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Sonia Tan is an LLM student at the National University of Singapore Faculty of Law in Asia, where she also studied as an undergraduate. She is the recipient of the Kwa Geok Choo Graduate Scholarship.
Prior to starting her postgraduate studies in August 2012, Ms Tan worked as a corporate lawyer for four years, specialising in mergers and acquisitions.
In her spare time, Ms Tan enjoys studying languages: Bahasa Melayu (Malay), which is part of her heritage, and Japanese and Korean, which she was inspired to learn after working with her Japanese/Korean counterparts in corporate transactions. She also enjoys travelling and photography.
Why did you choose to study for an LLM?
I hope to broaden my knowledge and further my professional development. A law degree is quite versatile – even if you don’t go on to practise law, you can use it in a government or business role, for example.
Why did you choose to study at NUS?
As I enjoyed my undergraduate studies at NUS, I had always considered pursuing postgraduate studies there, after spending some years in practice. NUS is ranked highly among the world’s top law universities and it offers an extensive range of law electives taught by top academics from Singapore and other countries. The university also provides a variety of scholarships for local and foreign postgraduate students.
What are you enjoying the most on your course?
I most enjoy attending classes on comparative law where I have met classmates from all over the world. Getting to interact with and learn from international students has helped to broaden my perspectives and I hope the camaraderie forged between classmates will continue into practice.
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
As an alumna, it has certainly been easier for me to adapt to the university environment, though it did take me some time to get adjusted to student life. In private practice, you focus a lot on getting immediate results and delivering to clients. At school, you have a different mindset and time management is your own issue – something you do for yourself and not someone else.
What have you found the most surprising?
I was surprised that there are very few Singapore postgraduate students in comparison with international postgraduate students – at orientation day it seemed like every continent was represented! For maritime law, in particular, there are a lot of students from the US. However, there is always a good mix of local and international students in classes shared by undergraduates and postgraduates.
What would you say makes you different from other LLM students?
My four years’ work experience. I can share this with everyone in debates, explaining what developments are good and bad.
What is your biggest lesson learnt?
To be an effective student (or practitioner), you need to make continuous efforts to keep abreast of legal developments.
What advice would you give to others?
Spend a few years in practice before considering postgraduate studies in law, especially if you have a strong interest in research. Your practical experience will help you in approaching legal issues from different angles. Then you can take advantage of having the luxury of time to explore these interests and look at the academic perspective.
Do you have a studying routine?
While I do not have a specific studying routine, I think it is helpful to participate in study groups and engage in group discussions for the exchange of ideas and alternative points of view.
How do you deal with pressure?
Family and friends are my greatest source of moral support.
What has been the best advice given to you with regard to your studies?
In order to practise as a lawyer in a globalised economy, it is not enough to be proficient in only your own jurisdiction’s laws. It is also important to foster a good understanding of foreign and international laws.
What is your biggest lesson learnt?
The biggest lesson that I’ve learnt is that to be an effective student (or practitioner), you need to make continuous efforts to keep abreast of legal developments.
What would you do if you were dean for the day?
I would probably send all final-year undergraduates out on a week-long internship to assist in pro bono legal work. While pro bono initiatives are currently available on a volunteer basis, I think that it is worthwhile encouraging all students to gain an understanding of pro bono legal work before they go into practice. As an undergrad, I helped advise juvenile delinquents and charitable organisations.
Who is your ideal professor?
In the realm of international law, it would have to be Professor Tommy Koh, who is currently Singapore’s Ambassador-At-Large and, formerly, the dean of NUS, because he is a legal eagle with a wealth of academic and practical experience. He will be able to inspire students to achieve greater heights of academic and professional excellence.
What do you plan to do after the course?
I intend to return to private practice.