Q: Working in an international global context does not come naturally to everyone. Australia and America are far apart. In other words, they are two different continents. Weren’t you nervous or excited about starting your career away from home? What prompted you to move to New York and what impact has it had on your career?
A: I have always envisaged myself working in an international global context. The activities which I also gravitated towards are always cross-border work. The thought of being able to travel to work was always the most amazing thing in the world.
Being fresh out of law school, I had to move to the US with my boyfriend who had the opportunity to work in a New York firm. Initially, I was worried that I would not be qualified and that there would be no market for me. However, I realized that it was not so bad. New York firms look very highly at Australian lawyers. They thought very highly of Australian lawyers and their work ethics.
Q: Becoming a banking lawyer involves cross-border deals. What inspired you to become a banking lawyer? Don’t they pose a challenge to you? Was it the inspiration behind your move?
A: I started out in Allen & Overy where I was doing cross-border deals from day one. In a domestic transaction, there would usually be a lender based in New York to someone else. There might be subsidiaries of the company that are guaranteeing. Or, there could be deals where the lenders are just not based in New York, and thus their domestic laws would then be important. The minute you touch on laws in other countries, you would have to involve the local lawyers in the areas.
What I always found enticing also cross-border comparative law is that the concepts are similar but somewhat different across jurisdictions. You can make good friendships with people that you have never met before and that is an upside to working internationally.
Q: There may be thousands of young lawyers longing for an opportunity to establish a career in a global context yet afraid to make any move. Do you have any advice for them?
A: The moral of the lesson is to be bold, give it a go, and the worst you can do is not to give it a try. You can always move back home if things do not work out. If you want an international practice, choose one that is actually transferable. For example, banking, corporate, or international arbitration are more transferable than a more regional practice like tax.
Be open-minded. Find things that you really like and you will give it your all!
Q: COVID-19 brought about unprecedented challenges as far as legal profession is concerned which is heavily dependent on in person meetings. How did it affect your career? What changes were effected to meet this situation?
A: New York is still in lockdown in March 2020. There was the first case of COVID and it escalated from there. We were told to work remotely. Twenty months later we are still working from home. Offices are open with very strict requirements, and most people work from home.
In terms of the debt financing transactions, everything is done online. Relatively few in-person meetings. Usually negotiations happen over the phone in person. There is no time to get dressed to even go to the meeting. You could be even in the shower when you need to get the deal done. I found out that with the pandemic, all you need is a phone and computer with a microphone and you can get the job done. I think a lot of people enjoy the flexibility although there are downsides to it. From a transactional lawyer perspective, clients like that no one is commuting and everyone is available 24/7.
Q: You have firsthand experience in functioning as a banking lawyer away from home in a totally different context. How did you cope with it and what advice or tips do you have for young lawyers who wish to embark on a similar journey.
A: Most law firms will give you the option of doing rotation. The rotation will allow you to be exposed to different areas of the law. Don’t be afraid to try new things – you might need to think that you want to be an M&A lawyer now but you might actually find competition law to be your thing.
I tried M&A and banking and these gave me a good perspective of their differences. Similarities are that they are procedural-type of deals. Things move fast in M&A and Banking. Unlike litigation where you either can be dropped into a case where the deal can be done within days or you can be dropped into a case that’s been going on for 10 years.
Good thing about Australian deals is that they are pretty transferable. Lastly, always keep your options open. Put your hand up, learn, roll your sleeves up!
2021 Fall Legal Career Conference Q&A session – Transcribe by Exceline Angelia Darmawan, Lee Yuzi, Jade, Teoh Wen Yi, Nicole Ng Ning Xuan.