When Angelia’s boss first told Angelia that he wanted to promote her to the role of Partner, her first response was, “Are you crazy?”
Although she had already been an Associate at Braddell Brothers for more than four years by that point, Angelia still didn’t feel ready to assume the responsibility of being a partner.
“To be very honest, I was not gunning to make partner,” she says. “If it happens, great. But that’s not my motivation for working. I guess [that refusal] was coming from a place of fear, because I didn’t know what it was like to be a partner. To me, it was just an automatic reflex to say no. No, I don’t want to do it, I don’t want to try it.”
Even though most other senior partners would probably have taken offence at her response, Angelia’s boss – fortunately – did not.
Despite being Singapore’s second-oldest independent law practice, the culture at Braddell Brothers is anything but archaic. Angelia shared that Braddell Brothers prides itself on a strong culture of transparency, flexibility and substance over form. As stated on the Firm’s website, “We don’t believe in having pool tables, lawyers’ lounges, canteens serving breakfast, pizza at 5pm or X-Boxes in the office. We believe that you should have enough time to yourself to enjoy these things at home, or someplace far away from where you work. We don’t live in the office and neither should you.”
“They came from the big firms, and they experienced your typical big-firm life,” says Angelia about the two partners, Edmund Kronenburg and Tan Kok Peng, who led the rejuvenation of Braddell Brothers in 2009. “They made it quite clear that they wanted to do something which was different from what they had experienced.”
Today, Braddell Brothers is a mid-sized team led by its Managing Partner, Edmund Kronenburg. Despite her initial reservations, Angelia stepped up to the new role just around the time that COVID-19 hit Singapore. “It was really quite challenging to try something new, but I’ve grown a lot because of it,” she says.
According to Angelia, the biggest difference between being an associate and being a partner, is that as the partner, you have to make the final call on tough issues instead of deferring to someone else’s judgement.
“It’s scary because you have no one else to blame. If you lose the case, it’s your fault. If you lose the client, it’s also your fault. Similarly, if you win the case, or you get the client, it’s your credit to take. But ultimately, you bear that final responsibility.”
That doesn’t mean that associates can absolve themselves of responsibility for the files they are working on. “Everybody pulls their weight in our team. You’re a lawyer. It doesn’t matter what your title / seniority is. If you’re part of the team, you take ownership of your views and your work.”
When asked whether she had any tips for anyone aiming to make partner at a young age, Angelia’s advice was not to be fixated on chasing titles and instead, focus on doing your best for every single case.
“I would say, don’t aim to make partner per se, but aim – even as an associate – to treat the file like you’re the only one on it,” says Angelia, sharing what her mentors taught her. “Even as a pupil, and then as a junior associate and senior associate, I was always told, ‘Pretend this thing is yours.’ So I never had the luxury of adopting the mentality that “I’ll just let my senior tell me what to do.’”
Looking at Angelia now, you’d never guess that she was once a less-than-stellar student in the National University of Singapore. In her own words: “I’m not super smart, I’m not some Dean’s Lister. Actually, I did pretty badly in law school,” she laughed.
But the good news, Angelia says, is that being in practice is nothing like law school.
“I think practice really gives you that opportunity to start on a clean slate. You’re not defined by your law school, your grades, or even the firm that you’re from. Because you can make a name and practice area for yourself wherever you are. Don’t think so much about prestige, title, ranking. Ask yourself: ultimately, what do you want to achieve as a lawyer? And is it something that you’ll be proud of at the end of the day? Aiming for partnership and promotion – those are just typical milestones, and they’re good to have, but chasing them for the sake of it is not going to get you very far.”
As a litigator, Angelia shared that her favourite part about the job is winning, and her least favourite part is losing. “It’s as simple as that. I think all litigators have that competitive streak in them. If you don’t, I would imagine it’s quite hard to thrive doing litigation.”
Angelia admits to feeling a certain degree of impostor syndrome every now and then because every case she handles is never exactly the same as the previous one.
So here’s the last bit of advice she has: give yourself the chance to make mistakes and learn from them.
We all have to start somewhere, she shares. “As a junior lawyer, if you are given the opportunity to run a file, do a trial, argue a hearing yourself, or even something that seems less glamorous like attending a solo meeting or call – just do it. Take the opportunity and do your best, even if you don’t feel a hundred percent prepared. You just have to actually do it yourself and overcome that fear.”
“That’s why it’s called being in practice.”
To get good at anything, you really just have to keep practising.
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 a 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.