#10QuestionswithMaxwell Interview Series: Jern-Fei Ng QC, 7 Bedford Row; Temple Chambers
Newly appointed to the board of Maxwell Chambers, Jern-Fei Ng QC answered #10QuestionsWithMaxwell, sharing his fondest memories of Maxwell Chambers, his thoughts about being appointed as Queen’s Counsel, the best work-related advice he had received, and more.
Jern-Fei Ng QC is an experienced counsel specialising in commercial litigation and arbitration, with 18 years’ experience appearing before courts and tribunals and sitting as arbitrator in different jurisdictions, including England, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, BVI, Cayman Islands and Luxembourg.
In addition to being on the board of directors of Maxwell Chambers, Jern-Fei has also recently joined Temple Chambers in Hong Kong as an arbitrator. With Temple Chambers, he will arbitrate disputes involving international investors, regional corporates and Chinese state-owned enterprises. He will maintain his practice at 7 Bedford Row in London.
He is also the Head of Foreign Lawyers Chapter of the Singapore Academy of Law’s Professional Affairs Committee and also a member of the HKIAC’s Proceedings Committee.
Read his full interview below:
Q: Congratulations on your recent appointment to the Board of Directors of Maxwell Chambers. Please share with us your thoughts!
A: It’s a tremendous honour and privilege to be invited to join the Board of Directors of Maxwell Chambers, which is one of the leading integrated alternative dispute resolution (ADR) centre in Asia, if not the world. I very much look forward to working with the Chairman, rest of the board and of course, the management of Maxwell Chambers, in respect of augmenting the fine and excellent work which they had already done to date in developing Maxwell Chambers.
Q: Share with us your fondest memories of Maxwell Chambers.
A: My most memorable experience was conducting my very first hearing as lead counsel many years ago in the Cavenagh room. It was in fact, an expedited arbitration which took place just the week before Christmas. The sole arbitrator in that case is someone who has since become a good friend, Tan Chuan Thye SC of Rajah & Tann Singapore LLP.
I always had very good memories of my hearings in the Cavenagh room and I am pleased to say I have never lost a case in that room.
Q: In 2018, you were appointed as one of the youngest Queen’s Counsel. How did you feel when you received the title?
A: I was obviously overjoyed at being appointed Queen’s Counsel and having been awarded the accolade on my very first try, in terms of my application. To do so at what was then a young age makes the experience even more memorable. I think what was particularly significant for me was that it was a culmination of a long journey which began 20 years ago, when I first considered applying to the English bar for pupillage. I was advised not to do so on the basis that the English bar was not for people with backgrounds like mine, not having grown up in the UK, and not necessarily conforming to traditional orthodoxy of what an English barrister should look like. When I was awarded Queen’s Counsel, it made the whole experience even more memorable against that backdrop.
The important takeaway from my appointment as Queen’s Counsel is reflecting back on how it came to pass, my journey from being called to English Bar to ultimately being appointed as QC only serves to drive home the importance for me to be a role model to others, irrespective of their backgrounds, who are considering pursuing a career that is similar to mine. In other words, as a barrister and an advocate, whether in England or other jurisdictions, I make it a point to do what I can to lift people up, particularly those with non-traditional backgrounds, in the hopes of giving them a stepping stone in whatever small way that I can to help them pursue the career of their choice.
I very much hope that my story of how it came to pass that I was appointed Queen’s Counsel inspires others to want to do the same, and gives others a reference point to the fact that if someone with my background, which is very similar to many aspiring lawyers in Singapore and others in the region can do so, then so can they.
Q: Share with us one of your most memorable experience throughout your legal career.
A: One of the most memorable experiences I had throughout my legal career came fairly early on when I was a junior. When I was instructed to appear in the European Court of Justice for a client and had to, in the course of the hearing before the ECJ in Luxembourg, come up against representatives from 6 Member States of EU, including the United Kingdom. They all took a position that was opposite to mine in the hearing before the ECJ and it was a fairly nerve-wracking experience because as a young junior at the time, this was the very first time I flew solo in the ECJ. To do so against such a wide array of opposition from different Member States of the EU was a defining moment in what was then my young career. Though I am pleased to say that I ended up victorious in those proceedings before the ECJ, it inspired me with further confidence to develop as an advocate, because if I could stare down 6 Member States of the EU and ultimately prevail in proceedings in what was in the APAC courts in the EU, the sky was the limit so far as what I could achieve as an advocate is concerned.
Q: What’s the best work-related advice you’ve ever received?
A: To be resilient in the face of adversity. Whether it is a difficult hearing that you have encountered, or perhaps a work related or other challenge in the course of your career. Resilience has been a key theme in my career because it’s not been plain sailing all the way. Certainly not from the start and lots of challenges manifest themselves in different shapes and forms. The key to not just survival, but to thrive is to stare in the face of adversity and make the most out of what might be a difficult or challenging situation. Of course, if along the way you encounter speed bumps, roadblocks, or perhaps even failures, it’s a learning lesson, to grow and become better on the back of those challenges and failures. The best thing that an advocate can do is to learn from his or her own mistakes to become better and more accomplished.
Q: Throughout your career, who was (or were) your biggest inspiration(s)?
A: There are two whom I would like to name.
The first is my former pupil master, Vernon Flynn QC. He was one of my biggest inspirations because at a time when I was a pupil with the sort of background that you might not consider to be to be suitable for the English part, let alone for the commercial bar in England, he believed in me. He gave me a lot of support, guidance and mentored me into becoming the advocate that I am today. He is also a fine and excellent advocate, from whom I have learned very much. Therefore, he is certainly one of my biggest sources of inspiration.
The other striking closer to home is a Judge of Appeal, Justice Stephen Chong. Who has for many years, from the time I was but a pupil barrister, has been extremely encouraging or in terms of the development of my practice, and has always taken a keen interest in how I have grown as a lawyer. He is someone to whom I look up to both in terms of what you can achieve as an advocate and also as a jurist.
Q: If you could go back in time, what would you say to your younger self?
A: Don’t do anything different.
Q: What is one major development you are anticipating in the new ADR space?
A: I anticipate that some ADR centres will introduce innovations in terms of offerings to cater for the new normal, in which arbitration and mediations are conducted. In other words, based on a virtual or hybrid format. I anticipate new service offerings that will augment participants ability to connect and to participate in ADR activities, whether they are arbitration or mediation, from wherever in the world in which they are based.
Q: When the travel restrictions are lifted, where would you like to travel to?
A: Here in Europe, the travel restrictions are actually already lifted. In fact, I was in Hong Kong recently for hearings and I have been planning to go to Mainland China for another hearing along the end of the year.
Q: Share with us 3 fun facts about you!
A: (1) I actually enjoy watching Chinese drama serials.
(2) Very rarely a week goes by where I don’t consume chili padi in my food.
(3) Whilst in the course of my work, more often than not, I take the lead role as an advocate or someone who strategises the direction of the cases. Contrary, at home I am very much not the boss, and one of the things which I enjoy is being bossed around by my children and being told what to do.
Jern-Fei with his family
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