Maggie Wang left a career in finance and energy policy to pursue her passion for law. We caught up with her to find out what prompted her to change careers and countries, and what she’s doing now as a lawyer.
A family of lawyers
Maggie’s father is a lawyer, as are many of her family friends. Therefore, a Juris Doctor was a natural choice after she completed undergraduate studies in environmental policy and economics.
However, environmental law jobs were thin on the ground in Hong Kong. Instead, she worked as a paralegal, firstly in intellectual property, then progressing to corporate finance.
“I enjoyed supporting clients to achieve their goals,” said Maggie, “But working as a paralegal often had little prospect of career progression.”
Next step? Take a step back.
“After two and a half years, I took some time off to find a new direction,” explained Maggie.
Doing so proved crucial. Time off allowed Maggie to reassess what she wanted next. This saw her venture into research, working as a senior research assistant for a university. Her research projects focused mostly on the policy implications of developing renewable energy in Asian cities.
“I enjoyed the work, which was helped by my longstanding interest in the subject matter,” said Maggie. However, she felt a long term career as an academic was not the right fit for her.
“This is what prompted me to return to the legal profession, and get qualified as a solicitor in Australia.”
How Maggie became a lawyer in Australia
Having a JD from Hong Kong eased Maggie’s career progression to Australia. Because the qualification was recognised in Australia, she was required to study only two Australian law subjects (Constitutional Law and Property Law), which she did by distance through the University of New England. She also completed a Master of Laws at the University of Melbourne, and practical legal training through the College of Law.
“For the work experience component of the College of Law’s PLT, I logged my hours via a paralegal job in Melbourne,” explained Maggie.
“It also took time to do background research to map out each step, to relocate, to network and job hunt,” said Maggie. “The total process, from getting my qualifications assessed by authorities in Australia to actually getting admitted as an Australian Lawyer, took around three years.”
The transition from Hong Kong’s fast-paced way of life to Melbourne’s emphasis on work/life balance was significant, but certainly part of the appeal.
“I was drawn to Hong Kong because it’s a vibrant metropolis with a fascinating mix of eastern and western cultures,” said Maggie. Moreover, legal education is conducted in English, as well as a lot of legal work. “As I completed most of my formal education in English, I very much appreciated this.”
However, Hong Kong’s pace of work was intense.
“In Hong Kong, people tend to work longer hours,” said Maggie. “It is also a much higher density city compared to Melbourne. I appreciate that in Melbourne people tend to place more emphasis on work-life-balance. It's also not as dense and crowded here, and housing is not as expensive.”
How to manage your career transition
Maggie counts herself fortunate, as she was able to leave full-time work to pursue further studies.
“That definitely helped to make things more manageable,” she acknowledged.
“To those who may be considering a career transition, my advice would be to do plenty of research. This means talking to people in the industry that you’re interested in, reading up on it, and talking to your friends, family and mentors about it. However, don’t feel like you need to have everything figured out before you start transitioning. If the new path doesn’t work out, that’s not the end of the world. You can always find another path.”
For now, Maggie is focused on progressing her career. This means becoming more knowledgeable and confident as a litigation and family law practitioner, while expanding her professional network.
As a lawyer in Melbourne, Maggie enjoys working with clients from different walks of life and helping them with very tangible problems.
“Many of our clients are Chinese immigrants and prefer to speak Mandarin, so I get to utilise this skill in my job everyday. My experience as a paralegal and as a research assistant also strengthened my communication skills and problem-solving abilities, which have been immensely helpful in my current role.”
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