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‘Lawyers should not forget how much they can contribute’

Volunteering on boards and for other organisations can help develop leadership skills and results in lawyers being more well-rounded, according to this managing partner.

user iconLauren Croft 18 January 2023 Big Law
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Tony Chong is the managing partner in the Perth office for Squire Patton Boggs. Speaking recently on The Lawyers Weekly Show, Mr Chong reflected on being one of the first non-white managing partners for a BigLaw firm in Australia, as well as his journey to becoming a managing partner after not initially wanting to be in law and what has made him a good leader.

Mr Chong originally aspired to be an accountant — and actually left the legal sphere for a period of time before eventually returning over a decade ago. In terms of whether he envisioned himself as a managing partner, he said those leadership qualities had developed subtly over time, particularly through non-legal experiences.

“As you get more senior, you work with bigger teams, you learn the skills to delegate and to lead, whether it’s to lead a particular project as I was when I was in-house, or to lead on a legal matter, a big case or a big project. And through that, you built leadership skills.


“But I think from a leadership point of view, for me, it really stemmed from the fact that many years ago, probably we’re going back nearly 20 years ago now, where I started to want to work with communities and the non-profit sector, more of two things. One is to give back, and two [is] to have an outlet, an outlet outside the law. And through that, I was involved with the arts community.

“And as I got involved in more organisations, it appeared to be that my skill set and my experience lent [themselves] to helping the organisation. And then one thing led to another — you step from a committee to help out, to becoming on the board, then on the board become the treasurer, and the treasurer becoming the chairman. And that’s where you grow as a person in that role. And then what I’ve then found from that as well is that I then looked around the room and said, ‘Look, why am I the only person of diverse background’,”

Mr Chong has been an active participant in the West Australian state government’s Diversification of Boards program, is the senior vice-president of the Western Australia Chinese Chamber of Commerce, and has served on a number of boards as a committee member and chairman.

By doing work on external boards and for charitable foundations, Mr Chong not only found himself growing as a person but also as a lawyer.

“I’m a huge believer in lawyers or. for that matter, anyone, to be part of the community, to be part of the wider community and to be involved. And even more so for lawyers. The legal profession, at the end of the day, is a customer, client-focused business. So, you need to be able to relate to people. You’re dealing with issues that people face on a day-to-day basis.”

“Participating in the non-profit sector or commercial sector, it doesn’t matter, what I mean is something that is outside the law, helps you to understand what is going on. It gives you the perspective, it gives you the framework. And the second part of it is it gives you networking opportunities. It broadens your network of who you can call on and who you should build relationships with for your legal business as such,” he explained.

“The third part of it is that when you get involved in areas [that] you are passionate about, you get back as much as what you invested. And I think that is very good for mental wellness to start with, and that’s very important for our industry right now. And [the] irony is that you are using your background, your legal skills in that setting. To me, that is just something that people should not forget; lawyers should not forget how much they can contribute in that setting.”

And despite lawyers being generally busy day-to-day, Mr Chong emphasised the importance of fully developing oneself as a lawyer, as well as getting involved in more extracurriculars.

“At the end of the day, we are all busy, but we can set priorities. So, you don’t need to try and change the world in one day. Everybody can find something little to do,” he said.

“If, for example, you’re a junior, go and find the sports club that you play in, get involved with the sports club, get involved with the committee. That’s a starting point.”

More to come.

The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Tony Chong, click below: