In 2010, Annie Tang and her brother Chris, founded Star Anise Legal, providing legal, compliance and professional recruitment services to diverse clients across the APAC region. In this interview with Asia Law Portal, Annie details what inspired the founding of the firm, her background in law, how Star Anise services are expanding to meet the needs of clients, her work in a variety of volunteer activities focused on helping to expand opportunities for lawyers, and her hiring advice to in-house legal departments and other budding entrepreneurs.
In 2010, you co-founded Star Anise Legal, a specialist legal recruitment company based in Hong Kong with your brother, Chris, after you practised law with major international law firms and worked with a multinational recruitment company in Hong Kong. What has been your experience of being a legal entrepreneur?
My entrepreneurial days started early on when I was growing up in the UK since during my teen years, my parents encouraged and instilled my siblings and I with the ethic that to meet rewards, we must work hard. This mindset then continued in my subsequent studies and careers in both the legal profession and the recruitment industry as we would need to “business develop” from early on. Being an entrepreneur has therefore become second nature to me.
Eleven years ago, Chris and I created and launched Star Anise Legal and then earlier this year, we launched two additional group companies respectively called Star Anise Leadership and Training (“SALT”) and Yuzu (a flexible outsourcing solution). Through our entrepreneurship/intrapreneurship, we aim to create even more jobs and collaborations both locally and internationally.
What services does Star Anise Legal provide – and what is your client focus?
Star Anise Legal provides legal, compliance and professional recruitment services to diverse clients across the APAC region. Our clients range from international law firms and cover across all industries including multinational corporations, local companies/conglomerates, PRC companies, regulators, banks and financial services etc.
Much has been written about NewLaw firms in recent years. How is Yuzu similar and different to other NewLaw firms?
Yuzu is different to NewLaw firms because we can offer both clients and candidates the flexibility of pursuing either permanent recruitment opportunities (through Star Anise Legal) or contract solutions (through Yuzu).
Given our long-established connections, Yuzu provides flexible contracting opportunities for not just qualified lawyers and paralegals, but also for business support professionals and senior management levels such as C-Suite, corporate governance (including compliance and company secretarial), trusts administration, accounting and finance, business development and marketing, human resources, and general administration talent.
What should companies be thinking about the most when seeking legal talent in the Asia-Pacific region?
When seeking legal talent in the Asia-Pacific region, companies are most likely to be looking at reducing the costs of outsourcing to external law firms. If companies are growing strategically, they need to ensure that they factor in enough resources to support the legal function. Apart from identifying technical legal skills, companies also need to make sure such talent have commercial acumen, team playing attributes as well as excellent communication skills and people management skills if appropriate.
What other activities do you focus on in your work?
Apart being involved in the Company’s operational matters, I place senior level lawyers (from Legal Counsel, Senior Legal Counsel through to General Counsel) into in-house legal roles with diverse organisations.
In addition, we also need to:
· Ensure that our team has engaging work and feels part of a diverse and inclusive environment as well as have CSR opportunities to participate in. On the diversity front, I am very proud that our company became a signatory to the Equal Opportunities Commission’s Racial Diversity Charter, EqualLove Campaign as well as a supporter of HKGALA.
· Encourage our Team to advance their learning and personal development through being updated on market intelligence as well as having presentation opportunities. During the pandemic, our primary consideration was to ensure the health and safety of our Team by rolling out work from home arrangements.
· Give careers talks and switch in-person events to online webinars and videos. During the pandemic, I have moderated some legal careers talks as well as been a panellist at a women’s empowerment webinar.
· Give back to the community by engaging with the local universities and we are regularly invited to give careers talks. I am also an active volunteer with Pro Bono Hong Kong which is an NGO that provides community legal clinics to individuals who cannot otherwise gain legal assistance.
· I have also been mentoring lawyers or budding lawyers both locally and internationally throughout my career.
What advice would you share with other entrepreneurs?
As an entrepreneur and company leader, you have to strike the balance between exemplifying strength but also being approachable. In addition, you have to be a business developer, communicator and negotiator. As we deal with lawyers and other professionals on a daily basis, we also have to be professional and ethical at all times. These are prerequisite skills that both Chris and I honed early on from our upbringing, our legal studies and legal practice. I would share these tips too:
· keep up with the times through lifelong learning and being knowledgeable about the market and innovate where necessary
· believe in yourself
· celebrate your own and team wins
· have trusted business partners so that you can share the burdens and the joys and so that so that you can have a break where necessary!
· be aware of social issues and use your influence and voice to help raise awareness of the causes you feel passionate about
· ensure you have enough financial backing to last you through the tough times
· if something doesn’t work one way, do it another way and keep on moving!
What are the prime concerns and interests of lawyers you place?
Lawyers change roles for diverse reasons but frequently, it is for personal advancement or career growth/promotion, work exposure, change of environment or for better work life balance. I feel a great sense of achievement when the lawyers that I place thrive in their new jobs or learn something new!
Has being a lawyer helped you on your entrepreneurial journey?
Definitely! As mentioned above, we adopt the same level of professional ethics that we learned during our legal studies and practice. This means we have become trusted business partners to many firms and organisations in Hong Kong. It is very useful to have legal training in the business world because when required, we can also wear our in-house lawyers’ hats when to protect the Company’s interests and ensure its business objectives and strategies are met. I personally find that my prior legal career has been invaluable to my current role, however, beyond the 4 walls of law firms, I find the business world more diverse and challenging.