Internationalising Your Legal Career – Daniel Lo – S3E4

In this episode of the Legally Speaking Podcast, our host Robert Hanna was joined by Daniel Lo. 

Daniel is a triple-qualified Private Equity Lawyer currently working for UBS, based in Singapore. He is qualified in Canada (Alberta and Ontario), England & Wales and the British Virgin Islands.

Daniel previously worked as an in-house counsel at a private equity firm in Hong Kong and as a corporate associate at an international law firm in Canada.

Daniel has become well-known in the legal space for providing his expert insights into how Associates can internationalise their legal careers!

So If you want your career to go global – this is the podcast episode for you! 


[0:00:00.0] Rob Hanna: Welcome to the Legally Speaking Podcast powered by Kissoon Carr.  I’m your host, Rob Hanna.  Today I’m delighted to be joined by Daniel Lo.  Daniel is a triple qualified private equity lawyer based in Singapore.  Daniel has previously worked as an in-house counsel at a private equity firm in Hong Kong and as a corporate associate at an international law firm in Canada.  He is qualified in Canada, Alberta, and Ontario; England and Wales, and the British Virgin Islands.  Daniel has become well known in the legal space for providing expert insight into how associates can internationalise their legal careers.  So, a very big welcome Daniel.

[0:00:38.0] Daniel Lo: Hi Rob, thanks.  Thanks for having me.

[0:00:44.1] Rob Hanna: My absolute pleasure.  And before we go through all the amazing work that you’re doing, we do have a customary icebreaker question on the Legally Speaking Podcast that we ask all of our guests, and it’s with regards to the hit series Suits!  So, on the scale of 1 to 10, 10 being very real, how real would you rate the hit series Suits in terms of its reality on the scale of 1 to 10?

[0:01:07.0] Daniel Lo: Right, I think in reality wise, I think it’s probably a 4.  But I’m going to tell you why though. It’s because I think it gets the 4 points from the way they treat associates.  I think the way Louis Litt and then all of them kind of treat these associates, and then the ball pen is indicative of how you would be treated at a corporate firm.  There is that kind of back and forth and there’s a hierarchy there.  So, I think that part is quite accurate.

[0:01:30.1] Rob Hanna: Yeah.  No, I think there’s a lot of kind of reality there as you say particularly in certain law firms across the globe and we would perhaps talk a little bit more about following our discussion, but as I mentioned, we always like to start at the beginning with all of our guests.  So, tell us a bit about your family background and your upbringing?

[0:01:48.7] Daniel Lo: Yeah, sure.  Originally, I was born in Hong Kong and I moved/immigrated to Canada when I was around 5 years old.  I settled in Toronto in Canada and so I’m basically a Canadian through and through.  I went to the University at the University of Toronto there, and basically from then on kind of built my life around Canada.  But also, obviously like recently, so you can tell, I moved to Hong Kong and currently in Singapore.  So, a bit of a you know I’ve been all over kind of thing good.

[0:02:15.6] Rob Hanna: Good stuff.  Well, we love a good international background.  And so, did you always want to be a lawyer or if you didn’t want to be a lawyer, what did you want to be?

[0:02:24.0] Daniel Lo: Yeah, so basically, as you know a child of Asian immigrants, I was given three choices; one doctor, accountant, or lawyer.  So, my math game is not strong, so obviously I kind of leaned towards the law game and that was kind of what started me off with the exploring law career.  It is that my parents told me was a stable career, you know it is respectable, especially you know in Hong Kong, it used to be a British colony, so you know law especially an English law degree or English qualification is quite reputable.  But I think as I kind of developed an understanding of what the legal practice is, I realized that it’s a fantastic skill set to have in terms of you know interpreting the law but also digesting the law, and making it into kind of commercial legal advice and I think that’s very valuable in this day and age especially with regulations everywhere. So, yeah.

[0:03:20.1] Rob Hanna: Absolutely.  And so, what was your main sort of motivations for internationalising your legal career.  You mentioned, you had this sort of you know very international profile.  So, tell us about your motivations for that?

[0:03:31.6] Daniel Lo: Yeah. So I think, my motivation came from my undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto where I studied politics and I took a lot of courses on globalization and how state of the world is right now, and the summary there was that the world is shrinking.  Everyone is becoming more interconnected and going forward the next few decades whatever role that we do, it’s going to be more international.  There’s gonna be more than of an international perspective and more of an international scope.  So, for me, I’ve always known that if I were going to pursue a legal career, it would have to be international in scope.  That’s how you would thrive in the coming years and that was my motivation I guess to eventually you know being a Canadian lawyer write to my QLTS and kind of become an English solicitor and then eventually the BVI qualification as well.  For me that was a no brainer, I had to internationalise.

