JOEL LEOW ON SUMMING UP A YEAR IN THE LAW
He’s one of the youngest contributors to the SAL Annual Review series—a feat that happened by chance, he explains.
BY ASHUTOSH RAVIKRISHNAN
“I don’t like reading,” admits Mr Joel Leow. Catching himself, he adds, “But I do like reading about the law.” And it appears, writing about it as well. Joel has been co-writing a chapter on the conflict of laws for the SAL Annual Review of Singapore Cases series since 2019.
Preparing for this yearly task entails a lot of reading—and we mean a lot. Joel, a senior associate at Tan Kok Quan Partnership, burned through three months' worth of weekends earlier this year just to get up to speed on about 30 judgments. These decisions, related to the conflict of laws, helped him write the chapter that was published this year.
And out of habit, Joel checks the Supreme Court’s judgments page every day, both to stay up to date with the law and to fish out potential judgments that may be relevant for the next chapter on conflicts (he’s already shortlisted 40). After that, he'll get together with his co-authors, Prof Joel Lee and Mr Marcus Teo (both of the NUS Faculty of Law) to decide which of these cases should be included in their review.
Joel is grateful for this opportunity from Prof Lee, who had first broached the idea of working together on the Annual Review. “We were midway through my final semester at NUS and I asked him if he needed a research assistant, thinking it would be a good way to learn while also earning extra cash at the same time.”
“But Prof Lee suggested that I co-write the annual review with him instead. I was very humbled by the offer, but also thrown off because I wasn’t sure if I was ready,” recalls Joel. His reservations are understandable, given that the typical contributors to the series are senior lawyers and academics. “But Prof Lee was very kind and encouraging. He emphasised that he saw the potential in me and would be happy to write the chapter with me.” Marcus joined the pair two years later and the trio have been churning out the chapter on conflict of laws every year since.
Joel’s experience as a practitioner informs his approach to writing the chapter, the most recent of which clocks in at a whopping 99 pages, including 498 footnotes. For example, he’s always keen to cover arguments raised, even unsuccessfully. He believes that this helps practitioners consider the merits—or pitfalls—of alternative arguments. “It could be a warning not to try such an argument in the future or to at least frame it differently.” His writing also influences his practice, he adds. “Reading so many cases opens my mind to the different kinds of arguments that can be made, and the different ways we can approach a case or an issue. Even though the facts may not be identical, there could be parallels worth drawing when making the relevant arguments.”
Joel with his parents, whom he credits for keeping him grounded
Writing and presenting the Annual Review series isn’t the only way that Joel contributes to the profession. He also mentors junior lawyers who join him on pro bono cases. “I tend to rope in one or two juniors for these cases so that they can experience a criminal file from start to finish, even if it’s just a very basic sentencing matter.”
Squeezing in pro bono work and his usual workload might seem excessive, but Joel says it’s almost non-negotiable for him. “It goes back to why I wanted to do law in the first place. I come from a rather underprivileged background—my dad’s a taxi driver and my mum’s a homemaker. I know what it’s like to feel helpless in the face of legal issues when you don’t have the resources or knowledge to manage them. My parents have also always reminded me to stay grounded and do good. So I hope that in some small way, my pro bono work can extend a helping hand to others in their times of need.”
Mr Joel Leow presents the Annual Review of 2021 Cases on Conflict of Laws as a webinar next week. He will be joined by Prof Joel Lee and Mr Marcus Teo (both from the NUS Faculty of Law). Register here. You can also read their chapter published in the Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review of Singapore Cases here.