As the spotlight turns on women all around the world this month, we at Asia Law Network also wish to highlight the inspiring in-house women counsel in the legal industry.
This week we are very honoured to have with us two amazing in-house women counsel – Gladys Chun from Lazada and Yos Pang from Facebook sharing with us their experience, motivations and journeys.
As the General Counsel of Lazada Group (subsidiary of Alibaba Group), Gladys leads the Legal, Compliance and Government Affairs department and is responsible for all legal, compliance and government affairs matters across all countries where Lazada has a local presence including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and China.
Yos is the commercial and lead lawyer for Facebook platform deals and Workplace at Facebook. She focuses on Technology, Media and Telecommunications, with a strong background in Intellectual Property (IP). Outside of work, Yos acts as an advisor and legal consultant for several women empowering tech organisations and social enterprise, including CRIB, She Loves Tech and Women in Tech.
So ladies, could you share with us what first inspired you to be a lawyer and what drives you today?
Gladys: Well, I think what made me chose to be a lawyer would be my Dad. I come from a traditional Chinese family, where essentially there are only three career choices (haha!) a lawyer, a doctor or an engineer. My Dad being a lawyer himself, truly inspired me and I recall I fell in love with the profession when I was 15, and that was the first time I saw him in action in court. I think what really drives me today is to be the best in class in whatever I do, in any capacity by living two key mantras: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and “I choose to disrupt and not be disrupted”. These two really kept me going and motivate me to continue to push the boundaries.
Yos: I’d say – I didn’t choose to be a lawyer, it chose me. I’d applied to law school by process of elimination (without knowing what it really was!) and stumbled into law school miraculously. Through my law school and internships, I’d discovered my strengths in analysing problems and advising others. The profession grew on me which gives me great energy, purpose and direction.
What do you think is the most challenging aspect of your job?
Gladys: I think there are many challenges as an in-house, for me particularly it is to build a team from ground zero. So I joined Lazada almost five years ago, we were nobody and I had to build the team from ground zero. That was one of the biggest challenges when I first started my career. The other challenge is surviving in a male dominated environment – I think this is very relevant to a lot of female lawyers out there, especially in the last ten years or so. These experiences taught me to be an effective leader, and also to be more tenacious, resilient and resourceful. One thing I had learnt on how to overcome challenges would be to always be adaptable and positive.
Yos: The changing legal paradigms is what makes the job challenging and exciting. The practice of law is changing dramatically for many reasons, e.g. alternative legal service delivery models, legal process outsourcing, automation of legal processes, developments in data security and emerging technology tools and changing billing models.
What do you think is the most significant/impactful case you have worked on?
Gladys: I think this has to be the Alibaba deal, where Alibaba acquired us in April 2016 for $1 billion and subsequently they continued to invest in us over the past two years. This has to be the most significant case that I have done over my entire career.
Yos: It would be working on the deal with Singapore Government to roll out Workplace by Facebook to 140,000 of its civil servants across 90 agencies.
What are some of the common misconceptions about being an in-house counsel?
Gladys: Well you have a good work life balance – that is a misconception. I think while it is true in some organisations, it is not as true in a tech startup. We are all highly entrepreneurial we want to make a difference to the people and the society we are in. And that really drives the team. When you have these highly motivated people working together it is no longer work life balance but work life integration. There is life, there is work but its up to you to find the true balance. Work life integration is how you can achieve true effectiveness. (Would you say that you are a highly entrepreneurial person?) I would like to think so! (haha!) I have always enjoyed retail for as long as I could remember, and I always find ways to remove barriers to entry or intermediaries so that there is more inclusive trade between the smallest consumers and bigger sellers. At Lazada, we are one big family, and we want to enable and accelerate the growth of commerce through technology.
Yos: Myth buster #1 – lower workload and more predictable hours. It is true that lawyers in practice are often bogged down by relentless billable targets and unrelenting business development expectations. But, in-house lawyers have their fair share of hard work – and work as hard as they did in private practice. Hours are dependent on the company’s size, culture and industry. A smaller fast-paced start-up has lesser resources with a smaller legal team and requires significant dedication and personal sacrifice. In a larger multi-corporation, you will be at the mercy of work calls at unfriendly Pacific timing to sync with the global team. You are also expected to travel frequently for work to gain visibility and exposure with teams in other offices. Myth buster #2 – no more client development or networking (this is my favourite part!) In reality, successful in house lawyers focus extensively on building strong personal relationships with internal stakeholders, xFN teammates and wider legal colleagues. At the same time, in-house lawyers must develop good working relationships with outside lawyers and other in-house lawyers to stay updated on legal developments.
What legal issue do you think will become more significant in the future from your perspective?
Gladys: I think there are three key areas, first is privacy. I think we all have heard a lot of stories regarding privacy. This is increasingly going to be a critical issue for all of us, especially when SEA countries are catching up in terms of laws and regulations. The second area would be cyber security. It is not a question of if we will get attacked but when we will get attacked. It is a top priority because we operate in a digital world. The third area is ethics – because we are deploying a lot more artificial intelligence and autonomous decision making tools – liability becomes an important element, how do you attribute liability to a machine.
Yos: The legal technology movement has been hitting its stride in the past few years and law firms, even in-house teams are driven to innovate with scale. There will be a need to get more tools and apps that work in the tech legal sector to increase automation. The other broader issue is the struggle for the law to keep up with innovation and align with the evolving expectations from consumers and regulators.
If you were to compare the legal landscape past versus present, what do you think has changed the most?
