Making Partner: An Honest Reflection
No two career pathways are identical, depending on one’s personal ambitions, attributes and other unforeseen opportunities that come up along the way. Regardless of what one’s ultimate career goals may be, it is indisputable that the promotion to partner is a significant career milestone for many practicing lawyers. For this article, we sat down for an insightful conversation with Hazel Lim, who was recently made junior partner after a 4-year stint with Messrs Kee Sern, Siu & Huey (KSH). An alumna of Taylor’s Law School, she commenced her law degree in Malaysia before transferring to the University of Reading for her final year. She was called to the Bar of England & Wales in 2015 as a Barrister at Law of the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn, and subsequently admitted as an Advocate & Solicitor of the High Court of Malaya in April 2016. Upon completion of pupillage with Messrs Shook Lin & Bok, she was confirmed as an associate with Shook Lin & Bok’s banking and financial litigation department for one and a half years before joining KSH.
Naturally, Hazel's scope of responsibilities has differed since becoming partner: “When I was an associate, I would be required to do everything from start to end.” This process essentially includes drafting any legal documents required before sending them for review by her seniors. The specificities may differ depending on the type of document in question but upon senior approval, she is usually expected to follow up by liaising with clients and filing the documents. However, since becoming a partner her primary focus has shifted and consequently, this translates to much more delegation than before. “I usually have someone to help me, so an associate or pupil works on the first draft and I’ll make any amendments necessary,” she explains. For the occasional case that she works on with her boss (the managing partner of the firm), she still submits any revised drafts for his approval before giving her juniors the green light to proceed.
Certain mundane, hands-on tasks may no longer fall under Hazel's job scope, but this also means there is now more expected of her. “The biggest challenge since becoming a partner would be the heavier responsibility and culpability that I shoulder. As an associate, I would always have a safety net, which is either my seniors or boss(es). Now, I’m expected to be that safety net to the younger practitioners”. Unsurprisingly, this transition from associate to partner hasn’t always been seamless. For starters, she admits that the promotion came as a surprise to her hence the first week was slightly overwhelming– but nothing she couldn’t handle. She goes on to explain that she “got used to it quite easily because as senior associate, I was already in the position to delegate so it wasn’t a complete shift from my existing work”. She does reveal, nonetheless, that there were still some learning curves such as firm administration that took her some getting used to.
To her credit, she has been taking all her newfound responsibilities in stride and coping well. Expanding on this note, Hazel attributes her relative ease of transition so far to her wonderful support system. She confesses that everything still feels very new to her, but “I’m fortunate enough to have my boss to guide me because he’s constantly there to advise me on what I should and shouldn’t do”. Even as we progress through certain stages of our careers, some of the people we meet may remain a reassuring presence in our lives, and this certainly rings true for Hazel. In her case, one of the partners that she worked under in her previous firm remains a dear mentor even till this day: “We managed to have a discussion over dinner after she found out I’ve been made partner, and she gracefully shared some useful pointers.” Ultimately, she credits her overall positive experience to her mentors who remain present every step of the way to help her settle into her new role. Filled with gratitude and even a tinge of relief, she continues: “Knowing that there is always someone to refer to if I’m ever stuck or unsure about how to handle something– that’s definitely a comfort for me.”
The pathway to a career in the legal industry may be a well-trodden one, but that doesn’t make the path any less daunting. With everything that we’ve discussed so far, it wouldn’t seem surprising– perhaps it might even be anticipated– for us to question whether this is all truly worth it. As the saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining. When questioned about the most fulfilling aspect of her career so far, it didn’t take long for Hazel to decide on her response. “I think as lawyers we all just like to win,” she laughs. On a more serious note, she continues that with every court case there is never a guaranteed win, so watching all of her hard work come to fruition is definitely an experience that tops the chart. The work is certainly exhausting and one is bound to complain in the thick of it all, but when you finally win the case? “That feeling, especially when your client appreciates your hard work? I think it’s really indescribable. Personally, I believe it’s the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment you derive in those moments that will really motivate you to work harder”.
Many would assume that the benchmark of success as a lawyer would be to make partner at a firm, but Hazel prefers to delve deeper into the definition of success. Success is manifest in various forms and when we learn to look at the bigger picture, hinging our success solely upon the attainment of a job title can be somewhat superficial. For Hazel, her career pathway definitely did not peak upon being made partner because “there is never truly an end goal, but merely achievements to be achieved”. The moment you set something as an end goal and achieve it, where does one go from there? “You will never grow to be better”, she simply puts. Focusing only on certain end goals will not serve as a catalyst of growth, so where does that leave Hazel? Her response was, in my personal opinion, a particularly thoughtful one: “My everyday goal is to always motivate myself to be a better lawyer and a better person, being made a partner is merely a natural part of that journey”.
As law students, the future can sometimes seem rather uncertain or even daunting, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when we fixate on what our future career holds. In response to this, Hazel stresses that we should always keep in mind that the future is never set in stone. Be it due to societal pressure or parental expectations, it’s easy to presume that a law degree means that we are destined to become a practicing lawyer. She cautions that fixating on such a mindset would only place unnecessary pressure upon ourselves, all at the inevitable expense of our mental health. “It’s never a do-or-die situation,” as she aptly puts.
Nearing the end of our conversation, we managed to delve deeper into Hazel’s thoughts on the legal profession at large. She acknowledges the existence of certain stereotypes and negative rumors regarding the industry as a whole, before confessing that even she never would have foreseen herself to remain part of the legal industry up till today. Nonetheless, she still believes that aspiring lawyers should still come and have a feel for the profession before coming to their own conclusions: “There are still many good people out there that advocate for good things, and we’re all trying to make a change but you need to understand that change won’t happen overnight. I believe this makes it even more crucial for the new generation of lawyers to step in so that we can make the legal industry a better place for everyone”. Ultimately, she leaves us with these words of advice to ruminate on:
“Always do your best. Be flexible and adapt to changes. Career paths are fluid and never fixed. If you are set on becoming a lawyer, the journey is never easy but do not give up. Persevere, endure and I will see you on the other side.”
Lexicon would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to Hazel, who kindly spared some time from her busy schedule to share her experiences with us. Once again, we would like to congratulate her on reaching this career milestone, and we wish her nothing but the best in her future endeavors. To our readers, we hope you’ve learnt from this exchange as much as we did about the realities of becoming a partner. No matter what your future holds, we hope you choose to persevere to the very end.