[0:04:22.9] Rob Hanna: Yeah. And so, you know let’s break it down. You’ve worked in Canada, Hong Kong, and now Singapore. So, how did you choose which countries you wanted to work in and how did you actually go about getting work in those places as well?

[0:04:35.1] Daniel Lo: So, for me, because I’m originally from Hong Kong, I’ve always had an affinity about Hong Kong and you know eventually going back and at least practicing a few years.  Seeing how it is coming up, I’ve realized that if you look around the world there are only a few spots that are in high growth mode.  China, I think, for a period time they were going double digits in GDP growth, right?  You look at South America as well growing substantially.  So, for me, I was thinking how do I leverage my personal skills to say my language skills as well as my interest into a growth area, growth countries.  So, naturally for me it was Asia.  So, I guess, coming to Hong Kong was a natural kind of progression in that I spoke the language, I spoke Cantonese.  I didn’t speak Mandarin but I was learning it at the time, and eventually now in Singapore as well English is the main language here but they also speak Cantonese and Mandarin.

[0:05:27.6] Rob Hanna: Would you go as far as saying Mandarin is now essential just in terms of being out there or not so much just yet?

[0:05:34.2] Daniel Lo: I think in Hong Kong it’s becoming essential.  Prior to, you know like, maybe 10 years back, Cantonese was all you needed, but now a lot of law firms and also in-house roles are asking for trilingual; English, Cantonese, and Mandarin.  And that is fluency and reading and writing, speaking.  That is the gold standard.  But I would say that Singapore is not there yet.  Singapore is still English first with a Mandarin as a plus.

[0:06:01.1] Rob Hanna: Yeah okay.  And you must have had quite a few challenges along the way with you know, the various jurisdictions you’ve operated in.  What have been some of those biggest challenges becoming qualified in each jurisdiction?

[0:06:16.1] Daniel Lo: Yeah.  So, when I arrived in Hong Kong, there was no requirement for me to become Hong Kong qualified and the same thing with Singapore.  There’s no need for me to become single qualified just by virtue of the fact that in house in Hong Kong they only required me to be common law qualified.  So, at the time I had my England and Wales and my Canadian qualifications, and in Singapore I was called to BVI because I worked for the offshore firm but I think for me I think relatable wise is learning the BVI and learning Cayman Islands law when I had no familiarity with it.  That was quite difficult learning both sets of laws and also how it applied to say investment funds in corporate law.  Steep learning curve, with any new jurisdiction you’re going to have to learn how they kind of draft laws, but like do they call it ordinances or do they call it acts, right?  But, the fact is that most of these jurisdictions are based on UK system, so I think it’s not as hard in that sense, but if you say go to a country that relies on simple code, say Brazil and whatnot.  That will be much more difficult.

[0:07:16.1] Rob Hanna: Yeah, it’s great advice that because you do need to kind of take into consideration each individual jurisdiction and really researching what needs to be done.  And that leads quite nicely onto your recent interview through the Global Lawyers Connect, where I know we’re big fans of Gordon Chung.  I’m actually an international advisor to the Global Lawyers Connect.  I think it is a great platform and what they’re doing is fantastic and I think you speak around the importance of local networking.  So, tell us more about that and why it’s so important, particularly looking at it from a sort of internationalising your perspective?

[0:07:50.7] Daniel Lo: Yeah.  So, I can actually bring it back to my own internationalising story when I first moved to Hong Kong from Canada despite the fact that I had obviously some family in Hong Kong, but I generally knew no one.  So, networking was very key for me and I spent I think the first month sleeping on my grandmother’s floor because I had no place of my own.  And, basically every day I would line up coffees, I would line up chats with say University alumni that I kind of found through network brochure and whatnot, recruiters, but also on LinkedIn I would reach out to lawyers that had maybe Canadian background or you know American background.  But generally, I tried to pack as many meetings as I can, if anything just to make them aware that I am here but also for me to kind of start building a network locally.  When you’re in Asia, you realize that everyone is connected here.  Even though you’re in Hong Kong and Singapore but everyone knows eventually everyone. It’s a small market, which is quite interesting because there’s multiple countries here in Southeast Asia, right?  But I think, the legal community is quite small.  So it’s really good to kind of start building that locally whatever jurisdiction you want to get into, and it will naturally expand to the region.

[0:09:01.3] Rob Hanna: Yeah and what about people who are less familiar with networking or perhaps more sort of introverted?  Is there any tips or anything you found that may inspire people to actually take that step to be proactive with networking?

