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Wisdom workers and networkers at IPBA event
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Wisdom workers and networkers at IPBA event

WHILE NETWORKING has long been touted as the necessary skill for all legal professionals, a panel of experts met last week to offer tips and disclose traps, for women lawyers in particular.In an…

WHILE NETWORKING has long been touted as the necessary skill for all legal professionals, a panel of experts met last week to offer tips and disclose traps, for women lawyers in particular.

In an animated session of women business lawyers at the sixteenth annual Inter-Pacific Bar Association (IPBA) conference in Sydney, networking creatively was at the core of discussions, which business consultant Kathleen Singleton chaired.

Keeping in touch with contacts selectively was the key, argued Singleton, while other panellists addressed lawyers’ increasingly busy schedules. They advised lawyers to undertake at least one purely networking activity a day, no matter how snowed under they might be. “If you don’t work on the pipeline, you’ll find yourself constantly having to begin again with networking,” warned Ann Miller of Nixon Peabody in San Francisco.

Panellists focused on the specific challenges a networking female lawyer faces in Asia. Cross-cultural networking adds further challenges, it was noted. Miller advised that lawyers never assume they know what the cultural differences for a client are going to be. “Don’t try and be anything other than yourself,” she said. All panellists agreed that if you didn’t click culturally or personally with a client, it was important not to lose interest.

“You should be thinking creatively about who else you could bring along next time to break that ice, who would really click with that person,” said Miller. “You have to have contacts outside your practice area and location,” added Rosaline Cheung of Johnson Stokes & Master in Hong Kong. “The benefit you bring to networking is not just your expertise but who you can refer. Don’t ask what that firm can do for you, but what you can do for it.”

Cheung spoke of dealing with Japanese businessmen who didn’t trust her as a woman until she held her own at late-night drinking parties. She mentioned a Chinese client to whom she had to address her questions through a male associate even though she was the senior lawyer present. However, Cheung pointed out, having been a mother, she counted herself well prepared to handle embarrassing moments, and tried to approach them with a sense of humour.

Networking as a woman with male clients is particularly hard in Muslim countries, said Sitpah Selvaratnam of Tommy Thomas in Malaysia, where having an evening drink in the city with a client is just “not done”.

Julie Bishop, Minister assisting the Prime Minister for women’s issues, opened the session with an address about the importance of mentoring for women. She spoke of the need to harness the talents of older female lawyers, whom she termed “wisdom workers”. “The value they can give us as mentors is huge,” she said.

Mentoring is particularly important if the profession is going to retain this valued resource — women lawyers, Bishop said. If there was someone you could sit and have a peppermint tea with, and if there was someone you could sit and talk to, “I think there would be more women staying in the law,” she said.

Bishop remembered being a partner at a law firm when she realised one of the most important things she could offer was mentoring for new female lawyers. Young lawyers would seek her out, she said, and ask her how she had achieved what she had.

The industry that captures the value of their “wisdom workers” is the one that will succeed, said Bishop, and this is something that women lawyers should do. Mentoring ought to be a more greatly utilised resource in order to allow more women to enjoy more productive careers, she said.

Jim FitzSimons, recently appointed president of the IPBA and a partner in Clayton Utz’s Sydney IT practice was responsible for co-ordinating this year’s conference.

CLAYTON UTZ partner Jim FitzSimons officially stepped into his new role of president of the Inter-Pacific Bar Association (IPBA) following the association’s 16th annual conference last week.

FitzSimons, who as President Elect of the IPBA was responsible for co-ordinating this year’s conference in Sydney, said the role was a great honour for him and the firm.

“The IPBA is an important regional association that has come a long way from its beginnings back in the early ‘90s. With members from more than 67 countries with a strong interest in the Asia-Pacific, the IPBA will continue to play an important role in connecting lawyers in the region and keeping them abreast of critical developments impacting their business,” he said.

Clayton Utz consultant and former NSW Supreme Court justice Barry O’Keefe QC said FitzSimons’ appointment would add to his standing in the Asia-Pacific legal community and praised his contribution to the success of this year’s conference. “I had the privilege of attending the conference and can say without reservation that it was first class, professionally, intellectually and socially,” O’Keefe said.

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