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Annual William Lee Address NSW: Barriers and Enablers

28 Aug 2018 9:39 AM | Anonymous

The NSW Committee of the Australian Asian Lawyers Association hosted the annual William Lee Address on 28 August 2018. The Address was hosted by sponsor Baker McKenzie at the new Barangaroo office, welcoming our members to the territory of the Gadigal of the Eora Nation.


Opened by Baker McKenzie Partner, Richard Gough and NSW Committee President Kingsley Liu, the night welcomed over 40 guests to listen to the esteemed panel:

  • Juliana Warner, Managing Partner Herbert Smith Freehills
  • BJ Kim International Program Manager Environmental Defenders Office
  • Ken Nguyen, Partner Ashurst
  • Julie Chai, CEO Asian Leadership Project and D&I specialist

William Lee was the first Asian barrister admitted in the jurisdiction of NSW. Australian-born of Chinese heritage, Lee’s journey was defined by ambition and resilience. In commemoration of his legacy, the theme of this year’s Address was ‘Courage and Determination.’ Juliana Warner opened with: “in order to be inclusive, you need to think ‘inclusive.’ We need to be inclusive and culturally sensitive to differing leadership and communication styles.” Warner recalled an experience within Herbert Smith Freehills that certainly had a few heads nodding in approval, “we had a matter with a firm based in Singapore. We found our teams were not communicating and the process was strenuous. As a measure, our office engaged in cultural training- it helped us communicate better with the firm and progress our matter. We were able to organise a series of caucuses that promoted peer-to-peer communication…Cultural training was a revelation. I felt so bad about how I put my team mates in such a culturally uncomfortable position.”


Julie Chai was welcoming of this cultural training. Chai works across numerous firms to improve engagement, retention and development of Asian-Australian talent, and enhance culturally sensitive D&I practices. Commenting on this, BJ Kim observed: “it is a two-way street. There is a certain amount of unconscious bias in society, but minorities have also adopted these biases. We have to stop apologising for being in the room. And this applies to all minorities. It doesn’t come easily and organisations need to provide support, like mentoring and policy implementation. But people also need to consider making the themselves more resilient through for example counselling and coaching services.” Ken Nguyen, passionate about leadership, had this tip to rising lawyers: “exhibit your confidence. Embrace different leadership styles as you learn. Embrace your individualism.” Incorporating intersectional feminism, Warner closed with, “we need to help ourselves. There are things we can do to take charge ourselves- such as, building our self-confidence in an appropriate way and learning skills.”

Reflecting on his career progression into partnership, Nguyen found that, unfortunately, racial profiling and cultural micro-aggressions do not stop. But, what is changing is society’s intolerance- we are no longer dismissive of a casual racist remark, a taunt or a stereotype. Ken’s own stories sparked a dialogue within the audience, welcoming a series of reflections from practitioners within commercial, public and in-house sectors. The audience were also keen to hear from the panel about how individuals and firms can strategically respond. Reflecting on her own career story, Chai emphasised the importance of networking and made a distinction between sponsorship and mentorship. The AALA audience welcomed these strategies that provide a wide landscape for individual trail blazers and offices to work together in promoting intersectional harmony.


This is where the value of the AALA is realised. The objective of the AALA is to provide a safe environment to confront the issues of racism and intolerance. By engaging with the uncomfortable, the AALA fosters a meaningful dialogue and inspires action. The Committee is extremely thankful to our audience and members and we hope to have you at our upcoming events:

  • The William Ah Ket Scholarship Award
    20 September 2018
    6 – 8 pm
    Maddocks, Sydney

  • Commercial Law in the Asian Century: Is Western Sydney Ready?
    15 November 2018
    6 – 8 pm
    Western Sydney University, Parramatta

The AALA acknowledges and respects that the event was hosted on the land of the Eora Nation. The NSW Committee pays our respects to the Traditional Owners both past and present.

Barangaroo is named after a power Cammeraygal woman who is a key figure in local Aboriginal culture and community. To learn more, visit: https://www.barangaroo.com/see-and-do/barangaroo/aboriginal-culture


Copyright 2015 Asian Australian Lawyers Association Inc.

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