Daniel Lo is a Singapore-based private equity lawyer and a proud Canadian. In this interview with Asia Law Portal, he explains what inspired his career focus and why he enjoys working in-house. He also explains how he helps young lawyers plan a career path, his views on the importance of lawyer wellness, and the importance of personal branding for lawyers. You can follow Daniel on LinkedIn at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/danlo/
You’re a private equity lawyer based in Singapore, specializing in investment funds, private equity and corporate transactions. What led to this career focus?
My focus on private equity all happened rather randomly actually. At the beginning of my career after my training contract, I qualified into the energy transactions group at Dentons in Canada which focused on M&A and commercial matters concerning the firm’s energy clients. At this point I knew I was interested in exploring M&A further so when I moved to Hong Kong as a 1PQE I was looking at roles which would allow me to gain more deal exposure. It was at this time that I was exposed to private equity as I received an offer to go in-house with a family office’s investment firm which focused on private equity investment fund and direct M&A investments. My first foray into private equity was intense and fast paced, after 2 years I had already completed up to 70 deals. With this new exposure to investment funds, I was keen to learn more about this space which seems to be in demand in Asia. This thinking led me to an international offshore law firm in Singapore that dealt with Cayman Islands and BVI work, Walkers, and eventually my current shop at UBS doing asset management and investment funds.
What do you like the most about your work supporting an investment funds business?
The thing I love the most about and in-house role and supporting the asset management business at UBS is the ability to be more than a legal safeguard for the firm, but also a “business risk” sense safeguard. As much as the legal advice that I provide is useful, the business team often comes to the legal team to ask about our opinion on things like a new line of business and the inherent risks and opportunities, or the adoption of a new administrative practice and what potential impact it may have on the firm and our responsiveness to clients. The investment funds business is also quite dynamic and is sensitive to current trends in our markets so as part of the legal team you are expected to stay up to date with regulatory changes and sentiments like ESG principles (environmental, social and corporate governance).
You provide guidance and support to law students, junior lawyers and internationally trained lawyers, especially with career pivot strategies. Tell us more about this.
I have recently started to offer my help to law students, junior lawyers and internationally trained lawyers in the way of regular LinkedIn posts, webinars and also 20min career coaching zoom sessions with the intent of motivating those that are trying to navigate through this global health crisis and recession with a framework to pivot. Having gone through various financial crises myself, I understand how difficult it is to build your career while opportunities are non-existent. I firmly believe that if you are fortunate enough to do well in your career, you have a responsibility to help those behind you. I believe in the power of mentorship, but the lasting impact of a mentorship relationship fades over time if you don’t draw on a community first. This is why my goal in providing this support to others is to build my community through LinkedIn first, and secondly to encourage everyone I help to pay it forward in order to continuously embed the idea that mentorship is a necessity.
A common piece of advice I always provide to someone making a career pivot is to think about your mid-term milestone (4-5 year time horizon) that you want to achieve, for instance moving to Hong Kong to work as a lawyer. Once you have your mid-term milestone, plan backwards and try to plug in the gap between now and then with short-term milestones that you need to achieve in order to reach that final destination, for example writing the England & Wales bar and gaining relevant corporate transactional experience in your home country. However, don’t get stuck the short-term milestones are immovable, sometimes they may not work out so you need to pivot within your greater pivot to allow you to keep moving towards your goal, it’s never a straight line.
You advocate for personal branding for law students and lawyers. What are your thoughts about this subject and is it necessary?
I think marketing has always been important for lawyers, however personal branding is something that most lawyers are not used to and don’t really take seriously as a form of marketing. In the past, marketing for lawyers meant big billboards and side of the bus posters, coupled with some 30 second infomercials on TV and a feature in a magazine. With the proliferation of social media, we are seeing marketing initiatives becoming more personal and narrative driven. Recently we have seen lawyers transition from traditional forms of marketing into personal branding on social media in order to build up their personal value proposition but also to create a lasting brand outside of their employer (especially valuable for the sole practitioners or consultants out there). The millennial generation and upcoming younger generations appreciate the effort that professionals make in engaging them, and will gravitate towards those that are transparent and comfortable with showing vulnerability. Personal branding will likely be a more effective form of marketing for lawyers as you continue to build a community around you which can support each other in the sharing of ideas, business and contacts. It’s a more organic way to market, and I’d argue a more effective one.
You’ve spoken previously about lawyer wellness. What is your sense about how lawyers can maintain good mental health amid such an often challenging career?
I find that an effective way to keep yourself in check is to understand that the practice of law is an infinite game and not a finite one. Simon Sinek in his most recent book The Infinite Game (based on James Carse’ Finite and Infinite Games) talks about how in life there are two games that we play: finite and infinite.
Finite games exist when there are at least two players, the players are known, the rules are fixed and there is an agreed-upon objective that signals the end of the game when achieved. For these games there is always a beginning, a middle and an end.
An infinite game is played by known and unknown players and there are no exact or agreed-upon rules, though there are general frameworks within which players must play. Infinite games have infinite time horizons, with no end to the game, as the primary objective for players is to continue playing and perpetuate the game. To this end, there is no “winning” an infinite game.
Many in the legal industry treat the practice of law as if it is a finite game, with a focus on short term billable targets and “winning” and “being the best”. But who defines what the rules are and does everyone even agree? Once you accept that this race is never-ending and tomorrow is just another day in this infinite game, you will allow yourself the freedom to take the time to reset and find mental clarity.