Jacqueline Chan is a partner in Milbank’s Singapore office.
Milbank LLP is a leading international law firm that provides top quality innovative legal services to clients around the world. Founded in New York over 150 years ago, Milbank has offices in Beijing, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, Munich, São Paulo, Seoul, Singapore, Tokyo and Washington, DC.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in law?
My father is an excellent lawyer, and I grew up with an awareness of the legal fraternity around me. When started, like most young lawyers I thought my natural home would be that of litigation. However, my journey took a different turn after I found myself drawn to the world of cross-border finance. I realised that I love dealing with international deals and working on complex negotiations, so after joining Milbank’s Hong Kong office as an associate working on international corporate finance transactions, I never looked back! I continue to be extremely motivated by my chosen area of practice.
What are the top three words you’d use to describe the culture at Milbank?
I have been at Milbank for almost 21 years and I can safely say that there must be something unique at Milbank which has made me dedicate so much of my time here. I would describe the culture at Milbank to be People-Driven, Collaborative, and characterised by Excellence.
In your experience, what has been the most significant change for women in the legal field over the last 5 years?
There has been an increased focus on the promotion of women within the legal fraternity, and the language of the importance of gender diversity and representation is now common to all fields. We are now seeing a larger number of women leaders in international law firms and across practice areas, and it is now unusual to see all-male boards or even panels at conferences. Given that law schools are usually comprised of close to 50% women (and sometimes more), the increased participation and representation of women in high-profile leadership positions within law firms is something that is finally coming due.
How important is it to have other women visible at the management level?
I personally feel it is incredibly important to have women visible and represented at all levels of management. Having women in leadership positions provides positive role models for other women in the organisation, which can help to inspire and encourage more women to pursue leadership roles. Also, having women in management positions can help to ensure that the needs and perspectives of women are taken into consideration in decision-making processes. Hopefully, we will soon be at a stage when it will be uncomfortable and unusual to not have women present at all levels of management.
What difference have you seen in the way of working since COVID?
My work life pre-COVID times was characterised by a significant amount of travel. When COVID hit, life changed abruptly and I stayed home for around 18 months, which was the longest stretch of non-travel since I started work around 20 years ago.
During COVID, people adjusted to life without face-to-face meetings, and deal execution adjusted accordingly. Now that the world has adjusted to COVID, we are seeing things go back to pre-COVID practices, including a preference for face-to-face meetings. I do think that the way we work, including having time together with colleagues in the office, will largely return to pre-COVID practices, albeit with some flexibility given the increased tools for communication such as Zoom and the like.
What do you think the legal industry can do to get more women and other diverse candidates into leadership roles?
I think it would be helpful to address unconscious bias in the workplace as unconscious bias can affect hiring and promotion decisions, and it is important to address this as much as possible. Active mentorship and sponsorship will be invaluable to help women and other diverse candidates advance their careers. I also believe that it would be beneficial for workplaces to be aware of the work-life balance challenges that women face, and provide conscious support to women who need it. Finally, it is important to implement diversity and inclusion initiatives and to set measurable goals which can be tracked and regularly updated to make sure that meaningful progress is being made.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in law?
Work hard and be persistent: The legal industry is challenging and competitive, so it is important to be prepared to work hard and be persistent in your pursuit of success. Stay focused on your goals, and don't let setbacks discourage you.
Build a strong network: Networking is an essential part of any career, but it is particularly important in the legal industry. Try to connect with other professionals in your field, attend industry events, and join professional associations to build your network.
Seek out mentors: Finding a mentor can be invaluable as you navigate your way through the legal industry. Look for someone who has experience in your field and who can offer guidance and support as you develop your career.
Be open to learning: The legal industry is constantly evolving, so it is important to stay up to date with the latest trends and developments. Be open to learning new skills and taking on new challenges to stay ahead of the curve.
Be confident and assertive: It can be challenging for young women to establish themselves in the legal industry, but confidence and assertiveness can go a long way. Believe in yourself and your abilities, and don't be afraid to speak up and take on leadership roles.
Maintain a work-life balance: The legal industry is demanding, but it is important to maintain a work-life balance that suits you to avoid burnout. Make time for hobbies, friends, and family to ensure that you are taking care of yourself both professionally and personally.