Gender balance: a Hong Kong story
08 March 2019
To celebrate International Women’s Day 2019, we asked three of our Hong Kong partners to share how they've got to where they are in their careers today, and to offer some advice to young women hoping to pursue similar paths. Their individual career paths are all different, but together they now represent a diverse and gender balanced partnership in Hong Kong, where females represent 50% of the partnership. Our practice here works hard to demonstrate the theme of #BalanceForBetter every day. We think there is no better way to celebrate this than to share their stories.
Justine Lau, Partner, litigation and restructuring & insolvency
How did you get here? I qualified into a busy commercial disputes team in a mid-tier Australian firm, and Hong Kong was not part of any strategic plan for me. I got a call from a former colleague about a role in restructuring, bankruptcy and insolvency at Mayer Brown and literally came on a whim. Then the Lehman Brothers collapse happened and Mayer Brown was appointed counsel for the liquidators over most of the Asia entities. That was undoubtedly one of my career highlights – I was the lead associate on a piece of litigation in the English Commercial Court involving some pretty difficult legal issues arising out of the unwinding of complex structures. I joined Mourant last year after almost a decade in Hong Kong. I was looking for a new challenge and the opportunity to contribute to a fast-growing office and practice; I feel that I can thrive here.
Have you had any role models who stand out? The first partner I worked with on qualification was a woman, now the CEO of the firm. Women outnumbered the men in that litigation team, so I had the benefit of some really strong female role models. Each had a very different approach and what I learnt from each of them was the value of perseverance, sticking to your guns, learning what and when to compromise, and always knowing what you stand for.
What's your career advice to young women starting out today? My advice is find your tribe or support network, identify someone you admire and ask them to mentor you. Then just get on with it – don’t just talk the talk, get out there and do it!
Danielle Roman, Partner, banking and finance
How did you get here? I qualified at Dentons in London, before moving to Hong Kong to join Clifford Chance’s asset finance team. After a few years, I joined an offshore law firm to broaden my banking and finance practice. In 2012, I took the opportunity to be part of Mourant’s starting team when they opened their Hong Kong office. At that time, I had a baby boy, a great career track and it was a risk to move to an unknown firm, but I wanted to be somewhere with vision. It was a chance to take a risk, be a business builder and part of something which I could shape and be proud of. Seven years on, we continue to be the fastest-growing offshore firm in Asia.
What or who has driven you in your career? My father told me I could be anything I wanted, and my mother was my greatest role model. She raised three children while working full time in an incredibly challenging job and showed me there are no shortcuts – it takes hard work, discipline and commitment.
How do you achieve work-life balance? One of my biggest challenges as a full-time career woman and parent of three children is integrating my work-life responsibilities. It is a challenge not to sweat the small stuff and to keep a sense of humour, but the key has been flexibility and understanding, both from home and work.
What's your advice to young women starting out today? To other women looking to achieve success, I say determine what success means to you without comparison to others. Remember there is no Superwoman – get your support team, don’t be embarrassed to ask for help, and when the going gets tough, just think of the view from the top.
Claire Fulton, Partner, finance and restructuring
How did you get here? I trained and qualified in Edinburgh and after two years moved to New Zealand. I worked in banking and finance there for three years then joined Hogan Lovells in Hong Kong in 2007 which was, as a junior lawyer, a fantastic opportunity to help build a practice at an international firm. After seven happy years, when the opportunity came to help Mourant build and expand a similar business, I couldn’t refuse. I joined Mourant in 2014 and was promoted to partner in 2017.
Do any role models in your career stand out? I have been fortunate enough to have been surrounded, throughout my career, by colleagues and mentors who have consistently shown an unfounded belief in me, and were it not for that support, I suspect I would have given up along the way. I remember one conversation that I have valued immensely, when I was on secondment to a large bank while pregnant for the first time. I asked my line manager about potential in-house roles and her views on moving out of private practice. She asked why I wanted to leave private practice and I said I absolutely didn’t, but I thought it may be an appropriate time to start making a move, particularly as I was expecting twins. I remember that she was so disappointed to hear that I had written off my career in private practice for no good reason and that she had seen many female lawyers make very similar (often wrong) assumptions about their futures. Thankfully, I listened to her and, since then, a combination of belief in myself and the support of those around me has driven me to succeed.
What's your advice to young women starting out today? My current role offers an amazing opportunity to teach and mentor others, work with some amazing individuals, and influence the direction of travel of both a practice here in Hong Kong/Asia and the global business. For other women starting out, I’d say there’s no substitute for hard work; determine what success means to you and own it – don’t waste time comparing yourself and your choices to others.