Senior women lawyers from China and the wider Asia region share personal stories of challenges and successes. Frankie Wang and Vandana Chatlani report
The Chinese saying goes, “women hold up half the sky”. But female lawyers in China and other countries in Asia have perhaps even broader shoulders. Although the concept of gender parity is now a common aspiration, female professionals still routinely need to achieve more than their male counterparts for the same career advancements, not to mention the well-worn Asian tradition that females should shoulder more of the family responsibilities at home. In this article, we compile life stories from 10 Asian female legal elites, warriors in their way – women who hold up more than half the sky.
WANG JIHONG, PARTNER, ZHONG LUN LAW FIRM, BEIJING
Don’t box yourself in
The evolution from media editor to infrastructure and energy specialist proves this lawyer’s philosophy
“Generally speaking, the law business is a male-dominated industry. In the infrastructure construction and energy fields in which I am involved, female lawyers are even scarcer. In competition, female lawyers are at a natural disadvantage, particularly when you still haven’t made your name in the industry.
To my mind, however, there is a new trend in China, and that is that the number of female lawyers who can make partner is increasing. There are quite a few women in my team. Notwithstanding the fact that when recruiting we may be looking for a man – because it is more convenient for them to travel on business, among other reasons – we nevertheless often find that after the interview, the women are superior. It should be said that the quality of Chinese women is getting higher and higher, and our room for growth is also expanding more and more.
After graduating from the China University of Political Science and Law in 1990, fate took me to the Legal Daily, where I served as editor for 10 years. Although technically I fell within the circle of Chinese lawyers at the time, I always felt that I was at the outer edge. Having studied law for four years, I was not really practising law, leaving me with a strong feeling of regret.
When I was 32, I met Tao Jingzhou, who was then chief representative in the Beijing office of Coudert Brothers, at an annual lawyers’ conference. My media background piqued his interest, and with his persuasion I became the first person to resign from the Legal Daily. But on my first day at work, I was taken aback: Looking around, I saw that, aside from Mr Tao, his secretary and a few senior lawyers, I was the oldest one there, immediately stressing me out.
At the time, I was responsible for the firm’s marketing and media co-ordination, a different start from most people who begin as paralegals. In fact, this role gave me the opportunity to see from different perspectives how a foreign law firm goes about promoting its business, and how it develops and retains clients. The reverence and devotion of a foreign law firm for, and to, its clients and business, and its team spirit, have had a huge influence on my subsequent professional life.
In 2002, City Development Law Firm was opening an office in Beijing, and I left Coudert Brothers to take charge of the planning and preparation. At the time, City Development was the first professional law firm in China specializing in construction projects and real estate, and when I first joined I didn’t even know who Party A and Party B to a project contract were – I was a complete outsider.
During the first two or three years after joining the Chinese law firm, I hardly ever had a chance to rest on weekends, spending all of that time taking various classes. But it didn’t feel hard, rather I felt very fulfilled. Subsequently, I was fortunate to be selected for such projects as the National Museum of China’s renovation and expansion project, CCTV’s new site construction project, etc., thus establishing an unbreakable bond with the construction field. And I have been doing this now for close to 20 years. As the market has changed, my work has also gradually migrated from the Party Bs to construction projects to the Party As, and with this as a starting point, I gradually entered into such fields as real estate, infrastructure, energy, environmental protection and the Belt and Road.