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Legal Bites - Wendy Cheung

October 13, 2020 by Wendy Cheung

Our team of lawyers have a very diverse background coming from all parts of the country with extensive knowledge helping people with their legal needs.

Associate Wendy Cheung has an incredible story studying international law for a term in Switzerland and attending hearings at the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the World Trade Organizations. Once called to the Bar in 2008 she began her career as a lawyer and operated her own legal research and analysis firm before joining the practice of Steven G. Schwartz who is currently a Master of the Supreme Court of BC.

We find out a little bit more about Wendy in this “Legal Bites” Q & A:

1. Tell us a little about your practice:

I’m a litigation strategist and analyst. I focus on the best interests of the client, and then work backwards to anticipate and shape the litigation path to achieve a desired outcome.

As a strategist, I use specialized methods that have the means of altering perceptions and shifting what would otherwise be a stubborn and unmoving point of conflict. These methods also include educating my own client on the law, and can involve data driven risk analysis and high level opinions. My goal is providing certainty of results for my clients, and am a proponent of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. I am also trained as a mediator and am an active arbitrator.

2. Why did you go to law school and what school did you attend?

I studied management information systems in my undergrad and graduated just after the dot.com bust. Not having any career prospects upon graduation, as I was studying for my final exam, a friend suggested to me that I should consider becoming a lawyer. I decided to work for a few years as a legal assistant while studying for and writing my LSAT and started my first year law school at Robson Hall at the University of Manitoba. I completed my year 2 and 3 at the Faculty of Law at the University of Alberta.

3. How did you get to where you are today? Design? Chance? Both?

Design and a little bit of fate. I started my career as a lawyer in a traditional way, applying for a junior firm at any firm who would hire me. I decided to leave the traditional model a mere 11 months into my first year as a junior lawyer and started my own practice doing legal research and drafting for litigators who were sole practitioners and did not have access to associate lawyers. I built up a busy practice with a steady stream of clientele in the 5 years of running of my own firm, allowing me to work on a flexible schedule while I became a parent of two during those years. By both intentional design and a little bit of chance, I struck up an arrangement to work exclusively for one of my clients from 2015 to 2019, who became my mentor, in both work and life. He has now moved on to become a Master of the Supreme Court. Thereafter, I found the next best firm in Kelowna to work with and I am very grateful that FH&P has welcomed me with open arms. FH&P has supported and fostered my desire to carve out a unique niche that is my litigation practice.

4. What is your most significant achievement? What are you proud of?

I am most proud of the fact that I have been able to seamlessly balance the demands of a litigation career and with being a present and active parent to my children in their most formative years. For the first five years of each of my children’s lives, I was able to be present and spend ample time with them before they started kindergarten. I was not confined to a standard one year leave of absence with expectations to return to a full practice upon a child turning one. In learning to balance work and parenting in an unconventional manner, I have honed high-level time management and multi-tasking skills. This has allowed me to create capacity to complement my legal practice by being an active director and investor in two major Canadian franchises in Kelowna as well as an ad-hoc consultant for two Canadian start-up technology companies. In turn, I can personally empathize with my own clients who are dealing with civil and commercial conflicts, particularly when the conflicts relate to business ownership and entrepreneurship.

5. What are some key challenges, and more importantly, opportunities for women in law?

As a woman who is also in the category of being a visible racial minority, the key challenge is establishing clout and credibility in a space where the general public expect to see a certain stereotyped persona which is strongly perpetuated in the media and the entertainment industry. I can count on both hands the times where after an hour long initial consultation with a prospective client, being asked “when’s the lawyer coming in?” or “you’re a mother, do you have time for my case?”. Such stereotypes ought not to have a place in any time in history or in the present time.

With that said, I believe the opportunities for women in law ought to be the same opportunities that any person of any race and gender would have in the legal profession.

6. What advice would you give a woman starting her legal career?

In my early years as a student and junior lawyer, I was told, by a senior female partner, that I should delay and hold off on milestones in my personal life until I’ve established myself as a reputable lawyer. I was not entirely sure what that meant, but it was likely she was referring to those milestones as getting married and having children. Frankly, had I done this, I would not have learned the requisite life skills that have made me the type of lawyer I am today. By learning to balance work with private life and my personal mental health and wellness as all equally important priorities, I have been able to continually add facets to my life, such as being a business owner, investor and entrepreneur, that ultimately allow me to see my clients’ problems from their perspective. It is one thing for a 20 year call lawyer to recite the law on employment matters or shareholders disputes, it is another thing for an 11 year call litigator (me!) to actually understand the stresses of a client and the nuances of employment matters or shareholders disputes from an owner’s perspective, for example, and can therefore advise accordingly.

My advice to a woman (or a man!) starting their legal career is not to put work/career as an artificial priority; and to run your own race. If you make your personal life, your hobbies, your desired personal milestones AND your career all as equal priorities, at some point, your work will become your hobby and the passion you develop for it will be genuine, making what is often thought of as a demanding profession sustainable and enjoyable.

On a completely contradictory note, the most important advice is the one you give yourself, so be selective about the advice you are given in your early years as a lawyer/female lawyer!