Tina Hwang also discusses how law is still often seen as the prevalently “white older male” profession
For Tina Hwang, a law firm’s primary assets are “its staff, templates, and its clients”. The Queen City Law senior associate stepped up to lead the firm’s property team during COVID-19, and the experience has birthed in her an appreciation for teamwork, trust and respect in a profession that takes an “inherent adversarial approach”.
Hwang also serves on the NZ Asian Women Lawyers subcommittee, and is a champion of diversity in a profession that is still struggling to shed its reputation as a prevalently “white older male” industry.
In this interview, Hwang discusses cultivating a “collegial profession of trust and respect”, Queen City Law becoming a YouTube legal beagle, and hack attacks on law firms.
What made you choose a career in law, and what's your favourite part of the job?
For as long as I can remember I always knew I would become a lawyer. That old adage “the way you argue, you should become a lawyer” stuck. The best part of my job is being equipped with knowledge and the ability to quickly assess any given situation to examine the legal risks and consequences for people to make informed decisions. I enjoy engaging in highly intellectual debates on contractual or legal interpretation which impact personal and business choices.
Despite being a “young” Asian woman lawyer, where I have experienced discrimination or prejudice on my journey to date, I have been quite fortunate enough to be surrounded by supportive people and being recognised for my achievements.
What is going on at the firm? Are there any new programs and initiatives that you’re particularly interested in?
I believe the main assets of a legal firm are its staff, templates, and its clients. I am responsible for managing a team (at a time where our firm has grown despite Covid), building up precedents and marketing to existing and new clients, so it is an interesting time for me and the firm.
What tech-related initiatives adopted by the firm, if any, are you most excited about?
Rebranding our website and building up our social media presence has been exciting. We have recently launched a YouTube channel, started marketing on Wechat and other Chinese channels. I have certainly seen an increased response from clients using social networking apps as opposed to just emails and keeping up with this demand while being able to manage all of these correspondence immediately to the client’s electronic file (as we run a paperless office and have a great electronic filing system) has been a value added service in itself. Instead of repeatedly explaining basic things, I often say now “you can check out this video on YouTube for more information on this topic”.
What has been your proudest accomplishment in the last year or so? Or what’s the biggest lesson you learned in the past year and what advice can you give fellow lawyers about it?
I have been appointed a co-convenor of the ADLS Property Law committee. Moreover, I took on the property team during what could have been a potentially difficult time with staff changes and Covid lockdown, but have now made the team more systematic, stable, and functional. We have been able to work consistently for clients regardless of where we are working from and despite any staff suddenly getting sick.
We have a system that means the client will barely notice any changes and all file correspondence is immediately available for any other staff to review on the electronic platform which I am proud to say sets us apart from many other firms. We are 100% paperless and flexible. The biggest lesson I have learnt is to be agile, flexible, and not take anything for granted as the “new norm” continues to change.
What should the profession focus more on?
Despite the inherent adversarial approach, I think many lawyers sadly miss the opportunity to work together with other lawyers to achieve a great outcome for their respective clients. Being professional does not mean a concession for one’s client, and acting in the best interest of one’s client does not necessitate making enemies with the other side’s lawyer.
A collegial profession of trust and respect could also help retain younger talent from leaving the country too. I see less lawyers picking up the phone to talk or arranging “round the table” meetings to resolve silly disputes, when this could save time and costs.
What are the challenges you expect in your practice, and in the business of law in general, going forward? What challenges are particularly pressing in the country’s legal industry?
There is a growing need for talent with a real “brain drain” happening. I believe there will be a continual adaptation to change, and technological advances required as we get more people working remotely and clients signing documents online. Care will be needed to verify clients, electronic signatures, and documents. Extra care will be required by all lawyers to check email instructions and bank accounts as the media continues to report hacked email accounts directing payments to fraudulent accounts which target law firms that continually transfer significant amounts every day. Incidents like the recent flood and cyclone have also highlighted the need to be accommodating and flexible.
What are you looking forward to the most in the coming year?
I am looking forward to staying agile in the changing market and gaining more business opportunities in ways we probably never thought of before. I also look forward to being able to travel overseas more freely.
If you were given an opportunity to spend a day with anyone (living or dead), who would it be and why?
Martin Luther King Jr to discuss how his “dream” may have come true, but how in New Zealand, the legal industry is still largely seen as the prevalent “white old male” profession for lawyers and the judiciary. However, our firm has embraced diversity and I am proud of that.
I also recently joined the New Zealand Asian Women Lawyers Association which just launched an inaugural event. It was widely welcomed by many passionate and capable Asian women lawyers who attended, and for the first time we were not the minority in the room.