Young Asian barristers series pt II

This is the second in a four part series of interviews between CommBar and some of the Asia Practice Section’s up-and-coming members who explain something about their backgrounds and how life at the Bar for a person of Asian heritage throws up challenges.

Article by Dr Josh Wilson QC and Cam Truong

Interview with Cam Truong

CommBar:       Tell us about your career to date.

Cam:               My career has been in two parts so far (a) solicitor in private practice (b) barrister at the Victorian Bar.  I served articles at Corrs Chambers Westgarth (1999) and worked there for three more years in the competition and trade practices group doing advisory and agreement-based work and ACCC investigations and litigation. I subsequently went to Slater & Gordon where I developed litigation skills from a plaintiff’s perspective.   I commenced as a barrister in November 2005.  Other than marrying my wife, this has been the best decision of my life.  After some criminal and family law, I have practiced in commercial law which I’ve done for the last nine years.  I’ve been fortunate to work with a number of gifted silks and senior juniors, as well as appearing before some outstanding judges and magistrates in matters large and small.  The recent survey question posed by Lawyers Weekly: “If you could do it again, would you still choose law?” is a no-brainer for me – yes but I would have come to the Bar sooner.

CommBar:      What is your cultural heritage and what was your family’s path to Australia?

Cam:               I regard myself as Chinese/Vietnamese/Australian.  However, Australia is the only home I’ve ever remembered. I was born in Saigon, Vietnam in 1975 to parents of Chinese ancestry, just before the fall of Saigon.  My family was part of the large exodus of Indochinese refugees that fled South East Asia in the late 1970s and early 1980s to settle in different parts of the West.  Fortunately, we were granted asylum in Australia in 1978 under a compassionate and progressive Fraser government.  My family grew up in the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne.  My three siblings and I had an interesting hybrid life of strict upbringing, Cantonese meals and conversations with our parents at home and Aussie sports, (cricket, AFL, netball) extra-curricular excursions and events outside of home, often with our parents being blissfully unaware.

CommBar:      What is your view on the expression “bamboo ceiling” as it applies in the legal profession and have you personally experienced overt bias/prejudice in your career?

Cam:               Whether you call it a “bamboo ceiling” or something else, there is clearly a lack of numbers of Asian Australians in the senior ranks of the legal profession and the judiciary.  It is pleasing to see that the legal profession is becoming more diverse with increasing appointments of female judges in various jurisdictions and judges from Italian and Greek ethnic backgrounds.  However, the increasing numbers of Australians who were born in Asia or have an Asian ancestry and increasing numbers of law students in this demographic has not yet translated into comparable numbers of partners, senior barristers and judges from Asian backgrounds.  Hopefully, over time, this will change. Personally, I cannot recall experiencing any overt bias or prejudice in a firm or at the Bar.   I have not regarded my Asian heritage as any stumbling block in my career.  I have used it to my advantage and as a motivation tool.  However, that is not to say that people from time to time have not made certain judgments about me because of my physical appearance.

CommBar:      Is there anything in particular CommBar can do to promote members of Asian heritage beyond what CommBar presently does?

The establishment of the Asia Practice Section was a great initiative by Josh Wilson QC and William Lye.   Given the increasing number of cases involving Asian litigants, more could be done to help promote members’ –

  • language skills and understanding/experience of Asian cultures and families;
  • knowledge of commerce and business.

CommBar runs an excellent internal CPD program.  Members should generally be assisted to be “more visible” and promote themselves and their practices through mainstream CPDs and seminars to law firms and through legal education courses.

CommBar:      Planning for the future, what should Asia Practice Section of CommBar do to adequately cater for future generations of barristers of Asian heritage coming to the Bar?

Cam:                Two things come to mind.  First, aspiring barristers could see that being a barrister from an Asian heritage is a viable and satisfying career path.  So, more could be done to promote members as role models and engaging with law students and solicitors of an Asian heritage who are considering becoming barristers.  Second, mentoring relationships could be facilitated between new barristers and more senior barristers – from the Asia Practice Section and from the senior ranks more generally to help guide the new barrister and help with getting work etc.  A similar mentoring program is already being undertaken by the recently formed Asian Australian Lawyers Association which I co-founded.

CommBar:      In your opinion, should CommBar Asia Practice Section engage socially or in CPD sessions with solicitors of an Asian background?

Cam:                The Section should engage socially and in CPD sessions with solicitors of all backgrounds to showcase the talents and skills of its members.  However, there is no harm in specifically engaging solicitors of an Asian background and making them aware of the talents and skills of members of the Asia Practice Section of CommBar.

CommBar:      Achieving a work-life balance is always difficult at the Bar, especially when the pressures of a large or long trial start biting. What do you do to achieve a sustainable work-life balance?

Cam:    One of the best aspects of being a barrister is the inherent flexibility and independence of the work.  My life currently revolves around the current briefs and matters I have to attend to and spending time with my young family (my wife and three young children under eight).  So far, I have been able to manage these responsibilities through flexible working hours – sometimes working very late at night after everyone has been fed, bathed and fallen asleep.  January and July are good months to take off somewhere warm with a pool and beach.  When the kids are a bit older, I will probably go back to more time consuming passions such as playing golf, tennis and cricket.

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