[0:09:14.0] Daniel Lo: Yeah. I think the best thing for say those who are not familiar with networking is to set up calls or set up coffees as an informational interview almost.  Speak less and listen more.  So, when you are meeting with these people, just kind of pick their brains.  Can you just tell me about your story?  What would you recommend I do in my situation?  Who do you recommend I speak to after this?  It doesn’t need to be you talking it, I think it’s actually better for the other party to speak because more than often than not when people speak more, they feel like the conversation went better than it did.  That’s a good place start.  It’s just to listen more and to treat it like an informational interview.  Yeah, I think that you can go quite far with that.

[0:09:53.4] Rob Hanna: Yeah.  No well said, and I think the other thing that really fascinates me about your impressive background, not only you’ve worked for some of the world’s best you know international law firms and particularly some really sort of global high hitting in-house opportunities in legal space, you’ve always found time just sort of give back and I know you founded the Global Lawyers of Canada.  Do you want to tell us more about that organization and what that aims to achieve?

[0:10:16.1] Daniel Lo:  Sure.  So, Global Lawyers of Canada – I am very proud of this organization because I cofounded it with the two others.  They are internationally trained lawyers as well.  We started back in 2015 when I was just undergoing my articling position which is clear the Canadian equivalent of a training contract.  At that point in time, I had a few colleagues that were internationally trained, so not Canadian law school trained, and we just thought you know there’s no support for us.  There’s no alumni base that we can lean back on, so how do we learn from each other?  How do we build a community?  So, that’s when we can start building that out.  It started in Calgary, which is– I don’t know if you’ve heard of Calgary.  It’s like equivalent of our Houston, Texas, right?  Cowboys and what not, but we started there–

[0:10:59.7] Rob Hanna: I have only heard of Calgary through the movies that I’ve watched.  I’ve never visited, so I’m on a point where you’re talking about but never yet to visit.

[0:11:06.6] Daniel Lo: Yeah, and we had their Winter Olympics there years ago, so that’s the point.  But no, we start building out slowly and basically fast forward it’s been 5 years.  We are currently national in scope.  We have chapters in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Saskatoon or Regina and we’re expanding to the East Atlantic provinces as well.  So I think, it’s great because one we’re uniting all kind of internationally trained lawyers in Canada, but two it is providing us with a voice.  So, if the accreditation Department in Canada is called the National Committee on Accreditation.  Every time they have any policies that impact us, we were able to rally behind this national platform, advocate for internationally trained lawyers across the country.  And for me, it’s just really important to have a community, so I am very proud of that.

[0:11:59.3] Rob Hanna: Yeah.  No, and it really is fantastic.  So, people should definitely check that out.  And again, just coming back to your Global Lawyers Connect interview because it was fascinating some of the stuff that you mentioned there.  There  is a lot of the stuff that we at the Legally Speaking Podcast and over at our own, sort of HQ, Kissoon Carr really believe in, and that’s actually fostering good relationships with recruiters or like like I’d say, should be seen as trusted advisors and consultants.  But tell us more about how your working with recruiters has benefited your career?

[0:12:26.5] Daniel Lo: Yeah.  So, I’ve always thought that recruiters should be treated as recruitment professionals and not just a medium where you kind of find a job posting and they help you apply, because anyone can do that.  The value of a recruitment firm is that they’re able to kind of sit down with you, understand your objectives and where you want to end up not just in the near future but like it say 5 or 10 years down, right?  As a junior your next steps are very vital in where you want to end up, right?  For me I have worked with a few recruiters in Asia and they are able to kind of stick with me throughout and kind of give me advice.  They check up on me to say, hey! You’ve been here for 2 years, where do you see yourself growing?  Do you always want in Asia Pacific?  Where else you want go?  Can we help you?  Right? I think that’s fantastic because you treat it as a relationship. It’s an ongoing relationship.  And the more you are investing in it the better that returns.  I’ve had bad experiences with recruiters that kind of just threw my application out there and just it’s kind of a shotgun tactic. And that actually was bad because it closed me off with some firms because they the only allow say like 1 application per year, right?  But then I realized after speaking to another recruiter, they had a personal connection with this firm, but I missed my chance because someone else scatter gunned you know my application.  So really important to vet your recruitment firms and your professionals there to see if they have any kind of personal connections.  I just think it’s a very important relationship to have.

