Alan Tan is Professor at the National University of Singapore Law School, specialising in Aviation Law, Maritime Law, Criminal Law and Environmental Law. Professor Alan is Director of the NYU@NUS Dual Degree Program that allows students to obtain two L.L.M degrees from the New York University and NUS Law Schools. He is concurrently Director (Projects) in the Office of the Provost of NUS, overseeing the newly established Yale-NUS College's double degree programs.
Alan Tan is Professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Law School, specialising in Aviation Law, Maritime Law, Criminal Law and Environmental Law. Professor Alan is Director of the NYU@NUS Dual Degree Program that allows students to obtain two L.L.M degrees from the New York University and NUS Law Schools. He is concurrently Director (Projects) in the Office of the Provost of NUS, overseeing the newly established Yale-NUS College's double degree programs.
Bar & Bench: Why do you think law provides an attractive option to students making a career choice?
Professor Tan: Many young people believe in the need to harness the law to do what is good, right and just. In this regard, the study and practice of law can be very fulfilling in that lawyers can really make a difference and help others. I believe that is the ideal that draws good students to law schools around the world. Of course, there is also the perception that law is glamorous and lucrative: this is not always true, and good lawyers everywhere certainly work very hard to earn their keep. But overall, I think law is attractive as a career option because it is very empowering to be a lawyer.
Bar & Bench: What, in your view, must legal education today provide? How is this different from the past?
Professor Tan: Legal education must train students to think on their feet, to give well-reasoned opinions for important issues of the day, and to deal not only with what is, but also what ought to be. In other words, we must train students not only to describe facts, but to prescribe changes and solutions. At the same time, there must be an awareness of how law affects the lives of people in other countries and jurisdictions. In the past, the study of law could comfortably remain domestic. Nowadays, however, a good law school prides itself on being able to deliver a global legal education that prepares its students to operate across jurisdictions. This does not mean that we must teach students the laws of every other country. That would be impossible. But the student should be taught the tools to conduct research into other countries’ laws and to be able to advise on problems that are cross-disciplinary and cross-jurisdictional in nature. That is the nature of today’s inter-connected economies. So it is not just about teaching substance, but also imparting problem-solving and cultural sensibilities.
Bar & Bench: Do you think that there is an ideal time to pursue an LL.M? Is work experience important?
Professor Tan: There is no ideal time. From the perspective of a law school, it is nice to have an LL.M class that is diverse and has a mix of fresh graduates and experienced lawyers. Work experience is always a bonus because the more mature students can relate their experience in class. Yet, it is also the mature student who tends to be jaded; the young graduates are likely to be more idealistic. There are also personal circumstances: I have come across students who need to work first to gather enough finances for their LL.M studies. Some wait to find a life partner before embarking on an overseas LL.M together. These are all relevant considerations.
Bar & Bench: Why should one pursue an LL.M?
Professor Tan: I think it is advantageous to pursue an LL.M to gain more knowledge and insight, particularly in a country different from where you obtained your LL.B. This way, you become sensitised to a new environment and learning culture. There is also the added advantage of networking and making new contacts with foreign classmates. This can be invaluable in your later professional life. Speaking for myself, my LL.M classmates and I remain close up to this day, and we visit each other all the time.
Bar & Bench: What factors should a student weigh in deciding on a course/university?
Professor Tan: One should, of course, think about the quality of the legal education offered and the global standing of the law school. The range of interesting courses offered, the reputation of the professors teaching them, the quality of the living environment in that university and city are all important factors. In addition, there is also the issue of cost, and one should really conduct a cost-benefit analysis to see if the cost will translate into meaningful benefits like increased knowledge and employment opportunities.
Bar & Bench: What makes the NYU@NUS program unique? How has this program added a new dimension to legal education thereby placing its students in a better position to exploit various opportunities?
Professor Tan: NYU@NUS is unique because it offers an outstanding U.S. legal education in an Asian setting, drawing upon the combined strengths of two leading law schools. A student in the NYU@NUS program graduates with LL.M degrees from two top law schools, New York University (NYU) and the National University of Singapore (NUS). It offers students the advantages that I have talked about above: the chance to study courses taught from a global perspective by top-notch faculty from around the world and the opportunity to study and live in an Asia on the ascent. The word “global” is often used to describe the very best features of the NYU@NUS program, and it is not just a fashionable adjective. We mean it when we say we want to expose our students to the world and to exploit cross-border opportunities. By earning degrees from a U.S. and an Asian law school, the students increase their knowledge, sharpen their sensibilities and enhance their employability.
Bar & Bench: What is your vision for the program going forward?
Professor Tan: I would like to explore opportunities for students in the program to undergo internship opportunities in various cities in Asia. I believe the future of the world economy is very much wedded to Asia, and a student who is Asia-savvy will always command a premium. We may well have greater mobility, in that the students will not need to be in Singapore for such a significant amount of time, and may well study or intern in China, India, the Middle East or Japan or at NYU in New York.
Bar & Bench: What advantage does the NYU@NUS program have over pursuing an LL.M from India/US/UK?
Professor Tan: Again, it would be the fact that one can obtain a U.S. law degree while experiencing life in Asia, and the ability to combine that with an NUS law degree that offers courses with a focus on Asia. I think that combination is unbeatable.
Bar & Bench: In your experience, what impression have you gained about Indian law students as compared to those from other parts of the world?
Professor Tan: Indian students are about the best you can find. They are articulate, gregarious and never lacking in opinion! I think it comes from living in a bustling democracy. At the same time, Indian students can be nationalistic, but not overtly so. They are able to recognize both the strengths and faults of their own country, and by extension, other societies. This is about as balanced a worldview as you can find.
(This interview was conducted by NUS student Shruti Hiremath for Bar & Bench. Hiremath is currently pursuing the NYU@NUS program)