Of Football, Pandemics and Training Contracts …
I am writing this at 7.37am on a Sunday morning. 3 May 2020. Mila is done with her walk. Yes, she is my dog. Kids and the wife are still in bed. I am armed with my coffee and laptop.
I asked how I could help you. Twenty-two years in the profession has given me, through many successes and just as many (if not more) failures, experiences and insights that I wanted to share with you.
You are at the start of an incredible journey. Where you are now, is your window. What you see through that window, comes down to you. What you make of that which lies outside the door, is also down to you, and you may well end up on a different path from what you saw through that window. But remember the following.
First, learn to distinguish between what you want, and what you need. They are almost always, not the same thing. Do what you need to do first. Sooner or later, the time will come for you to do what you want to do.
Second, be patient. Timing is everything. Things will happen when they are meant to happen. Maybe not in line with the schedule you set. Sometimes, they happen sooner and sometimes later. But things will happen.
Third, think before you speak. My eight-year-old has this habit of shooting off his mouth before thinking about what he is saying, only to realise later that perhaps he should have thought about what he said. I chide him for this, only to realise that I was no different, not just as an eight-year-old, but right up to my thirties. What you say has consequences, intended and unintended. Think. Then speak, if you must.
Fourth, develop a work ethic that involves the unrelenting pursuit of mastering your craft. And you need to master this craft given that it places a tremendous responsibility on your shoulders. Mastering your craft will come at considerable personal sacrifice, but very few of us have the privilege of being in a position to make such a profound difference in the lives of others. But that is the price you will have to pay. Pay the price and do so honourably and with integrity.
Fifth, speak to your parents every day. No text messages. To a large extent, where you are and who you are, is because of them. You are privileged to have them in your life. Relish that privilege.
I was not retained after my call. Probably one of the toughest times in my life. Whilst some of my friends were retained, a number were in the same position as me. The “pandemic” then was the Asian financial crisis.
I received a call in the middle of August 1998, from one of my closest friends who asked me to reach out to another friend to see if I could apply to A&G for a job. I spent a few days thinking about whether this was something I truly wanted. My start was not great and the thought of what lay ahead was, to say the least, intimidating.
So I made my way to Lau Pa Sat, had lunch with my friend at a table that still sits there today. This friend insists we did not have lunch and that it was after 6pm when we met. But let’s just agree to disagree here.
I handed my CV to her in a sealed brown envelope. A few days later, on 1 September 1998, I started work at A&G. No internships, no lengthy interviews. Largely down to a CV handed over to someone who is now one of my closest confidantes and guides. And my journey began. And what a journey it has been.
That brief lunch (or after 6pm chat with nothing to eat) led to me having the privilege (and continuing to have the privilege) of working with some of the most genuine, kind and gracious people I have met. Some key individuals who have had a profound impact on my evolution as a practitioner have since left the firm to walk down different paths. But we still keep in contact and they also remain as my guides.
This is the context. Now let’s talk about training contracts and what lies ahead.
Before handing over the reins to one of my younger colleagues, I was a recruitment partner at A&G for close to nine years. I have seen many candidates apply to the firm for training contracts. Some succeeded, many others did not. But those that did not secure training contracts at other firms went on to pursue other interests. Their journeys did not stop. And neither will yours.
A few tips for you on putting your best foot forward in terms of securing training contracts, at no cost, and from a Big 4 Partner:
- Try and secure internships. Firms like to get to know potential hires.
- Work hard during your internships. You are there to observe, to learn.
- Get to know people from the firm. As much as they need to get to know you, you need to know whether the firm is also the right fit for you.
- Stay in touch with your mentors. Their feedback will have an impact on any subsequent training contract application.
- Fill in your training contract application completely and legibly, using simple English. And get the name of the firm correct, when sending in your application. Yes, I have received applications sent to me, at the correct address, but naming another firm in the covering letter.
- Submit your training contract application on time. Simple instructions that are not always followed.
- At the interview, be yourself, speak slowly and speak clearly. Also, answer the question before explaining. It can be quite frustrating for an interviewer when questions are not answered up front. Conclude, then deconstruct. Whatever path you choose to take, this is a skill you need to master sooner, not later.
- Whilst you should treat your interviewer with respect, refrain from elevating him or her to “God-like” status. He or she sat in the same seat as you, not too long ago.
Even if you comply with these simple rules, you may find that you still do not end up with a training contract. Or that retention is not on the cards. This will be the first of many crossroads. But before you decide which path to take, reach out to your family in the profession for advice. We may not know each other personally, but we are here to guide you in your journey. Listen to what we say, fastidiously dissect our advice, look at its logic, think about it and make your decision. And don’t look back.
And for those who do secure training contracts and start this journey, not all of you will stay in the profession. Like Peng, some of you will run hotel establishments, with a string of Michelin-star restaurants. Like Karen, some of you will be Legal Counsel at an International bank handling complex deals. Like Carrie, some of you will be homemakers and maybe raise the top PSLE student. Like Kal, some of you will be in-house counsel in companies handling cutting-edge work. Like Ajay, some of you will be business leaders within international software giants.
And there are those who will stay. Like my fellow “scouser” Siraj, some of you will be Senior Counsel. Like my friend who took that envelope from me at Lau Pa Sat, Wei Munn, some of you will be leaders in your areas of specialisation. And like me, some of you will find yourself writing an article on a Sunday morning in the midst of this pandemic and at the same time wondering if Liverpool will ever lift the title. But by the time of publication of this article, I have no doubt they will.
And if you do decide to stay, remember the following:
- Work hard. Stating the obvious, but intelligence is only a small part of the journey to success.
- Never expect someone to do what you yourself are not prepared to do. This is crucial to your evolution as a practitioner. The day will come when you will have to lead and to do so effectively, you need to lead by example.
- Give back. Engage in pro bono work. Food for the soul.
- Quickly learn that you win some, lose some and that this is okay. You will not win every case but the ones that you lose make you appreciate the win that much more.
- Be respectful of others. Even with a difference of opinion, you can differ respectfully.
- Have the humility to know that you will learn every day. You will not have all the answers and the day you tell yourself that you know everything, is the day you start to fail.
- Never compromise on rules of engagement. Play by the rules, do so with honour and integrity and do so fairly.
Where you start is not necessarily where you end. And that is the beauty of this journey. You never know where it is going to take you. It will test your fortitude. It will test your mettle. But it will not disappoint, whichever path you choose to take.
My advice? Stay calm and stay focussed. Things will be okay. Have a mentor or guide next to you. I have a few trusted ones who fill this role, including one who is a Manchester United fan. And have lunch or an after 6pm chat with your friend at Lau Pa Sat, occasionally.