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Diversity and inclusion – Q&A with Gowling WLG associate Elvis Tse

updated on 08 March 2023

Elvis Tse is an associate at Gowling WLG (UK) LLP.

What attracted you to a career in law?       

At university, I had no idea what career to pursue. I studied social sciences and laws so I had a few career choices! When I was at university I interned and worked part-time in various sectors and different roles to find out what type of work and industry suited me.

I later discovered that a career in law would give me the greatest exposure to the world and it opened so many opportunities. Especially as a trainee when I worked in different practice areas with various partners. I worked with different individuals, businesses, charities or even the government in local and international matters and learnt about the various factors that make industries work. I was initially attracted to the legal profession for these reasons.

What was your initial impression of the legal profession?

When I first joined the legal profession, it was very different from my studies – I felt that I was given far greater responsibility than at university or perhaps than I'd expected. During my studies, I was only accountable to myself but when I began practising law, clients put their trust and confidence in the firm (and me), which is the greatest difference.

In terms of my responsibility to clients, I don’t think I could work enough to make sure that they’re afforded the best service and I wanted to give outstanding and distinctive assistance to them. I started to realise that my knowledge and experience in the early trainee stage were far from sufficient for the service I wanted to provide. So, I accepted this and acknowledged the need to learn and grow as soon as possible.

What was your experience of the legal profession like as an aspiring lawyer/pre-qualifying? Did you face any obstacles? How did you overcome them?

It was very challenging because I was being given new, unfamiliar tasks every day that I had no experience with. At first, I was confused by the variety of working styles displayed by my colleagues – I wasn’t sure which to follow and was worried about making mistakes. Eventually, I found that the best way to learn was to speak to others, supervisors or other working parties in a project, and get insight from them. Most of the time, I found other people’s experiences very helpful.

Even today I don’t think there’s a single day that feels the same! Every day I learn new things and still meet obstacles, but I find it much easier to handle them now. In fact, I consider them part of the nature of my work, and I appreciate that it’s one of the joys and excitement of practising law.

Did you have any negative experiences?

When I was a trainee, even though I was among the most junior members of staff, I had a lot of chances to take an active role in working with external and internal parties of the law firm. I sometimes felt frustrated when I was asked a question I didn’t know the answer to; especially when I was having face-to-face meetings with clients and didn’t quite know how to answer their questions straight away.

So, I watched how partners and seniors handled these situations and realised that it’s normal for a lawyer to not always have the answer immediately. It also became clear that being confident and engaged when dealing with clients was paramount. Questions from the clients can be beyond our legal expertise and some of them can even be outside the scope as legal professionals. However, I think it’s important to understand what the client’s concerns are and to think from their perspective. I believe that with more research and consideration, of both the practical and commercial aspects, I’ll be able to better deal with difficult questions from clients.

What’s the biggest positive change you’ve experienced personally since entering the profession?

I think the greatest positive change, other than getting more knowledgeable in my practice area, would be that I’ve become more conscious about expectation management, which is an essential skill for any lawyer. It’s important to me that everybody I work with understands what to expect from me and when. I think expectation management can only be enhanced by ongoing communication between the lawyer, client and the various stakeholders. This isn’t taught at law school but it’s helpful when one is practising law because it makes the practice more efficient.

Although many law firms are increasingly promoting diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace, what more can be done to ensure the legal profession is a diverse and inclusive profession?

I think everybody in the law firms should share the same D&I vision and should be involved in initiatives. The whole firm needs to be included – it doesn’t help if strategies aren’t implemented by all people. At Gowling WLG (UK) LLP, we have regular D&I training and sharing for all employees and particularly encourage new joiners to come along. Everybody is encouraged to take part in different networks and activities.

I also think it’s important that everybody who feels comfortable should speak up and share their experiences and opinions. This will facilitate people’s active contributions to increasing the firm’s D&I, which only works when the firm itself is supportive. In my team, we hosted a training session where we learnt about each other’s communication styles and how it’d be easier to speak up to each other. My team is very open to conversations, and ideas that will help to promote and action the firm’s D&I initiatives.

What work is Gowling doing in this area?

Gowling WLG respects different cultures, backgrounds, circumstances and experiences, beyond the legally defined "protected characteristics". The firm treasures the fact that we all bring something different to the working environment and the aim is to encourage everybody to be themselves without anything getting in the way of our legal pursuits – this means we can maximise our potential.

In light of this, the firm has an ‘Inclusion For All’ strategy. It’s the firm’s five-year plan, aiming to be recognised by our clients, peers, people, future people, the wider community and the market as a truly diverse and inclusive organisation.

We emphasise that although it's ‘Inclusion For All’", it's also ‘inclusion by all’. More specifically, we have five different D&I networks for different aspects of diversity:

  • EmbRACE (for ethnicity);
  • Enable (for disability, mental health and wellbeing);
  • OpenHouse (for LGBTQ+ people and allies);
  • Family Matters (for working partners and carers); and
  • Thrive (for gender equality).

They each hold monthly meetings and help raise awareness of key issues and educate our people. Also, we have roundtables, webinars, sharing from our fellow colleagues and external guests, exhibitions and lunches.

How can firms encourage inclusivity?

I think all the people in the firm should take part in D&I initiatives, regardless of their level and background. For example, any roundtables on specific D&I issues include partners, other fee earners and support staff, and operate under Chatham House Rules, which ensure that people feel safe to speak out. We don’t pay regard to backgrounds or circumstances and individual contributions aren’t attributed to a specific person. We then consolidate ideas, and share them with other teams for discussion before they’re actioned.

Where would you like to be in five years?

I’m uncertain! But I’ll definitely grow and become a better lawyer in terms of skills and knowledge.

Gowling WLG has provided so many opportunities to every one of us. Every team has its own specific training and sometimes we attend other team’s training to broaden our understanding beyond a particular practice area. In addition to team training, we have sector-focus groups, such as the fintech and energy groups, where we can share insights and market knowledge with each other. I always feel encouraged to develop my career in terms of my personal interests.

What are your three top tips for candidates from underrepresented backgrounds who are keen to pursue a legal career?

I believe that everybody is different, and nobody should have to bear the label of being ‘underrepresented’ and having to take extra steps in their legal pursuit. I think it’s the law firm’s responsibility to encourage equality, diversity and inclusion.

That said, I have some tips for all aspiring candidates in general, including: 

  • don’t be afraid of making mistakes – keep them in mind, and then use your mistakes to improve the quality of your work next time;
  • be open and listen to other people because there’s so much you can learn from others; and
  • respect that everybody is different and you’re different too – so, be understanding and confident in yourself.

What’s your favourite way to unwind after work?

Travelling and hiking – I’m still new to the UK and it’s beautiful!