One of Dawn’s hobbies outside of work include Sogetsu Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement. To draw parallels between Dawn’s pursuit of Ikebana and the law, their similarities include the high standards to which she practises both (having obtained her teacher’s diploma in Sogetsu Ikebana).
The calm and contemplative nature of Ikebana, in which arrangements centre on structural forms, does indeed correspond with Dawn’s. “The law appeals to my meticulous and organised nature, and I liked having a framework to think about issues.” says Dawn. She currently practices a mix of commercial and corporate matters, with a focus on complex commercial disputes.
One of Dawn’s recent arrangements.
“After leaving one of the “Big Four” firms, I had joined a friend at his boutique firm for three years. The tenancy expired, and we decided it was time to part ways since we were going in different directions. So it was really more out of necessity than a burning desire to become an entrepreneur,” Dawn says in her humble explanation on the nascence of ADTLaw.
“I just wanted to practise what I had been trained in – which is the law – and to practise it to a very high standard. And be able to pay my bills.” True to her word, ADTLaw is in a Formal Law Alliance with leading global law firm Ashurst LLP, and is now known as Ashurst ADTLaw. It remains a hard truth that small boutiques will always be constrained in the types of cases they can take on. For instance, it would be unlikely for a boutique firm to represent a financial institution in a large commercial dispute. Therefore, forming the alliance meant gaining more exposure to the kind of work Dawn had always wanted to do, as much for her colleagues as for herself.
“I believe in giving younger people a runway. They want to have the opportunity to learn, grow and improve, and also for them to know that they’re receiving a quality education.”
On the subject of quality education, Dawn had previously held teaching appointments from 1999 to 2001 at both the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Singapore Management University (SMU), teaching administrative law, legal research and writing in the former, and mediation in the latter. Her motivation behind this? “I wanted to try it!”
However, she later found that academia was not her cup of tea because she realised that she wanted to deal with real issues of business and commerce.
Nevertheless, she shares some insight she had gained in the teaching profession: “You need to relate to the students and them to you. It’s a learning situation where you have to adapt.”
Not only is it essential for teachers to adapt, students must do so too. After graduating with an LL.B. in NUS, Dawn pursued her LL.M. at the Harvard School of Law where she was exposed to a different way of teaching: “The Socratic method, if you will,” Dawn says with a laugh. “I wanted to pitch myself against others in an environment where people were oh-so-smart.”
It was an acquired habit for Dawn to get used to how forthright, even blunt, the people at Harvard were when making a point, but she found it refreshing. “In the Asian context, you may offend a few people. But in the American culture, it’s all about the issue. It is purely an exchange of ideas – nothing personal! So, it’s important to be open to the different ways in which things are done in different cultures.”
School would not be the first time Dawn learnt this lesson. Dawn had also been involved in the world of commerce from a policymaker’s perspective during her time on secondment to the Ministry of Trade and Industry, where she negotiated free Singapore’s trade agreements.
“There are many other world views besides how we perceive things in Singapore.” To illustrate this point, “Singapore is very rules based, everything has to be set out clearly – rules, lines and boundaries. In general, we’re organised, we’re meticulous, and we don’t like messiness. This may not be the case in other countries.”
This goes beyond cultures. Even in a local commercial context, there are different corporate types. Dawn currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce (SICC). “Having the opportunity to interact with a cross-section of people in business, listening to their perspectives and concerns definitely broadens your perspective as a commercial person, not just as a lawyer.”
She refers to the SICC as the voice of business in Singapore. “They proactively organised corporate events – I remember a few memorable ones – for example, as part of the Distinguished Speakers Speak series. They once invited Mr Ho Kwon Ping, the executive chairman of Banyan Tree Holdings, and Mr Piyush Gupta, the CEO of DBS Bank.” Dawn recalls.
Being on the board of SICC with other corporate leaders was a confidence-booster for Dawn as well. “You can’t have holes in your armour of confidence, or you’ll be eaten alive! But having to navigate different situations, much like work, adds to your confidence.”
Whilst competence and confidence are indispensable skills for any successful lawyer, Dawn thinks that compassion is just as vital. “Did you become a better person? Are you, with your success, just keeping it to yourself, or are you helping less privileged people who may be trapped by certain circumstances in their lives?”
Dawn does so by mentoring her younger colleagues closely. Ashurst ADTLaw also gives out scholarships to deserving law in NUS and SMU. Outside of work, she also serves as a Member on the Board of Directors and Executive Council of the Life Community Services Society, which is a registered charity and member of the National Council of Social Services. They aim to empower children and families of low income and/or vulnerable backgrounds through care and mentoring. Besides, she has also helped to raise funds for hospitals in Pakistan and Sri Lanka through Ikebana demonstrations and exhibitions.
“Interesting” is a word she repeatedly uses to explain her reasons and motivations – whether it be pursuing her LL.M. at Harvard, learning Arabic and Thai as a third language or going above and beyond for her passion in Sogetsu Ikebana. It is clear that Dawn possesses a genuine curiosity about her, and appreciates interacting and engaging with different people holding different views.
When asked to give her younger self a piece of advice, she speaks of humility distilled after years of experience.
“Keep your eyes open and talk less. Learn as much as you can, and grow up a bit faster. But you have to learn what you’re supposed to learn at every stage of life.”
Both flower arrangement images belong to Dawn.
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.