Successful lawyer based in Hong Kong helps other alums follow suit

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Ambitious SAF alum Michael Leung (MAcc ’07) changed his career trajectory from finance to law and now leads the University of Waterloo Alumni Chapter in Hong Kong.

by Alyana Versolatto

After Michael Leung (MAcc ’07) attained his CA designation in 2009, he returned to Hong Kong to pursue a career in finance. This was during the turbulent financial crisis, and it got Leung thinking about how he should develop a career in his true interests. Since he always had an interest in law, he began studying for his first law degree at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2012 on a part-time basis, and then once he began his Masters of Laws (L.L.M.) in Harvard Law School, he soon realized it was his natural calling.

“Reading law came naturally to me. I think it is important to choose your field of study and career in an area you truly have a passion in – success is never a guarantee, but the most important thing is that the process will be enjoyable.” – Michael Leung

After his time at Harvard, he became a barrister and set up his practices in Hong Kong and Singapore – specializing in civil and commercial litigation and international arbitration. That is not to say that Leung put his accounting and finance knowledge up on the shelf.

“There is a lot of overlap between accounting and finance, and law. Most commercial cases deal with financial data. Most lawyers can manipulate words to tell stories, but a lawyer-plus- a-CPA can also finesse numbers into that story masterfully.” - Michael Leung

Establishing a career over 12,000 kilometres away from where they began their university journey would cause some people to feel disconnected from their network. However, Leung was pleasantly surprised that outside of Canada, Hong Kong is home to the largest Waterloo alumni chapterwith over 2,000 members. Leung says these alums provided valuable guidance and mentorship to him when he needed it the most.

“The Waterloo community in Hong Kong really takes care of their own. When I was making my transition to the legal field, I was able to have insightful discussions with other Waterloo alums who had already become lawyers. When training to become a barrister, my pupil master was a University of Waterloo graduate!”

Because of how well the community welcomed and took care of him early on in his career, Leung wanted to repay the favour and so he took on the role of President for the University of Waterloo Alumni Chapter in Hong Kong. The chapter organizes social and networking opportunities such as golf tournaments, seminars, and the annual Pi Day Lecture in Hong Kong hosted by the Faculty of Math. With over 300,000 Canadians living in Hong Kong, the chapter runs activities in conjunction with other Canadian interest groups too like creating a Jurassic Park in Lan Kwai Fong during the Toronto Raptors’ championship run. One of their new initiatives is a mentorship program for recent graduates and current students who are interested in a career in the Asia-Pacific. Leung notes that a lot of the questions asked by students are the very same questions he was asking 10 to 12 years ago. He had this wisdom to share with SAF students and other aspiring professionals who may look to pivot their career beyond accounting:

“Be open-minded and don’t be afraid to seek out people in your field of interest to ask questions. You may be surprised by how much others want to help! Having a solid A&F background is a tremendous building block. Be confident that your training in the SAF will likely synergize well with any field or profession.” - Michael Leung