Vicki from Vicki Heng Law Corporation talks about starting her own law firm and balancing work with life at home. This article was originally published in Biz Events Asia. Vicki is a new lawyer joining AsiaLawNetwork — welcome!
Legal Mind: Striking a Balance
The eldest of three children in a middle-class family, I was brought up with the constant reminder that with perseverance and hard work, there was nothing that I could not do. Indeed, up to my late 20s, it seemed like anything was possible. I had a good degree, I had found myself a position in an esteemed law firm with excellent mentors and I had been made partner by my fourth year of practice – compared to the law graduates of today who struggle even to secure a training contract (a pre-requisite to being called to the Bar). Life was going as planned, if not better.
Then motherhood struck. Twice.
It will be alright, I told myself. Nothing has to change, I can work and be a mum. I would put in my hours at work, come home and bathe the children, feed them, play with them, read them their bedtime stories, then put them to bed. It was only then that I could finish up whatever work I had for the next day. Perseverance and hard work got things done, including birthday parties, playdates and outings, as my parents said they would. But they had not prepared me for the guilt – the guilt of leaving my children in the care of their grandparents and helpers for up to 10 hours a day, the guilt of not being in school to take pictures of their celebrations, and the guilt of thinking about child-related things while I was at work. As flexible work arrangements in law firms were rare, I found myself looking down a long narrow road – to go this way, or the other. Determined not to have to make the choice, I started my own law practice in the year that my daughter turned seven, and my son five.
I am happy to note that I am one of many mothers who have journeyed down this path. In 2010, Sher-Li Torrey, then a mum to a baby girl, started Mums@Work, the first career portal in Singapore that helps women find the perfect balance between work and motherhood. Mums@Work, with a membership of 26,000 (and growing by over 100 each week) provides comprehensive support to mums, from helping them find flexi-time or part-time jobs, to providing consultancy relating to starting a business, educating employers on the benefits of employing flexi-time or part-time staff, and assisting companies on how to implement flexible working schemes. Among other things, the portal lists positions that allow women the flexibility of working from home, on a contract basis, or part-time.
Last year, I was fortunate to benefit from the portal when I was looking to employ a part-time legal secretary. The successful candidate was a logistics manager looking to take some time off from her full-time job to prepare her elder son for primary school (a common motivator). Even though she had no prior legal experience, she quickly learnt the ropes. She worked four hours each day, and was home in time to be with her sons after they returned from kindergarten. She has since rejoined the logistics industry after her son settled into his new school.
Singapore has come a long way since the inception of Mums@Work. In January 2016, Minister for Manpower, Lim Swee Say was reported to have stated that the proportion of employers providing at least one form of flexible work arrangement has increased from 28 per cent in 2008 to 47 percent in 2014. This is an encouraging shift. Considering the percentage of women (aged between 25 and 64) in the workforce is about 72 percent at present, I would urge employers to work towards accommodating a woman’s need to balance work with family. To resist would be to risk having mothers choose family over their careers, resulting in the loss of valuable talent.
I have no regrets about starting my own firm. While there are some trade-offs in terms of income and regular hours, I am able to arrange my work around my children’s schedules, and they know that even though I may be typing away on the computer, I am available to help them with their piano lessons or schoolwork, or to talk or hug them whenever they need me. Perseverance and hard work are still my constant companions, but guilt is a distant memory.