International Women’s Day 2021: amazing stories
To Kitty Vo, the law is the very bedrock of society. She believes that a legal career empowers individuals, equipping them with highly transferrable skills that can lead to countless career opportunities across a huge range of professions and industries. Kitty is a partner in our Property & Projects team and is based in Sydney. She shares her story.
You could say I’m living the dream. I wanted to be a lawyer since I was 10. However, as my mother tongue is Vietnamese, I actually couldn’t speak English until I was almost 6 years old.
From an early age, I associated law, and being a lawyer, with strength. As I grew older, those sentiments became my traditionalist’s view of the legal profession – that it is an honourable, noble and prestigious profession. My parents were very supportive of my career choice because they knew that as a young girl, being a lawyer would help me build character and confidence, and open up a world of opportunities.
While studying law at university, I volunteered at my local courthouse and then learnt the ropes by shadowing a Legal Aid criminal defence lawyer. My formal legal career began in a suburban firm as a general practice lawyer. I worked in a broad range of practice areas and was often in court a few times a week.
Initially I was very intimidated and nervous appearing in court, but I would always put on my finest suit, put on the ‘lawyer’ persona and proudly walk into court. After my own appearances, I would often linger in the courtroom to watch other barristers and more senior lawyers perform. Sometimes, I’d even imagine I was some sort of protagonist in a John Grisham novel. It was my own way of developing courtroom confidence.
And so, I continued to walk into court with a façade of confidence, until one day I realised I wasn’t faking confidence any longer; I really did know what I was doing. When I reminisce about those experiences now, I value that training ground immensely, as it provided the foundations for my career.
Joining a city law firm was an important part of my legal education and career development, so I eventually landed a property law role in a large national law firm. I enjoy property law because I deal with tangible things that I can touch and see. There’s satisfaction in seeing the building I helped a client acquire, or a shop I helped a client open.
Women in property law
I didn’t know it at the time (because I was too engrossed in the courtroom experience!), but I realise now that back in those days, I was often the sole, young, female, Asian lawyer amongst the men in the courtroom.
Nowadays, some 51% of law graduates are female – that’s very encouraging. From my own anecdotal experience, despite women still being substantially underrepresented in the wider property and construction industry, there is an increasing number of women in property law – there are many strong and capable female lawyers emerging. Here at Hall & Wilcox, we have a fabulous cohort of female property partners, which I’m grateful to be a part of.
One of my first bosses advised me, ‘Don’t be afraid of not knowing the answer. Just know how to find it.’ My advice to junior lawyers is try not to feel overwhelmed.
Focus on the task, not on the noise (I should take my own advice). Find ways to block out the noise and zero in on what you’re dealing with. If you have several competing deadlines, do the task you’ve been given properly and with real diligence. That’s when you’ll get noticed.
Be brave, catch the wave
Life is about knowing when to ‘catch the wave’. The wave of opportunity. The trick is to catch it before it breaks so that you can ride it home. Life will offer multiple opportunities but too many people miss the most wonderful waves by taking too long to make a decision and then miss out on what could have been a life-changing or rewarding experience.
If you’re too fearful about doing something outside of your comfort zone, then the opportunity to increase your knowledge and develop your skills will be given to someone else.
Positive male influences
My father always made me believe that I was capable of achieving anything I aimed for. Later in life, my husband became an avid supporter and champion of my career. I was also extremely fortunate to have had male bosses who genuinely recognised me and rewarded me for my professional skills. Overall, I have been very blessed to have positive and healthy male influences throughout my life.
All men – brothers, fathers, uncles, grandfathers, boyfriends – have a significant role to play in every girl’s life as she is growing up to provide her with encouragement, support and opportunity. Because that will shape her views, her confidence, and her ability to genuinely feel equal in our society.
Shemara Wikramanayake, CEO of Macquarie Group, encapsulates what gender equality genuinely looks like. She’s a petite, softly-spoken woman leading a global powerhouse. Gender and ethnicity have not been roadblocks to her success as a leader in a traditionally male-dominated sector. The reason she is in her role is simple – because she’s damn good at it.