2018 Women in Mediation: 

An Interview with Khoo May Ann





KHOO May Ann (Ms)

May Ann is a Legal Associate with Dorothy Chai and Mary Ong Law Practice where she specializes in Family & Matrimonial Disputes. 

May Ann graduated from the National University of Singapore in 2016 where she was placed on the Final Year Dean's List and was awarded the Peacemakers’ Prize in Mediation. 

In the same year, May Ann also won the top prize in an essay competition organized by the Singapore International Mediation Institute. Her essay on resolving issues of family violence through mediation was subsequently published by SIMI in its second volume of “Contemporary Issues In Mediation” in 2017.

Q1: How did you get started in mediation? 

My first brush with mediation was at the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. I was studying at the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C. for a semester and was privileged to intern with a Magistrate Judge. Through working on various child protection matters, including abuse and neglect cases, I witnessed first-hand how mediation could be used to help parties focus on the future and the interests of the child. 

This was a significant experience for me and I kept thinking, ‘I wish I could see this in Singapore.’ 

When I came back to Singapore, I decided to pursue my interest in family law and mediation more seriously. For example, I signed up for the mediation course at the National University of Singapore, where I met Professor Joel Lee and Marcus Lim. Joel and Marcus played a pivotal role in nurturing my interest in mediation. 

Their passion for mediation is infectious, and their generosity, encouragement and willingness to impart their skills and share their insights with the younger generation is something that my friends and I are grateful for. 

At work, I’ve been blessed to be mentored by the partners in my firm, Dorothy Chai and Mary Ong. It’s inspiring to witness how much they do behind-the-scenes to understand their clients’ interests in order to achieve their needs. In that respect, they are both able to bring much value to the mediation table, whether as mediators or mediation-advocates. 

I work with them on court and private mediations and it makes me happy to see the mediation process help families reconcile or at least talk about their problems in a helpful way.


Q2: What are some of the challenges you see in mediation as a young person?

As a young person, there’s still so much more to learn about mediation. I try to overcome that challenge daily by building up my experience as a mediation-advocate, focusing on getting accredited as a mediator and always being open towards stepping out of my comfort zone in order to become an effective mediator. 

Naturally, it would also be less intuitive for parties to seek a young mediator or mediation-advocate for help in resolving their disputes. That said, I believe that being prepared, respectful and attentive to each party’s concerns can go a long way towards overcoming the “barrier” of age.


Q3: As someone who became interested in it early on, do you have any advice for those who are becoming interested in mediation?

For students who wish to get more involved in mediation, I would suggest going for the mediation courses whenever you can so that you can get a good grounding in the mediation process. Through role plays, you can bounce ideas off your professors and friends in a safe environment, which would certainly go a long way towards helping you in practice. 

Students can also get involved by volunteering at the Annual Peacemakers Conference, signing up for mediation internships and other peer mediation programs.


Q4: Do you find gender to be a defining characteristic in the mediation context?

I believe female mediators have equal opportunities to voice opinions, teach mediation and mediate disputes etc. Regardless of gender, I think it all boils down to the individual mediator’s style. 

I recently witnessed a mediation where the mediator worked relentlessly towards creating a safe place for the parties to discuss all of their issues freely. It was evident that she thought through everything carefully, right down to the room lay-out (e.g. spacious, natural light, nice music). I think her efforts paid off as the parties were willing to show much grace in understanding each other’s needs. 

At the end of the day, they were even able to reach a settlement. The mediator’s level of preparation before the mediation and positive tone really stood out for me. It showed me that being a good mediator is practically achievable if you work hard and remain sensitive and compassionate towards both parties.


Q5: What are your hopes for the mediation movement going forward?

My hope is for even more families to embrace mediation to sort out their differences and, ideally, achieve some form of healing and reconciliation through it.

As mediation continues to gain traction in Singapore, I also hope that more people would be able to focus their practice on mediation in the future. 

I recently attended a course at the Singapore Mediation Centre and met people from different walks of life including librarians, marketing executives and healthcare professionals who were all working towards becoming mediators. It was encouraging for me to see that more people are taking active steps to get involved in mediation.

In that respect, it is exciting to see how the mediation movement will continue to evolve in Singapore.


(Published 19 March 2018 by the Singapore International Mediation Institute)