Isaac has just graduated from Hughes Hall, emerging as the top law student across Cambridge with the highest mark in Part II. As valedictorian, he has also been awarded the Slaughter and May Prize by the Faculty of Law.
We spoke to him about the highs and lows, and the memories, friendships, inspiration and support along the way.
His top tips for thriving at Cambridge are a valuable reflection for all those following in his footsteps. Thank you, Isaac, congratulations and good luck with all the follows!
Tell us about yourself, your background, and your inspiration
Hi everyone! I just completed the Law Tripos program this past July. I am from Hong Kong, and, prior to Cambridge, studied Public Policy and Economics as an undergraduate at Duke University in the United States.
I have always been interested in the intersection of these two fields, and I felt that studying law would allow me to utilize my knowledge in finance and policy to think deeply about the rules we have in our society and how they should be. Having also interned on Capitol Hill and at a Bulge Bracket bank in college, I was struck by the considerable influence that real-world political actions and financial decisions have on both legislation and judicial reasoning.
I was drawn increasingly towards the study of law, not just to learn about it, but to explore and examine its adaptability and role in shaping society. This potential, paired with my desire to help individuals navigate these complex systems, fueled my decision to study law at Cambridge, which offered the right blend of rigorous academics and opening for discourse.
How was your experience of doing Law as a mature undergraduate at Hughes?
The law fellows here go above and beyond for their students, and there is abundant support for everyone to succeed. For instance, Dr. Markus Gehring (who interviewed me), despite being on sabbatical at Yale this year, still came back to host a European Union law Q&A revision session for us and a number of other colleges. Dr. Lars Vinx, my former Director of Studies (DoS) and Jurisprudence supervisor, is also extremely kind, responsive, and gave detailed feedback on my work. Last but not least, Dr. Martin Steinfeld, my DoS this year and European Union and Constitutional Law supervisor, has been an excellent mentor, teacher, and friend. Not only would Martin (along with Lars) go out of their way to find us the best supervisors, but he is also an extremely open-minded teacher who strongly encouraged me to think critically about the law (despite often holding very different views from me).
As mature students, we all come from diverse backgrounds, and it was interesting to discuss legal concepts together and hear from differing perspectives. This also meant that we were able to exchange more ‘mature’ ideas amongst ourselves that better contemplate how the world really works and see the bigger picture on legal issues, compared to our younger peers. Outside of class, we are all good friends amongst ourselves, and I am grateful for the network of ambitious and like-minded law students that I have met here at Hughes.
You got the highest mark in law across the University of Cambridge – how does it feel to be ‘best of the best’
Being recognized as the top law student at Cambridge is something I am still coming to terms with. I am exceedingly grateful and humbled by this recognition, but it is important to note that this achievement is not just about me. From the start, this has been a team effort. The guidance from my supervisors, the stimulating discussions with my peers, and the supportive environment at Hughes Hall all played a significant role in this achievement.
I am also proud of our cohort, which I understand has done quite well this year. We may not come from the more traditional colleges with vast resources, but our results show that we can excel just as well, if not better. While there is always an element of luck in the Tripos exams, it is still incredibly satisfying to see that our hard work, dedication, and sleepless nights paid off in the end.
Personally, this recognition comes with a sense of responsibility. It has instilled in me a stronger aspiration to use my legal expertise to not only represent my clients to the best of my abilities in court, but to also contribute to making Hong Kong and my country a better place.
As I look forward to joining the legal profession, I understand it involves more than just understanding and applying the law. It is about using that understanding to effect meaningful change where possible, within the bounds of my duty to my clients. It is about standing up for justice, fairness, and equality, and working towards a society where the law serves as a tool to further these principles. This achievement is a steppingstone towards this goal, and I enthusiastically look forward to the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
What next for you?
I will be taking the Postgraduate Certificate in Laws in Hong Kong (the equivalent to the Legal Practice Course in the UK) this fall. I will then commence a pupillage at Des Voeux Chambers in Hong Kong.
Any advice for those following in your footsteps?
Absolutely. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:
- Don’t hesitate to ask for help when you need it.
There will be times when you are overwhelmed, or when you struggle with a concept. Reach out to your supervisors, your peers, or anyone who can help. During my time at Hughes, I had moments of burnout where I felt like I was hitting a wall. Speaking with my supervisors and peers helped me overcome these challenges. Remember, there’s no shame in not knowing something or needing support.
- Be honest in your supervisions.
If you haven’t done the reading, say so. If you don’t understand a concept, ask for clarification. Pretending to understand when you don’t is a waste of everyone’s time. Instead, use that time to learn and understand better. A question I often asked during supervision was “What is this?”, pointing to something in the reading list or a legal concept. It’s a simple way to indicate that you need more explanation without irrelevant rambling – we are all adults.
- Work smart.
Understand the exam structure, know what is expected of you, and adjust your study habits accordingly. This doesn’t mean you should just study for the exam but understanding the ‘game’ can help you navigate it more efficiently and effectively.
- Remember your goals and adjust your efforts accordingly.
If you are aiming for a career where grades matter, then by all means, work towards getting the best grades. But if your career goals lie elsewhere, don’t stress too much about academics. Focus on gaining the knowledge and skills you’ll need in your future career.
- Enjoy the journey.
Studying law can be tough, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. Take the time to appreciate what you’re learning, the people you’re meeting, and the experiences you’re having along the way.
Remember, everyone’s journey is unique, and there’s no one-size-fits-all advice. What worked for me might not work for you. So take my advice with a grain of salt, find your path, and most importantly, enjoy the journey.