[0:13:54.2] Rob Hanna: I couldn’t agree more and you know obviously as natural recruiter, you know day-to-day myself, I think it’s so important that lawyers vet and test their particular advisor/recruiter on their market knowledge, the level of their relationships because like being a lawyer if you’ve got good high quality relationships, your clients are going to buy, trust, and use you, and so I always say if you have a recruiter  that you can trust and get value from they’re worth, their weight in gold, not just for your first move, but probably till you make it to a partner, or if you wish to become a general counsel or whatever.  So, you know really foster those relationships and kind of give value to your recruiter as well as your recruiter giving value to you, because that will help you in the long run.  And that leads me again nicely onto generally around value and creating a lot of content because you do do that and you provide mentoring for young lawyers as well.  So, what do you get back from doing that personally?

[0:14:43.0] Daniel Lo: So, I’ve recently finished a book.  I think it’s a fantastic book about basically the benefits of giving.  So, it’s called “GIVE and TAKE” by Adam Grant, and in essence it captures the essence of there is three types of people in the world; takers, givers, and matchers, right?  Takers are the ones that believe in a world and as a 0-sum game.  There has to be a winner and loser.  Matchers are those that say like, if I give you something, I need something in return, a tit for tat.  And givers are the ones that are a bit selfless in that they give without the expectation of receiving anything.  Just the fact that giving is enough.  And I think most people assume that you know givers are going to be trampled over and taken advantage of, and I think some do, but if you look at say the Warren Buffett’s of the world, the richest people in the world.  Most influential, majority of them are actually givers.  So, for me creating content and providing mentorship where I can, naturally I am a giver.  I gain from helping others and I think that it’s fantastic if those that get something from me will pass it forward and pay it forward, and I think if we all kind of operated with this kind of mindset, it just becomes– everyone becomes a mentor to everyone.  I think that’s how it should be, especially for junior lawyers coming up now, and especially for law students a lot of the back schemes have been cancelled and what not.  They need mentors more than ever, right?  And if I was in their situation, I would want mentors as well.  So, why wouldn’t we you know after having slight success to kind of pay forward it and help out as well?

[0:16:11.1] Rob Hanna: And that is a really good point on mentoring, and I obviously mentor a lot of people myself, and one thing to my own personal sort of seeking mentors is the 360 mentorship is one thing because everyone typically thinks, I need to go and find a mentor who has got more experience and knows stuff about, but actually if someone you know regardless of their age, demographic, or whatever it might be, if they’ve got a skill set or knowledge or something in that area and they’re happy to add value to you, you know, look at it from a 360 mentorship.  You don’t just need to have you know senior partners, partners of law firms as potential mentors or other people.  Actually look around you in your network and if you see people doing good things that potentially help and build your profile as a lawyer or whatever you choose to be, then have that kind of 360 mindset of mentoring.  That’s one thing that’s really important to me because I think you can always learn from the next generation as well as the current and kind of you know generation that has been there and done that.  But I really like what you’re doing.  I think the content is fantastic.  So, please do keep it up, and I know a lot of our listeners will be sort of checking that out after this podcast as well.  And look, I understand you also have a keen interest in technology, which is fascinating for me because I think the legal sector is still far behind but you know I think it’s hopefully going to come a bit further forward.  So, last year you wrote for the Canadian Lawyer about the benefits of being kind of technology competent lawyer.  How do you think tech is changing in the legal space and what can lawyers do to embrace it?

[0:17:28.6] Daniel Lo: So I am an advocate of being technologically aware, right?  I’m not saying– I’m not advocating that everyone needs to learn how to code.  I think that’s not the best use of our time as lawyers or law students, but you should be aware of what developments that are going on right now.  Especially say with legal tech, with fintech, and also with reg tech, right?  Legal tech especially it’s a growing area but it’s nowhere near revolutionary as some people say it is.  Not right now because with any kind technology within a legal sphere, it has to be client driven.  If clients are not asking it, if there’s no cost reduction benefit out of it, I don’t think the law firms will be adopting it substantially anyways.  So, I do think that law students, junior lawyers, all lawyers I think should be aware of the developments that are going on right now and how we’re going to shape our practice later on in the future.  Let’s saying you know, like traditionally corporate lawyers would have to look at capitalization tables on Excel.  There are companies like Carta that are online based that deal with capitalization tables, they are able to update real time based on your financing rounds, ESOPs, and whatnot.  So, little tweaks like these, little programs or apps like this are able to help you as a lawyer perform better.  If you’re not aware of how to access an app or you know familiarity with platforms in general, you’re going to be left back when millennial lawyers come up and they’re all familiar with this stuff.  So I think, it’s just beneficial for everyone.

