Cassandra Wee, senior associate at Ashurst, tells Australasian Lawyer how she came to work in Tokyo and how she almost pursued a career in golf instead of law.
What made you decide to become a lawyer?
I've always enjoyed working on strategies and expressing ideas in words. I made the decision when I was 15 and never really looked back. At the time I was tossing up between trying for a golf career vs finishing high school to study law, and the latter, more travelled road won. I must say there are some days on which I wake up with mild regret that I'm not somewhere trying to struggle through PGA Qualifying School, but on most days I appreciate knowing that the career I build won't be changed by things like where the wind blows or a cheeky pin placement on the final day.
How long have you worked at Ashurst, and what brought you to this position?
I've been with Ashurst for around three years now, in our Energy, Resources and Infrastructure Group. I trained with another top tier firm's Energy/construction practice back in Adelaide for a few years, before deciding to make the move to Perth: mainly due to family and more career trajectory in E&R. I did my research and knew that Ashurst is a market leader in Energy & Resources, especially in Perth. My team there gave me (and continue to give me) a great, positive impression of the working culture and projects experience at Ashurst, both locally and cross-border. Also, I joined at the time of the merger and the international aspect really attracted me. I'm now with Ashurst Tokyo for the year.
What’s the strangest case you’ve ever worked on/been involved with?
I wouldn't say this is strange, more so entertaining to me at the time. We were on the last stretch of an acquisition in a significant LNG project, and while on a call I counted around 9 distinct accents (including my own), all at varying levels of croakiness due to time zones and sleep levels. While this has become more commonplace especially for my work in Tokyo, at the time I found it amusing to navigate all the different negotiation styles and legal jargon depending on nationality/practice base. This international aspect has always fascinated me, and here in Tokyo, I continue to be amused when people understandably mistake me for Japanese and are surprised when I present my ideas in (Aussie) English!
If you could invite three people for dinner, dead or alive and excluding family and friends, who would they be and why?
Tiger Woods, Nigella Lawson and Sheryl Sandberg - they each represent my favourite things excluding family, friends and Tiger's & Nigella's personal lives: golf, sassy food/drink and career aspirations.
You’re based in Tokyo – where’s the best place to go for a drink and/or dinner after work?
There is no single best place to drink or eat in Tokyo – with the high food and drink standards everywhere plus endless variety, I've only had positive dining experiences here. I like to rotate but my current favourite is this bespoke whiskey bar called "Bar Liber" in Yoyogi Uehara, Shibuya. It has been at 11-1-102 Motoyoyogi, Shibuya Tokyo 151-0062 for 10 years. With a large array of whiskey (boutique casks and the usual suspects), cocktail options, and plenty of warm space to have a decent conversation - this is my best local, for now.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given (work or personal)?
Try not to see work, or any aspect of your personal life, as just a means to an end.
Do you have any hobbies/interests outside of work?
Eating, drinking, golf and running to absolve the eating. Also learning Japanese at the moment, which is hard to juggle with work, but I try!
Complete this sentence: If I wasn’t a lawyer, I would be…
In a commercial or financial role using my Commerce degree, probably still in Corporate/E&R.
What do you think will be single biggest issue facing the legal space in Australia in 2015?
I can only comment from a private practice perspective, but I think a big "sweeping" challenge will be to successfully meet and retain client demands in the current economic climate - eg by showing real value in each piece of work, on whatever scale, that we do.
What do you love about your job?
Being relied upon to achieve results. Those six words pretty much sum it up for me. I like the people aspect of being a reliable team-member up and down the chain, I enjoy teaching/mentoring and also learning from and supporting the best. The results aspect is client-driven - it's always satisfying to know that your thinking and hard work has gone to making your clients' lives easier, a win for their business, a deal that makes the papers, or another great experience to put on your CV.
What would you change about your job right now if you could?
There's a common perception that lawyers are obstructive, uncommercial and advise in a vacuum. My job would be a lot easier if I didn't have to sometimes deal with that first impression at the outset. I aim to change those views on each matter I work on.