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Using a managing partner position to ‘leave a better legacy’

This managing partner is “very optimistic” about the future of the profession, diversity-wise — but said that there’s still more work to be done to break the bamboo ceiling.

user iconLauren Croft 30 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 his journey to becoming a managing partner and why the profession needs to be continually focused on diversity moving forward.

Mr Chong is one of the first non-white managing partners for a BigLaw firm in Australia — and said that as such, Squire Patton Boggs is heavily focused on diversity, as well as the S in ESG.

“We are very strong on what I call the DEI part of it, the diversity, equity, inclusion. Globally, as a firm, we’ve set up a special division where a very senior partner works full-time with the team around the world on DEI policies and action plans. But if I bring it down to the Perth level, at the more local, local level, there are little things that we can do. I can’t change the world in one day, but I can do little things,” he explained.


“When we, for example, hire, I tell my HR manager and recruiters, ‘I want to encourage people of diverse backgrounds to apply.’ And when we are looking at the pool to interview, ‘Have we got that? Have we got gender diversity? Have we got a sufficient amount of people with diverse backgrounds who have applied? If not, why not? Because don’t tell me that there is no female candidate for this, in this area. I just don’t believe it. There [are] no diverse candidates in this area. I just don’t believe it. You haven’t tried hard enough.’

“It’s also important that we highlight [and] give acknowledgement of successes that have been done by diverse people within our organisation. Not that you shouldn’t acknowledge other people; it’s just that you pay particular attention to that. We are, for example, doing a scholarship, which is about to be launched in early part of next year, January [or] February, where we will financially support Aboriginal law students throughout their studies and give them workplace placements in my firm, in my office, and real promotion.”

However, Mr Chong added that the bamboo ceiling “is no secret” — and although it’s been crushed over time, it is still very much there.

“For me, the leadership in my position right now is super critical to ensure that others are not prevented, or put it this way, the barriers for those people to climb up should be gone for the next generation. One of the things that [are] part of the bamboo ceiling is that it is not a conscious thing. It is not a conscious bias. That could have been 20 years ago, when I was told that when I was applying for a summer clerkship program, it was known that that particular firm would never, never appoint someone of colour in a partnership,” he said.

“I don’t think that happens anymore, but there [are] not enough people that have been through the ranks and been trained and been given the right mentoring to get there. So, that’s what I want to do, not just in the legal world, but in other sectors that I am involved in, in my board roles. So, just giving that opportunity, because through that is a wider thing. Through that, I’m also trying to deal with and promote multiculturalism and reducing racial discrimination in the community. So, it’s a two-prong thing, and they go hand-in-hand.”

In terms of what other managing partners across the country can do to champion diversity and inclusion within their own firms, Mr Chong said that small, well-done improvements are key.

“If we honestly thought that we could change the world in one day, I think you’d be very, very frustrated. It’s been a journey for me, for the last 20 years, to get to this point. I understand what it takes to get to this point and the sacrifices that you need to get to this point. Right? But if I can get enough people to do all the baby steps, I think we can achieve it far faster,” he added.

“We all know diversity is important. We know that diversity adds to business, it improves business, it improves your discussions, improves your decision-making process and all that. If anything at all, I will say to those who are on this journey or who are about to embark on this journey, take real steps and do it well. You don’t need to do 10 million things but do it well. Remembering that you will have pushback. Some of the things you do, you have more successes than others.”

And given how much change he’s already seen throughout his legal career, Mr Chong remained optimistic for the future of the profession.

“The legal profession is always slow. In many ways, we are dinosaurs compared to other sectors, but it doesn’t mean that you don’t start that journey. I am optimistic. I really am optimistic. And I think I’m optimistic because I sit in Perth particularly as well, because we are a very multicultural city; I think most like any other cities in Australia, but in Perth in particular, we have those very strong links to the Indian Ocean, we have strong links into Asia and all that,” he concluded.

“So, I am very, very optimistic. Of course, you will always get the ups and downs. But on the ground, I think, by and large, we are a great multicultural society. It’s probably more important for me now is the opportunity and the privilege I have to affect change, not just at Squire Patton Boggs but the community at the same time. Using my network, my position, and all the privileges that’ve been given to me, to be able to leave a better legacy than of what I inherited. That’s all I can ask for.”

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