Your Career: Courage is the Most Important Virtue

12 Oct 2016
Author: Robert Precht

Last week in Hong Kong I had lunch with a young lawyer who made a career transition from working in a large international law firm to working in a small firm specializing in public interest law. I was struck by the lawyer's courage and asked the lawyer to write a guest blog post about the experience. 

My Career Move to Public Interest Practice

As a student I had always been interested in in the public interest law. Although my law school in Melbourne did not have a clinical legal education programme back then, my law school offered electives in Public Interest Lawyering and Australian Bills of Rights which I studied. I also volunteered at community legal centres outside campus.

After graduating from law school I embarked on a mainstream career path like many other students. I started my career at a large international law firm in Hong Kong, where I received solid training in several practice areas, especially contentious practices such as shipping litigation, intellectual property disputes, and commercial litigation. 

After getting admitted as a Hong Kong solicitor, I decided to leave the mainstream path and headed for a public interest career. Despite my lack of training in this field, I was fortunate enough to get a position in civil litigation at a local firm specialized in judicial review, human rights and legally aided cases. 

My previous training was not entirely irrelevant because civil cases assigned by the Legal Aid Department generally requires skills and experience in litigation. My new employer also provided me with opportunities to learn on the job and work with more experienced team members. I had never assisted in handling a legally aided client nor attended the District Court until I started this job, as most of the previous cases that I assisted involved claims with large monetary values between large corporations. The types of cases that I am now working on might not involve large sums of money but the clientele is very diverse and the cases are varied and meaningful. Although some disputes take a long time to get resolved and I have yet to know their outcomes, I truly enjoy the process and the nature of the job. 

However, following my heart has not been as easy as it sounds. The first hurdle was overcoming my own psychological fears and discarding the need to get everyone’s approval. I prioritised the practice above salary and job security. The advantage of going through seat rotations during my traineeship was that I could form views as to what I want or not want to practice as a lawyer. While some of my friends and peers dissuaded me from taking a risky and unconventional career move at a junior level, I persisted in taking concrete steps towards where I saw myself would grow in the long term. I received offers from large and well-resourced firms which I turned down, because even if they did a bit of pro bono once in a while, there were not enough of the type of cases I wanted to do. Most people understandably try to hold on to whatever they had in an unstable economy. However, I knew that I would regret if I had not given my best shot in taking a position with a stronger public interest dimension.

I have chosen what appears to be a less trodden path and one that is filled with uncertainty, but I am happy with my choice. I am extremely grateful for the support that I got along the way, especially from my immediate family who merely worry about me sometimes but have not otherwise exerted any pressure on me.  

-- Anonymous, Melbourne Law Graduate working in Hong Kong