Voice of Experience: Anna Chung, Counsel, Project Development & Finance, Shearman & Sterling

Anna ChungTo Anna Chung, landing your “dream job” is not a question of whether you are female or male but rather of how good you are. As a Singapore-based senior lawyer at global law firm Shearman & Sterling, Chung has demonstrated the ability to shine on client work throughout Asia and, increasingly, around the world.

A project finance lawyer, Chung’s practice focuses on power, LNG, oil and gas, and petrochemicals projects. She began her career at a leading Australian firm but left after a few years for Shearman & Sterling.

“To be honest, my career was not particularly planned out, but I’ve been fortunate in having opportunities come my way,” she explains. “I knew I wanted life experiences in cities beyond the city where I grew up, and with Shearman & Sterling, I’ve been able to work in our London and Shanghai offices and am currently working out of our Singapore office.”

While she works on projects throughout Asia, Chung says it has been particularly meaningful to be one of the firm’s leading lawyers serving clients in Korea. She has been doing joint pitches, coordinating marketing trips to Seoul and preparing business plans as the firm expands its client base in Korea.

“It’s meaningful for me as Korea is where I am originally from,” Chung explains. “Our global project finance practice is quite an integrated one, and from fairly early on in my career, I’ve worked with senior partners from different offices on projects involving Korean financial institutions or corporates.”

She adds, “Korea is increasingly an important market for us with Korean financial institutions and corporates so active in the international project finance scene. We have been investing in our Korean relationships for some time now and it’s rewarding that as a firm and individually, we are getting significant market recognition.”

Loving Your Job

Chung has had two professional role models during her career to date – partners Bill McCormack at Shearman & Sterling and Michael Harrison at Minter Ellison. According to Chung, they are recognised experts in their fields but the real reason is that despite “the pressures and demands that come with such busy practices and management roles,” they manage to have a great sense of humor, treat every person with respect and be dedicated to their family.

Just like her role models, Chung finds humor in difficult situations. Throughout her career as a lawyer she has learned that little details, such as the correct date of an overseas pitch, do matter.

“Sometimes errors can work in your favor,” she explains. “One of my partners at Shearman & Sterling still teases me for getting the date wrong for an overseas pitch for a $1.2bn project. We arrived at the client’s offices a week early but still managed to win the pitch.”

Chung appreciates the guidance and advice she has received from people in senior positions at Shearman & Sterling.

“I’ve been fortunate to have people in senior positions who have mentored me and advocated actively on my behalf throughout my career,” she says. “There have been a number of different people, as I have moved offices and positions have changed, but I have always had someone whom I trusted and respected to have frank discussions with and go to for guidance – and that has been an enormous help.”

Chung believes that “progression is certainly easier and faster if someone in a senior position believes in your potential and takes an active interest in your career.”

Acquiring a certain title or income has not been her recipe for success. “I’ve always wanted to do what I do well, enjoy what I do and work with people I like,” she says. “That’s my definition of success — doing what you enjoy, working at a place where you have a good cultural fit and getting recognition for your work.”

Life at Shearman & Sterling

“Shearman & Sterling is certainly a meritocratic workplace, so if you are good at what you do and are able to put in the hours required, it doesn’t matter whether you’re female or male,” she explains

However, she added that “there are certain challenges that come with being female, such as having to take some time off work if you have a baby for instance. And if you are the primary care giver or take on more of the child-rearing responsibilities as women often do, it impacts the hours you are able to make yourself available for work. So then it becomes a question of your priorities and the options you have and what changes or sacrifices you’re willing to make to accommodate them.”

“The great thing about Shearman & Sterling is that the firm has several initiatives to support women in their career advancement,” she explains. “We have an associate-led inclusion network called WISER (the Women’s Initiative for Success, Excellence, and Retention) that strives to enhance Shearman & Sterling’s commitment to hiring, retaining, developing, and promoting women attorneys at the firm.”

Chung notes that the firm also has an active Lean In initiative that emphasizes empowerment and equality for women through Lean In events and circle meetings. The firm also has an @ShearmanWomen Twitter feed that communicates the many accomplishments of women at the firm and provides other information to help motivate women working in law and business to advance in their career.

Work–life balance

Now a mother, Chung says that balancing work and family life is her priority. “Work-life balance is always a challenge,” she says. “What’s important to me is being invested – in your workplace, the business and your colleagues so that you’re willing to put in that extra effort. Having someone in a senior position who believes in your potential and takes an active interest in your career is also key.”

“I’ve recently returned to work from maternity leave and people often ask me how it feels to be back at work and it’s been, surprisingly, a smooth transition,” she says, adding that working in the service industry often requires long hours and business travel. “There are days where the only time I see my son is in the mornings before I go to work. I’ve had to excuse myself from meetings to pump breastmilk and it’s not easy trying to juggle family and work. But I’m lucky to have live-in help — someone my son adores — so I can have peace of mind that he is being well looked after.”

“In the end, though,” she adds. “a large part of it is also that I enjoy what I do and the people I work with. This makes an enormous difference.”

By Irene Solaz