Becoming a Rising Star

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Becoming a Rising Star in International Arbitration by ArbitralWomen and CIArb (East Asia Branch) in celebration of International Women’s Day 2019

Reporter:  Carolina Carlstedt, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner

Bright and early on International Women’s Day 2019, Hong Kong’s female arbitration community gathered at the HKIAC to listen to a panel of esteemed practitioners speak about effective business development and raising your profile in the industry.   

The panel consisted of Chiann Bao, an independent arbitrator from Arbitration Chambers, Sarah Grimmer, Secretary General of HKIAC, May Tai, Managing Partner (Greater China) of Herbert Smith Freehills, and Mary Thomson, barrister and independent arbitrator from Pacific Chambers and Chair of CIArb (East Asia Branch). The panel was moderated by Eliza Jiang of Fangda Partners.

The panel discussion kicked off with a debate around exactly what business development means and why it is important. Mary Thomson distilled it for us all: as an arbitrator or lawyer, you need to persuade clients and parties to engage you, which \you achieve by honing your personal brand. Ultimately, legal services are a business and the key to success for an individual is to have excellent technical and soft skills. She urged all young practitioners to soak up as many of these soft skills as possible, by undergoing in-house training, writing articles and newsletters.

Sarah Grimmer gave us three top tips for raising our profile: (1) do your work excellently; (2) speak at events and write articles; and (3) get involved in industry task forces or projects. The rest of the panel agreed – the most important thing is to do your job well, as that gives you the confidence for everything else. If you get involved with a project or a committee, ensure that you are active and that you have a voice. May Tai also stressed the importance of quality over quantity: don’t get involved in too many projects, do less but do it well. Sarah Grimmer explained that there are many ways in which you can build your brand if you are working for an institution, for instance by presenting to law firms and organisations. Mary Thomson noted that it is a bit more difficult for barristers, given that they do not have the benefit of in-house training or the corporate support often available in law firms. Nevertheless, there are many opportunities, including doing CPD training for solicitors (something which is always welcomed).

So how do we get our first committee membership or speaking slot? The panel recommended starting small: do internal case updates and training sessions to find your feet. Then try to move on to client seminars, by which point you will be more than ready for your first speaking slot. Another way to build your confidence is to be the junior to a senior counsel in an arbitration hearing. Once you have secured your speaking slot, prepare it well. In terms of committee membership, keep applying for one of the smaller committees until you get a slot. Once you are on board, do a good job and you may get co-opted onto the main committee.

May Tai’s top tips for speaking events were to (1) take them extremely seriously; (2) make sure your presentation is excellent because it demonstrates your calibre, your intellect and your values. In short, you need to come across as someone with whom others want to work.

The panel also provided their top DOs and DON’Ts for speaking events. These were: (1) DO know your audience and pitch your presentation accordingly; (2) DO know your co-panellists and your moderator; (3) DO be culturally sensitive; (4) DON’T put too much on your slides; (5) DO make your talk interactive and interesting as people have a very short concentration span (6) DON’T use technology without trialling it first.

So we have secured our committee membership or our speaking event, but how do we know that our efforts are working? May Tai felt that, with a speaking event, people vote with their feet. If people come up to you after your presentation, it means the presentation was good. If you do not get any interaction at all, your presentation may have been too simple or too technical. Adjust it for your next one.

The panel went on to discuss the directories and whether they are a good metric for your BD efforts. The consensus was that they can be useful, especially for clients that are from another jurisdiction or unfamiliar with the industry. However, they are not the be-all and end-all. Speak to your BD team (if you have one) and work with them to get you included in the rankings.  

The session wrapped up with questions from the audience and plenty of further debate. All in all, it was a wonderful session with candid speakers who were brimming with practical tips. We were all left inspired and full of ideas that were brewing as we hurried off to our respective offices and chambers to take on the day.

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