Having practiced law for over ten years, Tuanh Nguyen understands the challenges faced by Asian Australians in progressing through the legal ranks all too well.
Nguyen is a lawyer at Baker & McKenzie, and has always had the benefit of mentors, which she said have made a world of difference in the progress of her career. While she has been fortunate to have strong support networks, she said there are many who without support, seem to slip through the cracks.
For lawyers with an Asian background, she said moving through the ranks of Australian law firms can be particularly challenging.
“I think the biggest challenge for Asian Australian lawyers is trying to fit in with the western model of leadership,” she said.
“Asians are generally quite hard working and known for being the worker bees but their certainly not known for being the loud, outspoken, take charge personalities that you would typically affiliate with a leader.”
Having run a successful trial last year, the Asian Australian Lawyers Association has now launched a mentoring program in Victoria, supporting Asian Australian lawyers through the senior ranks of the legal profession. The first program has drawn significant interest, the association pairing up 25 mentors with 25 mentorees.
Nguyen, the association’s secretary, said that the program, open to all Victorian based members, has attracted lawyers of all ages.
“We’ve got one mentee who has been in practice for almost 25 years,” she said.
“He is looking to expand his practice and so he wanted to reach out to a more senior member who is experienced in that area of practice and so he’s signed on as a mentee.”
Nguyen became involved with the Asian Australian Lawyers Association back in October 2014, when it was first founded and is now serving as the association’s first secretary.
“There are cultural nuisances that are inherent within Asian Australians just part of being brought up in an Asian background that doesn’t quite fit with the western traditional model of what a senior lawyer is,” she said.
“For many mentoring relationships, it can turn into something more than a short term, ‘here is some guidance’, and it can really turn into a friendship where pathways and connections are opened through to them that they may not have had previous access to.”
The association plans to roll the mentoring program out to NSW early next month.