Gladys: I think what has changed the most is the speed of technology deployment and also the legal environment. In terms of the speed of technology deployment I think everyone is facing it. Technology is moving at a pace that is much faster than what humans can comprehend. When it comes to changes in the legal ecosystem, I do see that there are many ways companies are consuming legal services. You have alternative legal service providers as well as legal tech companies who are designing customised solutions. So all these, in my view, completely disrupt the old school industry– which is overdue for disruption. I think what has changed significantly over the last five years is that we are seeing more hybrids in the tech world, where you have a combination of LPOs, new law and new models relying on technology to optimise efficiency and drive productivity.
Yos: The traditionally cautious legal sector was a relatively late adopter of technology, but this is changing. There are several professional services firms that already use natural language processing and AI tools for document discovery. The use cases range from the ability to shift through case files, legal briefs and more, at way faster speeds than humans can. In 2017, investment banking firm JPMorgan announced that it is using a program called COIN for contract intelligence to interpret commercial-loan agreements – a task that consumed up to 36,000 hours of lawyer’s time per year.
What are your thoughts on legal technology and how it will change the way the law is served?
Gladys: For me the optimal disruption in the legal space, is achieved when technology is fully integrated and deeply connected with every aspect of the business and it is easy to use for every employee with varying educational level and knowledge. I think the Law is still trying to keep up with the pace of changing technology. But what I have seen the key trends in legal tech is that technology will still be the key driver and enabler in the near future. I can foresee that we will continue to expand existing technology both mobile and web based creating flexible solutions that offer multiple integrated functions with convenient and secure access. There will also be more deployment of sophisticated tools such as digital legal apps which semi automates rule based decision making process. There is therefore a need for regulators and regulation to keep up.
Yos: Tech will fuel alternative delivery and service models. For example, tech automation is increasingly adopted to increase scalability and efficiencies. Many billing, administrative and secretarial processes have been automated to save costs. Law firms have also created tech operational teams to help in-house lawyers outsource low-level menial commercial contracts and IP portfolio management.
What other skills do you think young lawyers need to stay relevant in the future?
Gladys: Well if you ask me the list is pretty long (hahaha!) I think it is a long list to be very honest but I would break them up into three core components. The first component would be technical competency. An in-house counsel should possess an excellent ability to manage risks strategically and remain ahead of the curve. The second core set of skills that you need to develop is also business skills. You would need to have an understanding of the business and industry, which includes outstanding communication skills, including negotiation, advocacy, influencing, ability to distil complex legal issues into decision points for the board and management. The last competency is future ready skills on globalisation. It is no longer an excuse for the younger lawyers to not keep abreast of the developments in the Internet world, i.e. AI, Big data, autonomous decision making – all these should be fairly familiar to a junior lawyer. Their careers will also be well served by practicing cross disciplinary communication and collaboration skills.
Yos: Skill #1 – Possessing knowledge of current developments in local and world business which enables the lawyer to provide pragmatic, business-minded legal advice. Skill #2 – An excellent listening ability– which is a must-have for all lawyers, but often neglected. You need this to build trust and confidence with your clients. Skill #3 – Developing strong interpersonal skills with other lawyers and colleagues to strengthen your professional network.
Any word of advice for younger lawyers and aspiring in-house lawyers?
Gladys: I think a few things, one is to embrace change. And be daring enough to embrace success and failure. Unfortunately law school has taught us to be more risk adverse. And lawyers are not known to be risk takers. But get outside of that comfort zone will be my advice. It is how fast you jump back up on your feet is where the real test is. Given that we are operating in very fragmented markets with cutting edge technology, there are many things we are doing for the first time. If we enter with a risk adverse mentality, we will not be where we are today. One last advice is to pursue your dreams fearlessly. You will realise that there is no achievement without struggle, and there is no trying without defeat. I think you never really fail, unless you fail to try. And I have learnt to embrace my setbacks to use those experiences to help others. And I hope that this sharing will also be helpful. We are not what happens to us, we are what we choose to be.
Yos: It is important to know what makes you tick – and not have a herd instinct. You should always do what is right and what you like as the next step. If you can align your values with the organisation and the people you’re working with then that helps you be authentic and congruent – which makes you most effective, have a sense of belonging and happier at work as well.
Okay, let us put all the seriousness behind us – could you let our readers know three fun facts about yourself?
Gladys: I have always enjoyed retail for as long as I can remember, and in fact I didn’t have any e-commerce experience before I joined Lazada. I only have very strong retail experiences. When I joined Lazada I thought I was joining a retail company, only to realise that we are actually a tech and data company which then invoked my passion for tech and data. I enjoy seeking new inspirations– I do that through travelling and getting myself exposed to a new community and network. Going out of my comfort zone is something I always challenge myself and my team to embrace, because it is only when you are feeling uncomfortable, you can excel.
Yos: Fact #1 – I was born in Thailand and named after the hospital in Bangkok that I was born in. Fact #2 – I have lived in 5 cities to-date – Thailand, Singapore, Shanghai, London, Switzerland. Fact #3 – I raced on a road bike for 160km in Malacca. (wow!)
Thank you both lawyers for the amazing sharing and here are some of the photos these two inspiring ladies shared with us.
Here we have some pictures of Gladys on her travels and gaining new experiences.
Here we have some pictures of Yos doing of one her favourite activities – cycling!
This article does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any matter discussed and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and practice in this area. If you require any advice or information, please speak to practicing lawyer in your jurisdiction. No individual who is a member, partner, shareholder or consultant of, in or to any constituent part of Interstellar Group Pte. Ltd. accepts or assumes responsibility, or has any liability, to any person in respect of this article.