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K&L Gates

  • 1,000 - 50,000 employees

Mei Gong

Be curious, be patient and enjoy the journey - my learnings as a junior lawyer at K&L Gates.

I started as a seasonal clerk, before completing the graduate program and settling as a first-year lawyer in the Competition and Consumer Law team. As you commence your legal career, you may find that navigating the ambiguities of the law and unforeseeable changes is a staple of this profession. Regardless of what challenge you may find yourself confronting, remember to stay curious, be open-minded and patient. Your career is a marathon and not a sprint and there is plenty of time for you to develop and enjoy the journey at the same time. 

A special note: At the time of writing, people all around the world have been impacted by COVID-19. Like many others, I have also had to adapt to a new working 'norm' during this unprecedented time, including trying many new 'firsts' such as working full time remotely, attending everything ranging from seminars to regulator meetings online, and catching up with peers virtually.

What’s your back story?

I migrated to Australia from China when I was nine years old and had to learn the alphabet from scratch. I was curious about everything and developed a deep interest in public speaking, classical literature and science. I subsequently completed a combined degree of Science (majoring in Chemistry) and Law at UNSW. I tried out many things at university to figure out where my legal interests lay, including volunteering at a community legal centre, participating in legal innovation competitions and even volunteered in Dubbo for a week. I decided to dip my toes in commercial law by applying for a clerkship, and the rest is history.

Why K&L Gates?

During the clerkship application process, I had a lot of fun during the interviews connecting with my interviewers, learning about how they got to where they are and I felt they understood who I was a person. My impression of K&L Gates as a firm with a caring culture has only deepened since those initial interviews. 

What was your experience as a seasonal clerk like at K&L Gates?

I felt very anxious before I started my clerkship having not worked in law firms previously. I was allocated two very intellectually stimulating rotations in areas I had not studied at university; Intellectual Property (IP) and Insolvency. At times, I did struggle with complex and niche legal research questions, the short time constraints and learning to find a 'commercially workable' rather than just the 'legally correct' answer. However, regardless of the task, I was supported by very caring and sociable teams and gradually learnt both new technical skills and greater confidence in my abilities. I loved my IP rotation so much that I ended up studying two law electives in this area after my clerkship.

What was your experience as a graduate like at K&L Gates?

I did brief stints in IP and Litigation, before completing substantive rotations in Banking & Asset Finance, Insolvency and Competition and Consumer Law. There were definitely some steep learning curves along the way, such as the time where I had to learn the basics of aviation finance very quickly before being thrust into assisting with a major cross-border aviation finance transaction.

There were also some really interesting experiences, such as when I got to use my bilingual skills to translate client emails for a litigious matter or the time where I got to assist a client in the initial stages of an ACCC cartel investigation as we tried to get to the bottom of what happened.

In the Competition and Consumer Law team, I was also very lucky to be entrusted with a lot of responsibility as a junior, including directly handling numerous matters with my partner's guidance and gaining significant client contact. I love the variety of matters I get to work on, learning about the different markets in many industries and making submissions to the ACCC on behalf of my clients.

Throughout my graduate journey, I felt supported by HR and my supervising partners, as well as the 'buddy' I was assigned to in each of my rotations and my mentor. Their care, trust and advice has been integral in making my graduate journey into a gratifying self-development opportunity. 

What opportunities did you take up during your graduate year at K&L Gates outside of work?

I got involved extensively with firm activities outside of work, including the following:

  • joining a weekly running club
  • playing social netball against other firms
  • being part of Law Reimagined (our legal innovation group)
  • joining the Sydney Women in Profession Committee (where I initiated a firm-wide survey to inform future initiatives)
  • being a Young Professional Networks committee member (where we organise networking events for junior lawyers).

 I attended various innovation conferences, including the 2019 NSW Law Society Future in the Legal Profession (FLIP) Conference and the CSIRO Data 61 Conference (where I got to complete a functional programming class). This is all on top of participating in two very fun annual graduate traditions; the Grad Trivia and the Grad video (which is a comedic take on life at K&L Gates and aired at the Christmas Party).

Any advice for finding a practice area to settle in after your graduate year?

There is no golden rule to what you should look for before you settle, but three things I found useful in my journey in deciding where to settle are:

  • Be curious and ask questions – try to find out as much about the practice areas you are interested in as you can (ask junior lawyers in the group for a coffee). Make it clear to the group and HR that you are interested in trying it out as a rotation.
  • Focus on yourself – don't worry too much about what other graduates' preferences may be. Focus on what you like and enjoy, what kind of culture do you thrive in and where do you see yourself in the future.
  • You don’t need to be 100% certain about your decision – As general guidance, you should be reasonably certain that you can see yourself in your chosen legal area for the next year or two.

Any last pieces of advice?

There will be days where you have to work very long hours and the day seems to fly past you as you complete your task list. However, there will also be days where it is quieter and you will have more time on your hands. Don't forget to enjoy the ebbs and flows of your journey and appreciate your 'wins' and not be too harsh on yourself for any 'losses'. Find a mentor, whether inside or outside of your firm, as dealing with self-doubt and uncertainties is a lot easier with a dose of wisdom and experience. Lastly, don't forget to have some fun along the way - there is more to life than work and more to work than filling in timesheets.

* This article was written in May 2020, when K&L Gates was operating under mandatory work from home protocols. We have tried to give you the best indication of what a 'Day in the Life' is like at our firm, and have reflected on what a typical day looks like for our people when we are working from our offices