William Ho says one of the best aspects of being a lawyer is the opportunity it provides for him to learn something new every day.
‘No matter how much you think you may know, there is always something new. Whether it’s a recent court decision that might change the way you approach a legal issue, or a new legislative provision which has potentially significant impact on a profession, a lawyer's job is to be on top of these developments and to understand how the changes affect your client,’ he explains.
Based in Melbourne, William is a Senior Associate with international firm K&L Gates after settling into a career that he hadn’t much thought about until after completing Year 12.
‘To be honest, when I finished high school I was not particularly sure what I wanted to do. I briefly floated with the idea of doing engineering but quickly realised that was probably going to be a bad idea – especially given my lack of interest in mathematics!’ he says.
However, once William realised how much he enjoyed humanity subjects, along with ‘logical thinking’, he says a combined law/arts degree became the obvious choice.
‘A law degree requires you to undertake an enormous amount of reading and writing, but the required fundamental skill is the ability to think logically in order to find a reasonable answer to a problem,’ he remarks.
Deakin’s practically-focused law program lived up to its hands-on reputation for William, and he recalls being thrown into the ‘deep end’ of a Magistrates’ Court moot during his first year of study.
‘That was an eye-opening and terrifying experience for a first year law student,’ he smiles.
But it was later moot experience that he now remembers as the turning point and hallmark of his studies.
Along with his peers, William participated in the Vis Moot and Vis Moot (East) – a mock-court competition held in Vienna and Hong Kong where students prepare for a hypothetical international commercial law dispute with some of the world’s best universities. Deakin has a prestigious track record in the Vis Moot competition with wins in Vienna in 1999 and 2014 and second places in Hong Kong in 2006 and 2010.
‘Prior to taking part in the Vis Moot, I was finding the study of law to be difficult and a little unsatisfying,’ he recalls. ‘However the Vis Moot not only gave a chance to make great friends, it taught me how the law can be applied practically and theoretically. Over an intense period of four months, you and your teammates are asked to consider a problem that is generally 40 to 50 pages long. When you spend that long on one problem, it can seem like you are staring at an abyss – especially on those long nights and early mornings when you need to finalise your team's submissions.’
But he says the taxing preparation, which saw him travel to Hong Kong and Vienna with 15 team mates who soon became close friends, was well worth the effort.
‘I can honestly say now that without having completed the moot, I am not sure I would have gone on to pursue a career in law,’ he reflects.
During William’s final year he was also fortunate enough to attend the working sessions of the UNCITRAL (United Nations Commission on International Trade Law) Working Group II in New York and Vienna as it was revising the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules.
‘This was a fantastic experience that I will always remember – especially the fact that we were sitting in the United Nations General Assembly Chamber!’
With his career choice cemented, William completed his double degree then moved into a graduate year with K&L Gates where he worked as a lawyer until mid-2012.
He then undertook an 18-month associateship with Justice Croft of the Supreme Court of Victoria where he was given the opportunity to contribute to two legal texts – Singapore International Arbitration: Law & Practice (with Justice Croft) and Australian Commercial Arbitration (with Justice Croft, Dr John Hockley and Kieran Hickie).
So far, he says his career pathway has been relatively orthodox and he’s now enjoying the responsibilities that come with being a member of K&L Gates’ dispute resolution team.
‘I act for clients in respect of various matters including insurance, contractual, property and commercial disputes. My responsibilities include attending to the day-to-day file management of our matters, which can include advising clients, corresponding with other parties, reviewing documents, attending conferences, and appearing in courts and tribunals.’
William believes a law degree is an excellent foundation for a range of careers – both within and outside the legal profession – because it provides a robust platform of in-demand competencies.
‘It develops your writing and communication skills, along with the ability to think logically and problem solve. No matter what profession you ultimately decide to embark upon, communication and problem-solving skills will be always highly regarded,’ he says.
He also maintains that career success, in the often-combative arena of litigation, means high-level management skills and ‘expecting the unexpected’.
‘Whilst legal proceedings usually follow an agreed timetable, there can be occasions where court proceedings and hearings can come up "out of the blue". These can be stressful times but they can also be the most rewarding when you are able to navigate the challenges towards a successful outcome for a client.’
Although technology – and potentially disruptive technology – is a feature currently transforming the landscape of legal practice, William says it’s not the only one. The human resource workforce is also evolving.
‘Many companies are starting to employ a lot more in-house counsel rather than relying on private law firms. They’re also becoming savvier in terms of how they use the services of law firms so it will be interesting to see how the legal profession adapts,’ he observes.
After eight years in this profession, William says that while the realities of a legal career are far removed from any of the fictitious roles depicted on television, it’s a platform for a wide range of rewarding vocations.
‘The beauty of a law degree is its flexibility. Aside from the usual route of solicitor, barrister or in-house counsel, there is always the opportunity to pursue another career altogether – law graduates are well regarded and highly employable across many sectors.’