Faculty Feature

Associate Professor Eleanor Wong
Rules of Engagement




Associate Professor Eleanor Wong ’85, Vice Dean (Student Affairs) started her career with the Commercial Affairs Department, prosecuting complex commercial and securities frauds. She then obtained a Masters in corporate law from New York University in 1990 and practised in the New York office of Coudert Brothers, returning to Singapore in 1992. Eleanor specialised in regional banking and finance work for Coudert and, later, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. Eleanor is a published playwright, whose works have been produced in Singapore and ASEAN. She has also held several top management positions in television production.

A graduate of NUS Law as a Public Service Commission Merit scholar, Eleanor was named Best Oralist (Championship Round) at the prestigious 1985 Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition, where she was a member of the victorious NUS moot team. In this interview, Eleanor shares with us her mooting experiences as a student and the mooting scene now.

 

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What have been some of the highlights of your career?

Working on exciting cases like Pan-El at CAD so early in my career; international finance work for Coudert Brothers and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe (especially the intense year when we were working on the IBRA work-out agreements); helping to run a TV production company. And, of course, setting up the Legal Skills Programme here at NUS. 

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Tell us a bit about your most memorable mooting experience?

a.       As a participant

It’s a long story! It’s fair to say that when our team went to New York (where the Jessup was held in our year), we were not viewed as “most likely to succeed”; especially because we had come after such obvious luminaries like the Dream Team, and our current Law Minister. So, we hunkered down, pulled together and did everything we could as a team to make sure that we wouldn’t embarrass our school. We were so busy doing that (practising, refining our arguments, running numerous hypotheticals) that we did not realise that we had to register our speakers in order to be eligible for certain prizes. So on the night that they announced which two teams had made it to the international finals, they started by announcing all the speakers who received high rankings in the general rounds and nobody from NUS was named. We were dreadfully disappointed and assumed it meant we had been knocked out quite decisively. Then the next moment, we heard our name — we had made it to the International Finals! (The reason none of our speakers had been named in the ranking was due to an administrative lapse).  

We went on to win the International Finals (against a team whose two speakers were ranked top and second, and who had probably assumed that we were not very good because none of us had not been ranked). And after that, we also beat the top American team to emerge overall champions. These achievements were all the sweeter for not having been expected! 


b.      As a mentor/trainer

Helping a student find their own voice, overcome the various impediments that hold them back and achieve mastery of their abilities and talents. There are too many instances to point to a single one.

 

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How have moot competitions changed over the years?

There are a lot more competitions now than there were in the past, on a wide variety of topics so we can make the opportunity to moot available to more students. Some competitions have become mega-competitions — so many teams take part that it is hard to tell teams apart and outcomes can depend on the vagaries of the panel of judges. But, at the same time, we see a lot of quality smaller moots — where organisers are careful to solicit participation from a smaller number of teams, to select and brief their judging panels well. These are a joy to take part in.

As for the participants, I think the level of talent and the intensity of preparation has gone up all around. This makes those last few rounds in every competition so much more nail-biting.

I believe that mooting should be about a learning experience, over and above competition outcomes. At NUS, we try to make the experience open to many students, not just to those who have already distinguished themselves, or who have “relevant experience” or who have “obvious talent”. We do look for proven aptitude; but we equally look for attitude and potential. As a result, each year, 70-80 students get to represent NUS in international competitions. And, of course, many more NUS students participate in domestic moots and hone their skills that way too.

 

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What makes a successful mooter?

There are the usual suspects — knowing one’s material well, having thought through one’s arguments thoroughly, being able to express those arguments in simple, convincing fashion.

But for me, perhaps counter-intuitively, the single most important ability is the ability to listen — to really hear the judges (even when they not speaking), to understand what their concerns are, and then to address them.

 

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How can students make the most of their time at NUS Law?

Do things that challenge you — it doesn’t have to be moots (in fact it shouldn’t be moots if you’re just looking to pad your resume). Anything that pushes you to grow is a worthwhile endeavour.
 

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