As a valedictorian in law from Singapore Management University (SMU) and one of the few foreigners admitted to the Supreme Court of Singapore, Nguyen Sinh Vuong told VietNamNet that he wanted to know how to use the law as a ticket to prosperity.
What motivated you to pursue law studies at SMU?
As to why I read law, I mentioned that I have a passion for politics, philosophy and economics – and when you do law you will also gain a good working knowledge of the three aforementioned disciplines . This is the intellectual aspect. In addition, my grandfather, a senior civil servant, also taught me that a prosperous country requires a “good” legal system. I want to know what makes a “good” legal system and how I can help shape the Vietnamese legal system towards this ideal of good. And that’s the inspiring aspect.
And as to why I studied law at SMU specifically, well, I don’t think I can say I chose SMU. On the contrary, SMU decided to try my luck! I applied to SMU without any expectation of an offer because in Singapore law was a difficult subject which very few foreign students managed to get into. I did not expect SMU to graciously offer me a place, let alone that the Singapore government would also bless me with another scholarship (i.e. ASEAN scholarship) to pursue my studies of undergrad here.
You said you had to “balance the three billion things that law school threw away” in another interview. In this regard, what challenges have you encountered in reading the law, a notoriously difficult subject?
I have to say the hardest thing about reading Law in Singapore is that Singapore law is a completely foreign system. I remember, without much pleasure, my first introduction to trust law in my Property Law module in second year. The idea of dual ownership of an asset (i.e. legal and fair) was something I couldn’t fathom. And that’s not the last time I’ve come across a legal concept or idea that I couldn’t understand either. Think of it as legal “culture shock,” spanning four years of law school.
And the materials were not only difficult and foreign, but there were also a lot of them. An integral part of the law school experience is case reading – and depending on the area of law, you have to read a lot of cases. I once participated in the Price Media Law Moot, which dealt with human rights and involved a lot of case law from European courts and various international tribunals. I think I must have read a few hundred cases to prepare for the contest!
And how did you overcome these challenges?
I think you need to have a genuine interest in the subject you’re studying, and you also need a big appetite for pain. I wish I had a magic formula to give you, but I’m afraid it’s just good old-fashioned hard work and courage. Fortunately, the law isn’t like, say, math or science – the law is 100% man-made, which means it’s theoretically possible to read all the law there is to read. .
But of course, no man is an island. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. I was lucky enough to be in the company of people who were much more hard-working and much more altruistic than me. They’ve graciously provided me with a lot of help (and a lot of lecture notes) over the years, and I’m very grateful.
As a law school major at SMU, as well as a top student in various subjects such as contract law and public international law, in addition to having achieved distinctions in numerous moot court competitions, what advice to study do you have to offer?
I don’t think my answer to this question differs much from the answer to the previous question: you just need a lot of courage and a lot of good company. And maybe a very liberal portion of good luck.
What is your most memorable failure while studying and working in Singapore?
That’s quite a difficult question, as I’ve had so many failures and regrets in my last decade in Singapore that it’s hard to keep track! I guess I have to say that my most memorable failure or failures relate to my pleading background. I made four pleas in my four years of law school, one a year, and I didn’t win a single one. Sometimes I lose in the semi-finals, and sometimes I lose in the final.
The worst loss I think was the Jessup national rounds in 2019. I took that loss very personally because I was the team manager – I thought everyone on the team performed really well , so from my perspective, the only reason we failed was because I wasn’t a good enough leader.
As for regret, I think I regret not having taken the time to pursue philosophy a little more seriously at university. Philosophy is one of my interests, and SMU offers philosophy classes – but the schedules were kind of inconvenient, so I decided not to take them. I’m sure I would have learned a lot if I had!
As an alumnus of one of Hanoi’s most famous schools (Hanoi-Amsterdam High School), what knowledge or skills learned in Vietnam were helpful in acclimatizing to a new learning environment in Singapore?
I think Hanoi-Amsterdam High School taught me to get used to being around people who are smarter, more disciplined and more ambitious than me. I think when you’re always surrounded by people who are better than you, you tend to feel down. What’s good for me is that I learned that if you surround yourself with people who are better than you, you only improve by osmosis – and that was the case at SMU! Although I could be selected as the best student overall, I certainly don’t think I’m the best in individual subjects – there are many others who are better than me in advocacy, or commercial law. , or in public law, etc. Always a good experience to learn from them.
Another good thing that Hanoi-Amsterdam gave me was good basics in English. When I arrived in Singapore, I was afraid that my English would be atrocious – but thanks to the training I received from Hanoi-Amsterdam, my English was simply insufficient!
You said in your SMU interview that if you could go back in time you would read more books. Why is reading such an important activity for you?
Sinh Vuong and his family.
Reading is very important to me because it’s my favorite way to learn. Don’t get me wrong, reading isn’t the only way for you to learn – but I find reading to be the most effective way for me, and of course there are some things you can’t usually learn. than by reading. I have my grandfather to thank for instilling in me the habit of reading – every time I visited him he would read something, whether it was a book or a newspaper. He also had a huge library at home (he really was a very avid reader!), many books that piqued my interest.
How did you come to your current position as a judicial clerk at the Supreme Court of Singapore?
You know the phrase “behind every successful man is a woman”? I think it’s somewhat relevant here, because I wouldn’t be a JLC without my girlfriend’s encouragement.
I did not expect to be able to work at the Supreme Court. The position was highly coveted and, to my knowledge, very few foreigners (if any) were selected. It was my girlfriend who insisted – harassed (?) – that I apply. His logic was that there was nothing to lose and everything to gain from my postulation. Because of his motivation, I approached my professors at law school for advice – and their feedback was very encouraging! This motivated me to try my luck for the JLC program, and, well, the rest is history.
Could you detail the work you do? What excites you most about your job?
As a court clerk, I assist the judges of the High Court and the Court of Appeal in matters that come before the courts. The work I do is quite varied and largely depends on what my bosses – the judges of the Supreme Court of Singapore – require of me. Generally, most of my work consists of carrying out legal research,
Undoubtedly the most exciting aspect of my job is the opportunity to learn from Singapore’s brightest legal minds. I think I mentioned earlier that Hanoi-Amsterdam taught me to be comfortable with people smarter than me – and I really needed that for my stint as JLC. My peers are all top students from top law schools, not only from Singapore, but also from the US and UK! And no introduction is needed about my patterns. Every day that I spend at the Supreme Court is a day that I learn something new, which I am very grateful for.
You said you wanted to apply your knowledge for the benefit of Singapore and Vietnam. What are your plans for your future?
I think my future aspirations are largely inspired by the teachings of my grandfather. My grandfather taught me that two of the most important qualities a person can have are loyalty and patriotism – which means I must love Vietnam, my home, and Singapore, my home away from home. , who has treated me with indescribable kindness over the past decade. .
In this regard, it was again my grandfather who taught me that all successful countries are backed by strong legal systems. So I wanted to learn more about the law, to see how I can use the law as a ticket to prosperity. To that end, I believe that no legal system can ever call itself perfect, and I believe that there is room for improvement for the legal systems of Vietnam and Singapore.
At some point in the future, I want to join private practice – I’ve had a chance to experience law from the perspective of the bench, and now want to see law from the perspective of the bar. I’m not sure about my long-term plans – I think I would love to be able to go home and play even a small role in strengthening the Vietnamese legal system and enhancing cooperation and interaction between Vietnam and Singapore in the legal field – I believe there is a lot that the two different systems can learn from each other.
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