Behind the Beverage: Catherine Chiang

I am a first-generation immigrant from Taiwan, my parents didn’t know anyone in the business or legal worlds. When I first started studying law, I had no understanding of legal concepts or how the industry worked. I’m now one of only a few barristers in Queensland who speak fluent Mandarin. I’m glad my language skills have been able to assist Mandarin-speaking litigants and the solicitors acting for them.

I began working in law firms while studying and suddenly all the legal concepts like how trusts and property title operate in the real world started to make sense. 10-years later I was working as a barrister in commercial litigation. With no well-established legal background, it didn’t seem feasible to me at first to go to the private Bar, but with the encouragement of friends I took the plunge. One of the best moments in my career was when I sent out my first invoice as a barrister. That sense of self-actualisation that I had generated income for myself was incredibly satisfying. I didn’t have a list of solicitors to brief me, or clients to contact, when I came to the Bar. I had to learn how to build up a practice from scratch.

As a barrister, your skillset is tested daily – you need to have the right answer every time. You could give what you think is the best advice to your clients, but nobody really knows the true “right answer” until it’s tested in court. Nothing compares to that challenge and sense of urgency. My advice? Immerse yourself in your case, prepare non-stop until the moment you are standing before the judge. It leads to a lot of sleepless nights, but it’s the only methodology I have to work with right now!

I don’t think anyone can deny that being a lawyer is probably one of the hardest career paths you can choose in this day and age. As a barrister, there’s always a risk you’ll run out of work, but I guess that’s what continuously drives me to do better. There’s no guarantees, you go it alone, and that’s why you keep working hard. But one of the upsides of being self-employed is the flexibility to devote more time to pro bono work, mentoring law students, and promoting diversity and inclusion in the legal profession through my committee work with the Asian Australian Lawyers Association.  For me, it’s one of the most rewarding aspects about being at the Bar.

I drink a strong, sugarless long black, I like my coffee to “punch me in the face” every morning to get me going!

Lexi Kehl is the Queensland Law Society PR & Media Executive. If you’d like to sit down for a beverage or know someone with a great story to tell: l.kehl@qls.com.au.

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