Sharon Ser is a partner at Withers, a renowned international law firm offering first class famiily and matrimonial dispute services in Hong Kong. She is recognised as a Litigation Star and one of Asia-Pacific's Top 100 Women in Litigation in 2021.
Ser speaks to Benchmark Litigation about her professional experience and gender diversity in the legal industry.
In your opinion how does the firm differ from its competitors?
At Withers, awareness about diversity and inclusion are deeply embedded in our culture and enjoying a diverse workforce at all levels within the firm has long been an essential guiding principle for us. We are a worldwide firm and so we especially value diversity in perspectives individuals of different gender, race, age, national origin, sexual orientation, culture, education, as well as professional and life experience can offer. Over the last 20 years, Withers has been topping the tables for the proportion of women. We are proud that 46% of our global partnership are female and half of our partnership board is made up of women. Notably, we are one of a few international law firms where our two most senior positions (Chairperson and CEO) are both held by women.
What part of this job do you personally find most satisfying? Most challenging?
I’d say that the most satisfying part of my job is seeing the positive impact I can make in the lives of families.
People are always conflicted about seeing a divorce/family lawyer and psychology places almost as large a part as the law itself. Seeing people move on and being able to embrace and enjoy a future that is different to the one they expected is very satisfying. It is challenging to be in the midst of a client's emotional maelstrom, but satisfying to work on a plan of action with such a client for the future that secures financial stability and options that excite and put aside fears about the future.
What has been your most memorable case to date?
Funnily enough, generally once the case has concluded, it's sort of wiped from the memory bank. There is always another case and client that is ready to absorb my mind and attention.
What is the employment outlook like within the legal field? How much demand is there for people, specifically women, in your particular practice areas? Are you finding that fewer women are entering these sectors (regulatory defence/internal investigation/consumer finance/etc.)?
The legal field seems to be as strong as ever, even though Covid-19 has significantly affected associate hiring in 2020 just because no one quite knew what the future held.
There is an increasing interest from male lawyers in the family law field, but it is still dominated by female lawyers. Maybe women are better at employing their empathy and emotional sensitivity skills, which is helpful when it comes to cases linked to intimate relationships, but even that is changing in this day and age. 2021 has brought about more awareness that all and any gender brings different emotional strengths and skill sets to clients.
What obstacles do you believe women [in this profession] face that could potentially hinder their profitability or growth?
Time. I think women still multitask more often than their male counterpart do, which means women still have a difficult and delicate balancing exercise to perform in respect of family and career. Another obstacle is the shortage of female mentors and role models in some of the legal practice areas. It is not that they don’t exist, but women need a bit more encouragement about shouting out loud about their successes – modesty still prevails a bit too much for some women in the professional field. Often the words of encouragement from a mentor and role model can spur you on when it all seems too much. Wisdom and strength and upward career movement can develop from such a relationship.
Do you find that women encounter different expectations with respect to personality and demeanour than male counterparts by clients, the courts, and other professionals across the industry?
This was undoubtedly an issue in the past but in recent years, women have broken through any sort of stereotyping and today there are more balanced expectations of female lawyers.
Have you found the legal industry to have addressed the disparity in expectations?
I think the legal industry has worked hard to be proactive in addressing any disparity in gender equality.
What do you think the legal profession needs to do in order to improve opportunities for women (in-house or private practice) litigators?
Give women time for management roles. It is important to secure up to date modern thinking and feedback and so it is important to canvass opinions, have polls and encourage communication in the work force to ensure everyone feels they have a fair opportunity to be heard, to be successful and play a part in the work force.
How important is mentorship in this profession and what advice, if any, would you give women who are just starting their legal careers?
Mentorship is a key element in this profession. Nothing is black and white in the legal world; there are many principles, tactics and strategies that needs to be employed and they are best grasped through close observation and demonstration.
To all aspiring female lawyers, I encourage you to test and push boundaries both professional and personal. It is also important to ensure that you have a first class team you can trust to support you.
Address: 30/F United Centre, 95 Queensway, Hong Kong
DID +852 3711 1674
Please click here to view Ms. Ser's professional biography.