
Lawyers have to decide for themselves what their priorities in life are and plan around those. First things must always come first. In big cities, there are many opportunities for learning, recreation and the pursuit of multi–varied interests. So, start living outside the box of practice and enjoy life to the fullest. Life is not to be defined solely by affidavits, written submissions and drafting of agreements! When there are many other interests in our lives, we have a healthy psychological equilibrium which will help us to be better lawyers over the long haul.
Much has been said about religious indifference and intolerance in Malaysia, what is your take on it as a Christian?
People from different faiths should have more dialogue to understand each other’s beliefs system. But, more than that, we have to build bridges and relationships with one another. I believe that in the context of loving relationships, we can examine each other’s tenets of faith in a positive manner. A lot of religious intolerance and bigotry stems from a lack of understanding of other people’s faith. We must remind ourselves that everyone has the same right as us to pursue their own faith journeys, no matter how different their journeys may be from ours.
How do you balance your life as a Christian and as a
lawyer at the same time?
My wife made me a cross–stitch which bears the words, “All work is spiritual work and not merely a duty but a holy privilege”. I place it next to my office computer. I believe legal practice is a sacred responsibility. It is an avenue for me to demonstrate the justice and love of God in my daily life. When I pursue justice in the courtroom, I believe it brings a smile to God’s face. When I am involved in my office’s social work, for example doing advocacy work for a center for children with learning disabilities, I demonstrate the love of God for the children through my contribution.
Have you ever had the instance of having to do what is right against your obligations towards your client? How did you deal with it?
I always tell my clients that the best thing to do is to do the right thing. I ensure that my clients know that my obligation to them does not involve breaching the law or compromising moral integrity. I must add that there have been very few instances in my practice where the tension between doing what is right and what is beneficial for the client exists.
The survey among young lawyers on their working conditions was mooted by you last term. Why do you think the survey was necessary?
I was driving to work one day and the thought just came to mind that a survey on working conditions was necessary for the young lawyers in Malaysia. When I attended a young lawyers’ gathering at the Commonwealth Law Conference in Melbourne 2003, there was a great deal of discussion about working conditions, work–life balance, young lawyers’ transition into the working world etc. However, these issues are rarely discussed here in Malaysia except for the frequent laments over working life in court canteens and drinking holes. So, I believed this was a pressing issue which had not been officially analyzed, discussed and debated in a public way. Hence, the survey was a starting–point to steer some reflection on the issue of Malaysian young lawyers’ working conditions. I am glad to note that on our suggestion, the Singapore Young Lawyers Committee has embarked on a similar survey in Singapore modeled along ours.
How do you see career development for young lawyers in
Many young lawyers want higher salaries, better perks, faster promotions and shorter working hours. But they rarely think of what their employers and clients are getting out of them. Young lawyers should invest in skill and knowledge development, and create a higher value for their firms and clients. I believe in the adage, “Do more than what you are paid and one day you will be paid more than what you do”. Also, young lawyers should avoid the entitlement mentality like a plague as it will kill your chances in most places. The question to ask is not “What am I getting?” but “What are my firm and my clients getting from me?” My limited experience tells me that when you focus on creating value for others, legal practice is much more satisfying.
You surely urge members to be involved in Bar activities?
Yes. Generally, the law of the few is at work – it is always the same few persons doing the bulk of the work. I am of the view that the Bar Council should seriously look into the reasons why the majority of members are staying away from involvement at the Bar. My take is that the perception of intense politicking, back–biting and mud–slinging at the Bar drives many people away. Members are already so busy with their practice that they do not want to be embroiled in emotionally draining politics and I don’t blame them! Unfortunately, much of these are burdens borne of the past, and being carried by the younger Bar.
What do you think is the main cause for all the politicking at the Bar?
Well, I think lawyers are by nature and training a breed of people who hold strong views and have the intense need to win arguments. The problem is that many of us employ combative methods against each other in our Bar meetings. The meetings often generate more heat than light. When cordiality is lost, meaningful solutions are obscured. And we have the tendency of articulating our views without being open or willing to listen to alternative views. There is no reason why we cannot deliberate and decide on issues within the Bar without having to resort to aggressive tactics. The Bar of all places must be a place where it is safe to have divergent views without the need to divide the body of members. If there is less politicking within the Bar, I believe volunteerism will blossom and there will be more members coming forward to serve the Bar.
What measures can the Council take to encourage more active participation in Bar activities?
I think Council should take measures to match particular interests of members with the various areas of volunteerism. For example, those who like planning and organisation could assist in organising seminars. Those who like to write ought to be involved in publications, those who are more inclined to social welfare can participate in welfare activities and so on. Members will gain more satisfaction from Bar work when what they do is consistent with what their interests are.
How would the Council know what are the particular interests of the members?
Easy. Ask them. Get members to fill up a form indicating their areas of interest.
You recently presented a paper in the highly successful Young Malaysians Roundtable Discussion on 3 April 2007. A 20–point Consensus Document was also adopted. How should Bar members contribute to national unity and your version of the “rojak pot”?
There are still many law firms in Malaysia which are ethnic–based. Hopefully, there will be more ‘muhibbah’ law firms where people from various races can work together under one roof. As lawyers, we are the conscience of the society. We must continue to speak up on inter–racial and inter–religious issues in an honest but respectful manner. Our conversations must shed light and not create mere heat. And, we must work towards a strong and united Bar that is not divided by factionalism. If we cannot achieve unity within the Bar, we cannot speak with one voice to the society at large. Unity begins at home, right here where we work.
Other YL Personalities:
Fadiah Nadwa Fikri
YL Personality: Lee Chooi Peng
YL Personality: Angeline Cheah Yin Leng
YL Personality: Mishant a/l Thiruchelvam
YL Personality: Shahrizal Bin Mohd Zin
YL Personality: Rezalman B. Bahran
YL Personality: Gavin Tang Cheng Loong
YL Personality: Noreen Ahmad Ariff
YL Personality: Nadia Ashikin binti Maduarin
YL Personality: David Dinesh Mathew
YL Personality: Nizam Bashir Bin Abdul Kariem Bashir
YL Personality: Amer Hamzah Bin Arshad
YL Personality: Ernie Suffiani Binti Salim
YL Personality: Ahmad Syukri Bin Yusoff
YL Personality: Dipendra Harshad Rai
YL Personality: Soo Wee Loon
YL Personality: Tracy Hah
YL Personality: Aminuddin bin Abdullah