Lai Lai Wong joined Peerpoint in 2017 following ten years at Allen & Overy. Born in China and educated in Macau, Portugal and Edinburgh, she has a truly global outlook and breadth of experience. We caught up with Lai Lai to discuss how legal consulting works for her.
Tell us a bit more about your journey into legal consulting
To be frank, when I started, I didn't think much about it as I didn’t expect to be consulting for long. I started with Peerpoint when I was expecting an imminent move to Asia. When that was put on hold, I had to reconsider my position - work, lifestyle, family and aspirations. Whilst things hadn’t panned out as I’d expected, my journey with Peerpoint was an unexpected but most pleasant surprise and turned out to offer me the freedom that I value deeply.
I can take on contract roles that either make good use of my experience as a derivatives lawyer or enable me to stretch and learn in areas that I'm not so familiar with, without ever compromising on my desire to pursue my own personal aspirations or the need to spend time with my family.
What’s been one of the best moments of your consulting journey so far?
On one particular assignment, I built a good relationship with the client and while I was there, I spotted opportunities for new potential assignments. They were of a completely different nature to my role at the time and I wasn't an expert on them, however I approached the client to suggest a scope of work to achieve the outcome they wanted and showed how my expertise could help. In the end I managed to carve out the new role as my next assignment.
As a legal consultant, I have a degree of control over when and what I want to take on. When the first lockdown happened I was offered an extension to my assignment but I felt I needed to spend that time with my family as my kids are still very young. I felt so fortunate to have that flexibility.
Have there been any unexpected benefits to consulting that you weren’t initially envisaging?
Yes, there have been so many that I'm not sure where to begin! Understanding what I want to achieve from my career, visualising where I want to get to and planning my path (however unstructured it may be), the art and benefits of networking and building relationships. Knowing I'm not just a lawyer and, if unafraid to try, my skills are so versatile and can be put to good use in many different industries and roles has been key.
Do you have any advice about juggling your commitments and passions alongside your legal consulting career?
I always just have two to three things (goals or commitments) I focus on and then I break them down into smaller goals and objectives. It's more manageable that way and it makes me feel satisfied when I achieve them. For example, each morning I plan just three things I need to achieve that day and I always complete those three things. I've learned not to demand too much of myself and always review and update my two to three goals or commitments each year. For me it's super helpful to reflect on a particular journey (e.g. a year that's just past) and appreciate what I've learned or gained and also recognise my shortcomings.
You’re passionate about art and are currently a trustee for Chinese Art Now, tell us a bit about that?
Chinese Arts Now (CAN), is a not-for-profit organisation funded by the Arts Council England that promotes Chinese culture through the arts. I actually made the connection through BCKR, an organisation that helps lawyers find trustee and non-executive directorships to enhance a portfolio career (all Peerpoint consultants have complimentary BCKR membership).
I’ve always been interested in art because my grandfather was a sculptor – a museum in Hangzhou was dedicated to his work – and my Dad picked up his trade. The understanding of Asian and Chinese culture in the West is weak. Even my own children harbour cultural stereotypes rooted in history. Our hope is to provide opportunities for learning and understanding some of the new forms of Chinese art, including dance, music, paper arts – everything. Language doesn’t need to be a barrier when so many of the themes are universal and inspire “commonality in diversity”. These are central themes we can all relate to. That’s important.
With my experience of growing up in the West, I feel we need to provide a platform for ethnic minorities to showcase what they know and want to show. It is critical now that we foster a greater understanding and appreciation of different cultures and races.
You’re also a school trustee, what’s that like?
I became a governor at Halley Primary School in 2018. It’s a small school, located in Tower Hamlets, one of the poorest London boroughs. The challenges facing the school are overwhelming, especially following the outbreak of the pandemic and school closures. Getting children access to online learning was one; making sure free meal vouchers got to the families entitled to them was another.
For the governors, it’s a critical time as we seek novel ideas for generating income for the school in ways that are beneficial for the children and the community. I feel if we have the time and inclination to help out, we should. The satisfaction is seeing kids being happy, learning, being supported – I love doing it.
What would you say to lawyers who like the idea of legal consulting but aren’t sure whether to take the plunge?
Talk to as many consultants as you can. Legal consulting is great for a lot of people for many different reasons, but it's not for everyone. I would suggest you contact consultants, either through the Peerpoint network or your own personal network and chat to them. Get a better sense of the pros and cons and also understand your own motivation for wanting to take the plunge.
Find out more
To learn more about legal consulting with Peerpoint take a look here.