New Zealand Law Society - NZAL Lawyers launch recognising increasing number of Asian lawyers

NZAL Lawyers launch recognising increasing number of Asian lawyers

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A new organisation for Asian lawyers has been successfully launched in Auckland.

The launch of New Zealand Asian Leaders (NZAL) Lawyers on 10 June was attended by 125 people, with most of them lawyers. New Zealand Law Society President Tania Epati, Tania Sharkey, President of the Pacific Lawyers Association, and Liam Stoneley, Young Lawyers representative of Te Hunga Rōia Māori o Aotearoa – The Māori Law Society attended to support the new organisation.

Photo of Mai Chen at NZAL Lawyers
Mai Chen, NZAL Founder. 

NZAL Founder Mai Chen told those attending that NZAL Lawyers had been founded because she had been approached by New Zealand Law Society President Tiana Epati earlier in the year with the question "why is there no Asian Lawyer Association?"

Ms Chen said there was an increasing number of Asian lawyers and clients with one in three in Auckland being Asian and Statistics NZ projecting 51% of people identifying as either Asian (22%), Māori (20%) or Polynesian (9%) in New Zealand by 2038 (although 65% would also identify as Anglo Saxon, due to people identifying as mixed race).

She said Asian lawyers and their clients can experience issues and challenges from limited ability to speak English, and to write English well, coming from a very different rule of law culture  and coming from a culture very distant from the kiwi culture. Asian lawyers can feel that they need to be better than everyone else in order to succeed.

NZAL lawyers was offering collegiality, guidance, wisdom and mentorship, Mai Chen said, and 52 Asian lawyers had indicated that they would like to be mentored. So far, 25 more senior Asian lawyers had agreed to mentor. The Law Society President had announced the intention to implement a scheme to allow those mentoring to claim CPD credits. NZAL Lawyers would also provide a repository of expertise on Asians in the law to assist lawyers, courts, the Ministry of Justice, law schools and continuing legal education providers.

Importance of collegiality

New Zealand Law Society President Tiana Epati launched NZAL Lawyers by emphasising the importance of collegiality and looking after one another in the legal profession.

Photo of NZAL Lawyers group
Arthur Loo, Leo Donnelly, Stella Chan, Tiana Epati, Mai Chen and Judge Sanjay Patel.

Ms Epati said that Asian lawyers were the members of the profession most likely to suffer from bullying, and it was important for Asian lawyers to stand together in the profession, which had been monocultural for a long time. She said that Asian lawyer’s superpower was being able to navigate different worlds with ease.

Tiana Epati ended her speech with a Whakataukī: "Stand at the stern of the canoe, And feel the spray of the future biting at your face".

Succeeding within the judiciary

Judge Sanjay Patel told those present how Asian lawyers could succeed within the judiciary.

Judge Patel said that he hoped his appointment to the bench could be an inspiration to other lawyers, as he felt as though he was very similar to other Asian lawyers.

He said that it was important to have someone that inspires you, and whose style you can emulate in finding your own courtroom style.

Succeeding in legal practice

Arthur Loo, a partner at Loo & Koo Solicitors, spoke about how Asian lawyers could succeed in legal practice. Mr Loo said he entered the legal profession at a time when all clients were of European origin, however as he was experienced at talking to people from selling fruit in his parent’s shop, and dealing with people from all walks of life, he felt he had an advantage over his European colleagues.

In the mid 1990s changes in the demographics of Auckland meant that there was room for a firm which serviced Chinese speaking clients, and so he set up Loo & Koo with Kenneth Koo.

Mr Loo said they had to work hard in order to earn the respect of other firms. He said that they would only speak Chinese to clients, but staff otherwise spoke English in the office to maintain a high standard of written and spoken English.

Arthur Loo said that they coded their client files according to what language their client spoke, so they instantly knew what language the client spoke whether that be Mandarin, Cantonese or Korean, for example.

Succeeding in the state sector

Former Ombudsman and Special Counsel at Chen Palmer Leo Donnelly spoke on how Asian lawyers can succeed in the state sector. He said that there was no reason why Asian lawyers could not succeed, and that people often fail because they lack confidence in themselves, or in other people’s confidence in them.

Photo of More at NZAL Lawyers

Working with Asian clients

Stella Chan, a partner at law firm Forest Harrison, spoke about the issues and challenges faced by lawyers engaged by Asian clients. She said Asians can struggle with challenges across the legal system and not just in court.

Ms Chan said that Asians come from countries with different legal culture, and so they do not understand the New Zealand legal framework, and do not realise that the law is different to that in their home country, despite the fact that the entire commonwealth system is completely different.

Peers are crucial

Former Governor-General, Ombudsman and District Court Judge Sir Anand Satyanand delivered his speech via video due to speaking at a funeral that day.

Sir Anand spoke of his enthusiastic support for NZAL Lawyers because having support is vital, peers are crucial, and success in the law depends upon building and maintaining your reputation.

Sir Anand said that lawyers should take every opportunity to watch other lawyers in court, gather and read books on advocacy, and upgrading their abilities by public speaking.

The next NZAL Lawyers Symposium (with CPD credits) is scheduled for 4 September 2019.