[0:18:58.6] Rob Hanna: Yeah.  No, absolutely.  It is the future.  So, it is time to you know brace and not ignore because ultimately that’s where it’s going, whether you like it or not, and unfortunately.  But I’m a big advocate and I can’t wait to see the shape cuts in terms of legal tech moving forwards.  And I guess moving onto then kind of aspirational lawyers generally, what advice would you give to them or your sort of top couple of tips?

[0:19:23.4] Daniel Lo: I think one top tip is to manage expectations in terms of the legal career.  I think gone are the days where you know like getting a law agree is a sure way of securing your partnership track, right?  Nowadays I know so many lawyers you know half of them are not even practicing, right?  And then half of them are may be practicing but are maybe not enjoying it or maybe they want to pivot into a business career.  So, I think for the lawyers coming up, it is just to manage expectations.  Understand that qualifying is a nice to have, but that is not all you can do with a law degree.  You can eventually go in house; you can do a quasi-kind of legal and business role.  You can even later on when legal tech blows up, you can be a legal technologist, right?  There are many avenues that you can pursue that, do not end up being a partner, right?  Obviously if you want to partner, by all means go for it, but there are other avenues.  And I think the fact that law students think that there’s only one path really stresses them out.  I just want to kind of give that advice that there are a lot of our opportunities out there to use a law degree, to use your legal skills, and to make money as well.  I don’t think you need to worry about only qualifying.

[0:20:37.6] Rob Hanna: Yeah. No and I think like you said there’s more and more new opportunities and strands and things that you mentioned sort of legal technologists and things like.  That’s going to be very much the future so I’m in full agreement with you on that.  So, and you know it’s exciting times ahead but you know it can’t all be work.  So, you know as we sort of look to try and wrap up, what do you do for downtime?  You know, you have lived and worked in some of the most amazing countries, but yeah what do you tend to do for the downtime?

[0:21:02.0] Daniel Lo: Yeah, you know what? The benefit of being in Asia is the travel, right?  You can do a weekend trip to Bangkok, weekend trip to Bali.  I love to travel and my wife and I you know we can go every two months.  We do that.  We travel quite often.  Less so with COVID right now, but when it opens up, we’re happily jumping back onto that wagon.  Another thing I do a lot is actually I like to work out but in terms of variety workout.  So, calisthenics, weights, and what not.  It helps with stress because in this sphere you’re going to be stressed, you’re going to need an outlet, right?  So I use weight training as an outlet.  I swim as well.  I go on hikes.  I run.  Anything to stay physically active and for me once you stay physically active and healthy, it gives you more an opportunity to kind of perform better intellectually into your own work as well because you’re not physically drained, right?  You can go for longer, you can last longer.  So, it’s kind of like beneficial on both ends. 

[0:22:01.7] Rob Hanna: Yeah.  No and you know it as cliché as it may sound that healthy body healthy mind and looking after yourself, and you know investing in health and wellness, you know it is a stressful career being a lawyer.  Let’s not dispute that, but it’s equally very rewarding.  So you do need to look after selfcare and really really important.  And I would say it sounds rubbish what you do for downtime, you know just popping over to Bangkok or Bali, casually dropping that in there.  Super jealous as I sit here in lockdown in London but no it sounds awesome, and listen Daniel I’m a massive fan of what you’re doing.  I think you’re a massive advocate for really inspiring people to have that international growth mindset as legal professionals.  So I do feel you know as a result of COVID-19 generally the whole world is hopefully slightly becoming you know more connected in terms of the platforms available like LinkedIn and Global Lawyers Connect and all these various things out there.  People can really get lots of knowledge to help themselves and really kind of self develop and on top of all the other stuff they’re doing.  So, thank you so much for coming on and sharing your story and educating our listeners.  If people do want to follow you or get in touch on around anything we’ve discussed today, what’s the best way and platform for them to do that?

[0:23:06.6] Daniel Lo: LinkedIn.

[0:23:07.4] Rob Hanna: There we have it. I’m a big advocate of LinkedIn as all the listeners know.  So, LinkedIn is the one and it will continue to be the one.  So Daniel, thank you so so much once again.  It’s been an absolute pleasure and I really enjoyed following your journey and we will continue to follow your journey with great interest.  It is truly inspiring.  Wishing you tons and tons of success and we will no doubt see you on the show again at some point in the future.

[0:23:28.5] Daniel Lo: You know, thank you so much Rob.  Fantastic podcast and yeah looking forward to helping any other junior lawyers out there or any law students.

[0:23:36.3] Rob Hanna: Great stuff.  Cheers!

[0:23:38.3] Daniel Lo: Cheers!

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