Every year since 1994, SSEK has sent associates to study overseas as part of the firm’s professional development program. Today, we talk with Mohammad K. Bratawijaya about his recent overseas study trip.
Where did you go and why?
I went to Dallas, Texas, to attend the 2019 Academy of American and International Law (the “Academy”), sponsored by the Southwestern Institute for International and Comparative Law. SSEK has been sending one associate each year to the Academy since 1994. In March 2019, SSEK’s managing partner, Denny Rahmansyah, informed me that I was being offered the chance to attend the Academy.
Give us an overview of the training and what you learned?
Class began at 9 a.m. and concluded at 4:15 pm every day from Monday to Friday. Each subject matter was presented by different professors, according to their areas of expertise. During the first three days, we were introduced to the U.S. legal system, focusing on the principles of common law, the U.S. Constitution, the roles of and relationship between the federal courts and state courts. There was also a class on legal writing in plain English. This particular class was pretty interesting and intense at the same time, because the professor who taught it is the editor in chief of Black’s Law Dictionary. At the end of the first week, we had to form a group and were assigned an international compliance problem in relation to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The groups were expected to write a report and present the same to the class during the last week of the Academy.
From the second to fifth weeks, there were various subjects presented in class, including international business negotiations, international litigation in U.S. courts, business organizations known in the U.S., international business transactions, international tax, etc. During the third week of the Academy, there was a symposium on international law and global markets, where a number of experienced lawyers talked about their respective jurisdictions. The Academy came up with the idea that only four members should take part in the symposium by presenting some legal issues recently faced in their jurisdiction. I was very surprised that the Academy wanted to know about the legal framework for foreign investment and restrictions in Indonesia. Since I was the only Indonesian at the Academy, I gave the presentation in front of 50 Academy members and with a bunch of senior lawyers from all over the world as the panelists. It was a pretty intense moment but also fun at the same time, and I received a bunch of compliments from fellow members and professors.
Other than attending classes, we also observed a court proceeding. The one we attended was a family law case involving a child custody matter. It was very interesting because this type of case would be closed to the public in Indonesia. We also participated in a transnational arbitration workshop in the fanciest hotel in Dallas. Other activities included attending law firm receptions where we had the chance to converse and connect with American legal practitioners. We also had the privilege to watch a baseball game from a VIP box and a rodeo in Fort Worth.
The Academy truly was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Other than all the interesting legal topics, I think the most valuable thing was to be able to connect with people from so many different countries. I was able to learn many things (including salsa) from 50 people from 24 different countries. Attending the Academy helped me better realize that we have to be open to differences and should respect the opinions of others, even if they go against our beliefs. I also learned to listen more to other people’s ideas and not to underestimate them. I was very grateful and humbled that the members of this year’s Academy chose me to be the spokesperson for the class, where I was responsible to give a speech at the farewell party.
How does this contribute to the work you do at SSEK?
By attending the Academy, I feel that I am more confident in communicating in English, verbally or in writing. Being asked to present about the Indonesian investment regulatory framework and to give the farewell speech has made me more comfortable talking in front of an audience.
I was also able to get a general idea of how different the U.S. legal system is compared to the legal system in Indonesia. This will be very useful when I am engaged by a client that is subject to U.S. law.
In terms of networking, the Academy gave me the chance to connect with bright lawyers from all over the world. I believe that building relationships with these people is very valuable, because it will help me understand international legal issues and how to resolve them. Commercially, by building a network with my fellow Academy members, it will help me market myself and SSEK to lawyers from 24 different countries.
What are some of the differences/similarities between Jakarta and Dallas?
One thing in common between Jakarta and Dallas is the weather, even though Dallas is less humid and polluted. Because of the hot temperature, most people in Dallas commute by car, which I think is similar to Jakarta. Other similarities are the skyscrapers downtown and the great nightlife. One of the absolute differences between Jakarta and Dallas is that they drive on the other side of the road and everything is bigger, including the food, roads and cars.
How did you find the transition between working full time and studying full time?
I found that the transition between working full time and studying full time was quite a challenge. When I first arrived in Dallas I was having trouble with the jet lag and was very exhausted because I had flown for 29 hours. I had trouble keeping up with the class during the first three days because of the jet lag, not because of the transition from working full time. Eventually, I was able to focus more on the classes. However, coming home from Dallas was a different challenge, because I had to switch from listening to professors speak to working full time and writing legal advice and reports. It took me a full week to get back into shape.
What are some of the things you missed about Jakarta? And what will you miss about Dallas?
Obviously, I really missed my family back in Jakarta. I had never been apart from them for as long as five weeks. At a certain point, I was really feeling homesick. But fortunately, I could always reach my family through WhatsApp video call. Another thing that I missed from Indonesia was eating rice and spicy food, even though I had no problem eating hamburgers, grilled meat, Tex-Mex and all of those BBQ dishes. Actually, I gained five kilos while I was in Dallas.
As for Dallas, I will absolutely miss the road trips I took to Austin and San Antonio during the weekend, lounging around the pool in the hotel after class, going to the nearest bar to enjoy live music and other good stuff that Dallas has to offer. And since I never cook in Indonesia, I will really miss doing the grocery shopping at Walmart or Whole Foods and making myself a really good sandwich. I will also miss the variety of beers that are easy to get in stores.
What was the highlight of your experience?
One thing that I am really grateful for was to be made the spokesperson of our class. Since the task of the spokesperson is to deliver a speech at the farewell party, I had to make some preparations the night before. When I was writing the speech, I realized that I was really lucky. It was a pretty emotional moment and I almost cried. Everyone agreed that the Academy experience goes beyond words and that we should always stay in touch. We plan to have a reunion in Amsterdam next year.
Another highlight was getting pulled over by the police when I was driving to Austin. The reason I got pulled over was that I didn’t signal when I changed lanes. I think I did a great job at convincing the police officer that I came from a country where everything is in reverse in terms of traffic affairs, including the turn signal. The officer understood my argument and let me go with a simple warning. Another exciting moment was attending a concert (actually it was an Israeli DJ). The event took place in downtown Dallas and I went there by myself because no one in the Academy really enjoys that kind of music.
After studying in the U.S., what are your thoughts about the law in Indonesia?
Even though it is not reasonable to compare the U.S. and Indonesian legal systems, I believe the Indonesian legal system needs some improvement. Since Indonesia adopted its civil and criminal codes from the Dutch, and both still apply to this day, I believe they need to be updated to be in accordance with current circumstances. I also think the U.S. has done better at enforcing its law, particularly the principles embodied in the U.S. Constitution, which basically protects the rights of its citizens. I think Indonesia can improve in terms of enforcing the basic principles of Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution to protect citizens and minimize gray areas and uncertainty due to overlapping regulations promulgated by the central and local governments. This would, in turn, attract more investors to Indonesia.