No Mountain Too High
Interview with Kuah Boon Theng, SC
International Women’s Day falls in March and this month we are pleased to celebrate with one of our own women lawyers, Kuah Boon Theng, SC who was appointed Senior Counsel in January. Boon Theng was also a Council member of the Law Society for six years where she served with great distinction and held the position of Vice-President from 2016-2017.
What was the first thought in your mind when you received the news that you would be appointed senior counsel?
Actually I was on vacation with my kids when I got the call. I think for a moment, I was just a bit stunned. I actually kept the news to myself for a while before sharing it.
How did you celebrate your appointment?
We were having an early birthday celebration for my father. So I think he ended up having to share a bit of the limelight with me because that was when I broke the news to the whole family. Fortunately, I don’t think he minded!
What does this appointment mean to you, personally and professionally?
Our Chief Justice reminded me that this appointment is in fact a heavy responsibility. It means that I am expected to uphold the best traditions of the Bar, be a good ambassador for our profession, and to try to mentor and nurture our younger members, if I am given the opportunity.
Do you think there is a glass ceiling for women in the profession or in general and how can it be overcome?
I do not think there is. Women certainly do not lack the knowledge and skills to succeed just as well as the men. But some women make sacrifices at certain stages in their life, for example, putting their families first and taking time off, working shorter hours or asking for flexi-work arrangements etc. It does mean that the career trajectories of women lawyers can vary a great deal more than that of their male counterparts, and it may take them longer to get to a certain point in their careers. To be clear, I am not saying that this is a situation that is unique to women, and oftentimes these are choices that women make voluntarily for themselves. However, as a profession, we need to ask if we are prepared to take a longer term investment in the careers of our women lawyers, and possibly do more to ease the challenges that they face at certain seasons of their lives.
Do you think people (colleagues, members of the Bar, the Courts) have different expectations of you now, and in what ways?
I certainly hope that colleagues and friends from the Bar will find me just as approachable as before! As for the Courts, I guess it would be entirely fair for more to be expected of me. I can only hope to live up to those expectations.
What advice would you give to lawyers who aspire to be successful?
First of all, I would tell them that the practice of law requires the humility to recognise that we do not know everything and must continue to learn as much as we can for as long as we practice.
Secondly, I would remind them that no matter how contentious a matter is, we should never be mean-spirited and in our dealings with our fellow lawyers, we must always be professional rather than personal. Today you may have the stronger case against a certain opponent; tomorrow, the shoe may be on the other foot. We should all treat fellow lawyers with fairness and with due respect, just as how you would like others to treat you.
Thirdly, I would warn them that the stress of the job will at times seem overwhelming, and it is important to surround yourself with wise counsel who can give you sound advice and guidance when you need it, as well as true friends who can encourage you and lift your spirits when things get tough.
Above all, I would advise them that true success cannot be measured in terms of how much money we make, but that there is a calling to serve others, one that we should all strive to heed in some way or other.
What do you hope to achieve next?
I recently stepped down from the Council of the Law Society. During my six years on Council, I not only had the privilege to serve the profession in some way, but I also made a lot of good friends. In fact, those lasting friendships are my most treasured reward from my time on Council. I have agreed to continue serving on some of Council’s committees and I hope to keep in touch with the issues facing our profession and to see if I can continue to contribute in some way. As for my practice, I hope to build and grow a cohesive team of lawyers who embrace our practice philosophy and values.
If you could make a speech like how they do at the Oscars, what would you say?
I would like to thank …
Just as at the Oscars, there is never enough time to thank everyone who helped you get to where you are. For now, I just want to especially mention my colleague Simon Yuen, without whom I would not have applied for Senior Counsel, and my other colleague Lee Teck Leng, who was my other source of encouragement. I am truly blessed to have them as friends and colleagues.