Roberta Chan, Partner in the Dispute Resolution Group, Baker McKenzie, shares with WiFA her experience with mentorship, how she keeps her competitive edge, her passions, and much more.
Tell us a little bit about yourself
I have been with Baker & McKenzie for more than 12 years. I am focusing on complex commercial/corporate litigation and contentious employment/property-related work. On personal front, I am a mother of 2, aged 12 and 10.
Mentors play an important role in the developments of many careers. Did you have a mentor? If so, what did you look for in that person?
I was fortunate to have two very good mentors at different stages of my career. In the early stage of my career, when I was still a young and overly passionate lawyer, I saw things only from my own perspective and did not attend to details. My mentor was a partner who admitted me to his practice group after my articled-clerkship with his firm. As a famous news reporter who changed his career path to law, my mentor was meticulous about the use and presentation of written language. He was very strict and tough with me, and frequently summoned me to his room for a lecture. I must say that at that time, I did not appreciate the things that he taught and the time he spent on mentoring and providing guidance to me. He was like a headmaster and I was a kindergarten student! However, when I look back, I realise that he was a wise and kind man and that I benefited from his style of mentorship. Key lessons that I learnt is that we have to respect our profession (i.e. not just to treat it as a job), be prepared to excel ourselves and most importantly, as a junior lawyer, get our basics correct.
My second mentor is one of the retired partners at Baker McKenzie. I was already a mid-level/senior associate by this time and worked with this partner on many client matters. I really admired my “Master” who loved every aspect of being a lawyer, had great client skills and was a true gentleman. Rather than basic legal skills, he instilled in me the importance of having the commercial sense and big picture skills when handling large and complex contentious matters, including how to formulate strategy and manage our clients’ expectations and very importantly, how to manage risks, both from our Firm’s perspective as well as the client’s. I am grateful to say that my second mentor paved the path of my development to where I am now, and I am still learning.
How do you stay on top of your professional game? Any tips on how you keep your competitive edge?
You need to love and enjoy your work in order to stay on top of the professional game. I must say that I still have a lot of job satisfaction when I manage to help clients resolve a problem. People do not like to see dispute lawyers because it would mean “confrontation” and “see you in Court”. However, this is really not the case most of the time. Nowadays, dispute lawyers are regularly involved before a dispute even arises. Whilst we can fight as tough and as hard as a warrior, we do have another “preventive” role, i.e. to provide solutions or alternatives before a dispute even arises. Dispute lawyers may need to keep a flexible and open mindset in order to keep up with the current trends, the changing landscape and client needs. Ultimately, clients want commercial and practical solutions to navigate their business risks and they look to lawyers who can provide not just the expertise but who can help them stay on top of their game!
Think back to when you were starting out your career. What advice would you give your younger self?
Stay humble, be generous and kind.
Aside from work, what are your other passions?
Travelling! Before COVID-19, for many years, I would go on a solo backpacking trip every year without family members or friends (usually at the end of financial year and on top of the usual summer trip with family). I really enjoyed this time – exploring a new city and enjoying their food, art and culture as an individual. I think it is important that we do not lose our own self and that we continue to keep our passions as well as discover new ones. I am many things to many people – daughter, wife, mother, colleague, and friend. But most of all, I remain who I am, “me”.