What do law students in Malaysia, Uganda, Brazil and the United Kingdom have in common?

What do law students in Malaysia, Uganda, Brazil and the United Kingdom have in common?

Students from Uganda Christian University were matched with students at King’s College London and invited to talk about their experiences at law school. The project has led to fascinating exchanges between passionate aspiring lawyers. Over the next couple of weeks, their stories will be published on this blog.

What does a law student in Uganda, a Malaysian student, and a Brazilian LLM student in the UK have in common?

Law has for a long time played a significant role in modern society, and with the law came the lawyers. The elegance of the title, however, does not reflect why we study and why we do this against all odds, against many times the system, against the interest of the richer and powerful. Law involves passion, feelings, a strong heart, faith and lot of hard work – not only because of the fact that everything we do in our lives is regulated by laws, but also because our lives themselves regulate and change the law in all its dynamism.

So why, are we really doing this? What keeps motivating us and what do we intend to achieve?

Bruno, an aspiring lawyer in Uganda, says he has been inspired to pursue law by the legal environment in Uganda where legal services are too expensive and seem to be reserved for only the rich, whilst the poor have even poorer access to the law. Bruno hopes to join legal aid organizations after attaining his degree. These are slowly springing up in Uganda and will enable the extension of legal services to those that cannot afford them, as well as building the bridge between people and courts of law.

On the other hand, Wei Lit, a Malaysian law student in London, chose to study law because it is relatable to our everyday lives: “We are all puppets living within the boundaries of law, yet none of us as commoners understand how it works”. For him, a law degree is versatile, hence providing many options for his future career.

Camille started studying law with the aspiration of changing the world, by understanding everyone’s rights and how she could fight for them. She obtained her law degree 7 years ago and specialized in the taxation area. With her degree she was able to join a multinational company as a tax advisor, where she left as a Tax manager, and started volunteering projects inside this company. As part of her pro bono work, she coached students in social vulnerable environments in Brazil. Since the very beginning of law school, however, she enjoyed tax law, which has been her focus ever since. She is currently taking her master’s degree at King’s College London in International Taxation and has received a full scholarship from the UK government.

So why law?

The answer is that the legal profession equips one with the knowledge of virtually every social, economic and political aspect in this world. Thus, we fight, we cry, we fall and rise with absolutely no doubt, whilst always pursuing progression, equality and justice for our people.

Having chosen law as a path in our lives, our second challenge is to adapt to our very different law schools but in a very similar way.

Bruno so far is fairly satisfied with his choice. He says he has had the opportunity to learn quite a number of things, including the law, politics, debating and leadership (he served in the University’s Guild both as the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs and as the Attorney General of Guild Government in 2015/2016). Also, he has been able to meet people of diverse cultures, heritages and nationality- people who inspired him. A combination of the above has enabled him to discover and measure his worth, to know the right people to associate and work with and most importantly, he has become a better leader.

Unfortunately, law school has not only been an easy time for Bruno: first the struggle and the everyday fight to pay the extraordinarily expensive tuition fees. Despite that, the university suffers from a lack of proper amenities, like a well-stocked library, ICT centers or exchange programs with other law schools.

As interesting as it seems, life at law school in Brazil is not that different from life in Uganda. Even though Camille has studied at the top university in Brazil, it still suffered from basic problems, such as constant strikes due to staff salaries not being paid and issues with the infrastructure, such as lack of internet or no air conditioning with an outside temperature of 42ºC. What she loved about her university, though, was to see her professors and colleagues fighting for their education, fighting for their rights and against the corruption in the system. During her time at law school she experienced many positive changes that only happened due the passion of the legal community.

Besides, in Brazil students have to work during law school in order to get a good job when they graduate, which is a very painful culture that requires those people to sacrifice any free time they might have for their future. Being part of this was very hard for Camille and she had to neglect many things in her personal life, but it also gave her strength and skills that she have been using since then.

Wei Lit has had a different experience, however. In Malaysia, education is heavily affected by politics and this has forced him, along with many of his peers, to pursue his education overseas. With the costly tuition fee and his living expenses in the UK, his family struggles to support him financially. This pushes him to study harder and to cherish this opportunity of studying at one of the best law schools in the world.

Looking at the challenges illustrated above, why do our countries find themselves in such positions?

Bruno says that Uganda’s post-independence period was characterized by coup d’états, rebellions and wars that set the country’s economy back. Corruption remained as a big challenge and had a grave impact on service delivery in the country. This has led to slow growth of basic infrastructure such as hospitals, schools and water supply etc. Moreover, low levels of industrialization (both manufacturing and agriculture) led to dependence on imports with less exportation. All these factors contributed to unemployment and income inequalities, this being the ultimate reason why Uganda is a third world country.

Wei Lit says that Malaysia, despite the efforts of becoming a developed country, is far from achieving such goal. Bleeding from non-stop corruption, its politicians have also created racial prejudice or even hatred, preventing this great country of growing.

Brazil is not behind Uganda and Malaysia in corruption problems, leading to inequality ultimately. Brazil, just as most developing countries, has a high level of corruption and a government that cares mainly about getting reelected and maintaining its power. The lack of instruction and basic education makes people unaware of their rights and how to fight for them. The government has no interest in educating these people, as eventually they would turn against them. Thus demagogues and populists keep getting reelected without any substantial change and improvement in the level of education and other public services.

 For all of us victims of these systems, and fighters for a better one, sadly, we cannot remove the culture of corruption immediately. One factor has been, and will always be, key: Education is the one and only long term sustainable avenue for this issue. Hence, as long as politics are taking grasp of education, Brazil, Uganda and Malaysia as well as many other developing countries might never see a light of hope.

In conclusion, despite the challenges in our countries, especially with regard to law school and studying law, a common factor that drives all of us is the ambition to become lawyers (Bruno and Wei Lit) and to further our legal careers (Camille), so as to have an impact in our societies, especially in the legal profession and the justice systems of our countries.

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