Taking care of business: Connie Heng

Hong Kong partner Connie Heng runs the Asia Pacific Capital Markets practice. She speaks about the business of law, paying your dues and keeping an open mind about where your talents lie.

I actually never wanted to be a lawyer − I applied to study Economics in the UK. Then my parents suggested applying for the Law faculty at the National University of Singapore – to save some money and because the law is such a solid profession. Asian parents are always quite practical!

Initially, my plan was to just study Law and then change direction. I am naturally better with numbers than with words, but I’ve grown to love using words. In my capital markets practice, a big part of what’s required is telling a story about the company in order to raise capital.

I’ve always been drawn to the business side of things and find it one of the most exciting aspects of my practice. My father ran his own business, so I grew up thinking about business, and I always imagined I would run one. As a result, I was quite prepared when it was time to take my practice to the next level. And that’s advice I would give to any aspiring attorney: think about law as business.

All businesses have internal and external clients. That’s quite an important realization for a young lawyer. The firm will talk about external clients, of course, but as a junior associate, you will more likely deal with senior associates and partners.

It’s important to understand the pressures a partner is under, as well as the dynamics in the firm. When you work together with partners, reach ahead of yourself. For example, when you are a trainee, work to think like an associate; when you’re an associate, try to think like a senior associate; and like a partner when you are a senior associate. Challenge yourself to get to a higher level of thinking, and you’ll likely accelerate the time it takes to get there.

I also think it’s important to gain perspective as you grow, and learn to show empathy. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes and consider why they are asking for certain deadlines and deliverables; don’t see a project just as a project, see the bigger picture.

When you’re younger, it’s natural to look at successful women and think, “They have everything.” But my advice is this: don’t be daunted by the idea that you have a lot of balls to juggle. You actually don’t have to focus on everything at full speed or 100 percent of the time. Pace yourself. You may decide to have a family and, at one point, you may need to focus more on family. But as the kids grow up, you may want a new challenge. Consider all your options, and look for a firm where you can discuss these types of issues openly, hopefully with a culture that is very supportive. I am grateful to my supportive partners and team who have helped me along the way.

In looking back, I am very glad to have kept an open mind. What you are good at when you’re 22 years old might not be the same later in life; I find that it’s best to go with the flow and be open to change.