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How this young lawyer found her feet during the pandemic

Mei Gong may not have planned to commence her fledgling legal career in the throes of the COVID-19 lockdown, but she has made some valuable gains as a result.

user iconMalavika Santhebennur 13 November 2023 Big Law
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In a recent episode of The Protégé Podcast, Johnson Winter Slattery senior associate Mei Gong (who specialises in competition and consumer law) recounted that she began her career as a graduate in 2019.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic reached Australia’s shores shortly thereafter, forcing everyone into lockdown and to adapt to a new way of working, collaborating, networking, and, consequently, learning.

This was particularly difficult for graduates like Ms Gong, who said establishing herself during a pandemic was both overwhelming and gratifying.


“As you can imagine, I didn’t set up my legal career realising that I would be in lockdown for a good part of the next few years of my career,” she told podcast host Jerome Doraisamy.

“Finding your feet and figuring out what you can do and how you can maximise your learning opportunities as a junior lawyer was really difficult during those times. At one point, the team whittled down to just me and my partner. So, to say that I’ve been thrown into the deep end is perhaps an understatement at times.”

However, Ms Gong said overcoming these challenges armed her with resilience and legal skills in a short period. She assumed responsibility for a significant number of legal matters.

Indeed, Ms Gong has been involved in civil and criminal cartel proceedings, secured Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) merger clearance on more than six $100 million deals, and attained “first-ever” resale price maintenance authorisation in New Zealand.

“I’ve been really grateful to have worked on billion-dollar acquisitions [and] been involved in historic civil and criminal cartel proceedings,” she said.

“Perhaps one of my favourite matters to date is helping community pharmacies to collaborate together during the height of the pandemic to restrict supply of medicines and pharmaceutical products to ensure that all Australians have equitable access to these essential products and reduce instances of panic buying that we were seeing back in the pandemic.”

Ms Gong said she has always been led by the belief that she would like to make the legal profession a more inclusive and supportive environment.

Guided by that purpose, she said she has co-authored legal journal articles and international conference papers on various competition law developments, started the first-ever Foreign Qualified Lawyer interview publication in Australia, and spoken at various events.

“I think it’s important to have interests outside work as well. I recently started taking up basketball, playing for our firm in a social competition. I have also run in two half marathons in the last year,” she said.

Ms Gong’s foray into competition law was accidental. She originally intended to become an intellectual property lawyer but “stumbled into” competition consumer law instead, she recounted.

This was after she assisted Malaysian Airlines with restructuring its aviation finance and undertaking a cross-border insolvency transaction, which she said provided her with a practical lens of the law.

“I love the fact that I get to work with clients from so many different industries, which really satisfied my curiosity about the world,” Ms Gong said.

“I’m always keen to learn about how different processes work, how different industry clicks and a big part of competition consumer law is really looking at how businesses engage with consumers and with other businesses.”

Embracing failure

During the podcast, Ms Gong – who won the competition, trade and regulation category at the 30 Under 30 Awards 2023 – also spoke about how she has bounced back from setbacks and failures.

Citing the awards as an example, she said she did not win the award in years prior, which she described as “gut-wrenching”.

“I was very disappointed,” she said.

“I have put in all this effort. I left no stone unturned. I gathered feedback from almost every single person that I could, and I felt, does this mean I’m not good enough? This is the very best version that I have presented, and I’m still not good enough.”

After some time, however, Ms Gong reflected on her experience of compiling her submission for the awards, after which any negativity was replaced by gratitude.

“I’m so grateful that I know that so many people actually thought so highly of me … I didn’t know that I was making that kind of impact on their life through my mentoring or through the skills that I was able to demonstrate on matters or my work ethic,” she said.

“A lot of times … it’s both timing and conscious effort. If one of those things [doesn’t] line up, you might not get it that one time, but it doesn’t mean that you won’t get it the next time.”

She has also used her experience to learn lessons and has adopted a growth mindset to propel her career, she said.

She concluded: “Not winning the first time has definitely made me more hungry and more determined. It hasn’t necessarily driven what I do because I’m driven by the broader purpose of facilitating inclusion and being the best lawyer that I can be.”

To listen to Mei Gong’s Protégé Podcast in its entirety, click here:

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