We wish to congratulate you on your recent appointment to the New Zealand Asian Lawyers inaugural board. Can you tell us about the importance of this board within the legal community, what role you have on it and any goals of the board?
Thank you. It was a great privilege to be asked to be a part of the board by New Zealand Asian Lawyers Founder/Chair Mai Chen and to contribute in some way. At present, I’m a Board member doubling as the Board Secretary and I lead the Events Committee with Mai Chen. There are currently ten board members from private practice, academia and the Bar.
The importance of New Zealand Asian Lawyers can’t be understated. Asians now make up 1 in 9 of the legal profession and our numbers are increasing year on year, especially amongst lawyers in the 1-7 years PQE bracket where the Asian lawyer percentage is much higher. As an ethnic group, we are not well represented in the senior ranks of the judiciary or the profession and an important role for New Zealand Asian Lawyers is to help our members reach those top positions.
We have four basic aims – to become the thought leader for our community; be the primary hub for networking and connecting amongst our members and the profession; be a focal point for education on relevant issues; and foster development of our members amongst the profession generally.
Last year, we held a number of unique seminars and events such as hearing from Justice Susan Glazebrook on the Supreme Court decisions in the Zhang and in the Ellis cases. Both decisions were novel and ground breaking. Our events got a very strong turnout from the senior ranks of the bench and bar and we are looking to build on that.
2023 is an exciting year for New Zealand Asian Lawyers. As well as additional networking, we are looking to launch our mentoring programme across the profession which will connect our junior members with highly respected senior partners and counsel.
Can you tell us about your role as Vice President - Legal at Millennium & Copthorne Hotels NZ Ltd, what you love, and what it is teaching you about yourself?
I came back to the company in 2018 after a short spell away from the industry and legal practice to take up the role. It’s a sole charge legal and company secretarial position and I have to look after two NZX-listed companies – MCK and CDL Investments New Zealand Limited (CDI), which does residential property development
I’ve been lucky in my time with MCK to cover a wide range of legal issues from consumer guarantees to cross-border M&A and arbitration matters. It’s very helpful to have a broad knowledge of many facets of the law and being able to use that knowledge is what I most enjoy.
Many of our people have worked for MCK or CDI for a long time and it’s fantastic to have their knowledge and experience at your fingertips. What they teach me is that the finest elements of service are that it should be of the highest standard, always from the heart and with humility. That’s what I aim to provide.
What have been your role's most recent challenges, and how have you addressed these?
The pandemic and all of its related consequences have had a devastating effect on our industry and our company as a whole. We’re still in recovery mode and it will be a slow grind to get back to where we were before 2020.
I’ve been through many highs and lows with MCK and CDI over a decade and half but I’ve never experienced anything like what we had to go through in 2020 and 2021. We learned a lot about ourselves and how best to work together in order to survive an existential crisis.
What was remarkable about the last three years was the determination and resilience shown by our core teams, particularly at our hotels before and after lockdowns and when we were doing MIQ work. We faced enormous people challenges and financial pressures every day and the way that our people dealt with the myriad of issues was inspiring. I was just pleased to help in any way I could.
What are some of the trends that you see in the in-house legal profession and how do you see it evolving?
What I see is a positive trend towards in-house specialisation. Previously, generalists like me would probably be more suited to in-house practice but I don’t think that’s the case now.
There are now several in-house teams which would easily rival or better some of their private practice counterparts and many who are subject matter experts in their bespoke fields. This started because of the need to reduce external legal spend but as teams have matured and grown, it’s now about building a sustainable knowledge base who know your business inside and out.
I also think that the in-house side of the profession is still ahead in promoting career adaptability. That’s come into focus again over the past three years and I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t done a top-down / 360 degree review of their working life during the pandemic and not wanted change of some sort. That trend will continue for a while yet and will be a challenge for law firms and organisations alike who are looking to hire.
I’m not as worried about the growth of AI in law. It is and will be a great tool for litigators and lawyers drafting commercial contracts but in-house lawyering still needs the human touch!
Photo credit: CDL Investments