Mei Gong

Mei Gong

Alumni spotlight

BSc LLB (Hons), 2018

Tell us about your life and career(s) after UNSW.
I am a senior associate in a mid-tier national firm, specialising in competition and consumer law. I also did a 5-year stint in an international law firm where I started as a summer clerk before progressing to a graduate and then solicitor role. I have relished the opportunities to act for clients in high-profile cartel proceedings, shared legal insights through co-authoring international conference papers and Australian legal journals and worked directly with partners to help clients successfully obtain merger clearance for billion-dollar deals.

True to the UNSW motto of Never Stand Still, my quest for learning and self-improvement has not stopped since I graduated. I continue to find opportunities to develop my skills and, most importantly, give back to the legal community in my mission to support junior lawyers in becoming their best selves and creating an inclusive space within the legal profession.

Aside from junior lawyers, I also have a particular interest in supporting female and foreign qualified lawyer cohorts within the legal profession and have sat on firm committees and volunteered in organisations that seek to advance related causes. In 2022, I started the first ever foreign-qualified lawyer publication in Australia called ‘To Aus, with Law’ as part of my involvement with the Asian Australian Lawyers Association. I have mentored extensively, including as a mentor for the UNSW Career Discovery Program, and shared verbal and written junior lawyering insights on popular legal publication channels such as Lawyers Weekly and through my LinkedIn. I was also a panellist at an international conference where I spoke about the importance of advocating for one’s own career progression. Partly due to these contributions, I was recognised in 2023 by Lawyers Weekly as the national winner for the 30 under 30 category for Competition, Trade and Regulation and by the NSW Law Society as the NSW Young Lawyer of the Year.

Outside of work, I have a passion for running and reading, and ran my first two half-marathons within the last 18 months.

Reflecting on your first year at uni - did you imagine yourself doing what you do today?
Definitely not! I was not sure whether I wanted to pursue law as a career in my first year of uni, having never studied any related subjects in high school and not knowing anyone in the legal profession. In my first year of uni, I participated in different competitions hosted by the UNSW Law Society, such as client negotiations and witness examinations, which I did quite terribly in. Case in point: I didn’t make it past the preliminary round of a witness examination competition (which was intended to be a warm-up round before the official rounds of the competition). As a first-year law student, I certainly lacked the self-belief that I could become a great lawyer one day, but decided nonetheless that I would give my legal studies a serious go and see where it takes me.

Why did you choose your law degree?
A combination of a few different things. I had an argumentative side growing up, and my parents had suggested that law was perhaps a good career to explore (my parents also shared the Asian stereotype and perceived being a lawyer as a ‘prestigious’ career). I had a high ATAR (and with the assistance of a UNSW scholarship, which gave me a fraction of the mark that was needed for me to gain direct entry into UNSW Law), I knew that direct entry into this prestigious law school was a possibility. I also thought about the worst-case scenario, being that if I don’t end up practising law, the critical thinking and negotiation skills I developed in my legal studies will no doubt prove to be helpful in versatile ways for other career paths that I may end up pursuing in the future. All of the above factors, coupled with the fact that I loved the campus and had the opportunity to study science (something I loved) with law made it an unmissable opportunity.

How did your time at UNSW help shape who you are today?
It has shaped who I am in immense and profound ways.

UNSW’s emphasis on class participation in its courses (along with the small class format) challenged me to grapple with different (and at times, opposing) legal arguments and communicate my perspective in a coherent way within a safe environment (as I was particularly shy and introverted when I started my uni studies).

UNSW’s focus on supporting social justice causes has also had an immense impact on broadening my vision to support disadvantaged and vulnerable cohorts in different contexts in a practical way. During my time at UNSW, I volunteered extensively at my local library to deliver free seminars to support HSC students (for which my local council recognised me as ‘Young Citizen of the Year’). Additionally, I volunteered to support crime victims as a front desk assistant in community legal centres, brainstormed potential ways to increase equity of access to justice through a hackathon, and visited detention centres to assist asylum seekers and refugees as part of a social justice initiative.

All of these experiences have inspired me to be thorough in my legal reasoning, to share my passion for the law with others, and to always look for ways to lift my peers and community through my legal knowledge and experience.

What were your most memorable experiences while studying at UNSW? Any lecturers you want to shout out?
There were quite a few.

In my third year of university, I had the opportunity to volunteer at Dubbo for a week. There, I developed a more nuanced, first-hand understanding of the complex relationships First Nations people had with the justice system and assisted some disadvantaged First Nations children. That was my first experience going to regional NSW (and it was a very humbling one).

Another was joining two mentoring programs offered by UNSW, one when I was a first-year law student and the other when I was a penultimate-year clerkship applicant. I have remained close to both of my mentors since then.

The third is having very passionate and varied lecturers who inspired my lifelong love for the law in different ways. My very first lecturer, Sam Hartridge, taught me the importance of ambiguity (and learning to navigate that within the law). Dr Katharine Kemp always provided great analogies and facilitated lively class discussions. My first taste of competition and consumer law was studying the elective with Professor Deborah Healey, following which my interest in the area deepened and I later found myself in a graduate rotation in this very area where I subsequently settled in. Professor Michael Handler is another shout-out as I really enjoyed the two intellectual property law courses I took with him in my last year of uni (and at one point had planned to become an intellectual property lawyer until I pivoted when circumstances made that an impractical option).

Why is studying law important?
As we live in a society governed by a myriad of laws and regulations, knowing how to interpret the law and how the legal systems work can make us more informed and empowered citizens. For those of us who want to engage in policy work or legal reform work, it is an invaluable tool.

Through learning about how different judges can have dissenting opinions on the same case (and how cases can be appealed and overturned), it encourages us to consider alternative perspectives (to our own) and be willing to revise our conclusions should the facts, or our interpretation of the law, change (as they inevitably do from time to time). I think this is particularly valuable in the age of social media, where it is often far too easy to find more content to validate our views and perspectives and far harder to be exposed to opposing views, which is essential if we want to facilitate informed, balanced debates on important issues.

What are some common misconceptions about careers in law?
Two come to mind. One is that ‘lawyers are professional liars’. This was an actual quote of what a non-law classmate said to me during my university days when they first learnt that I was studying law. I was certainly taken aback in the moment. With the benefit of hindsight, while there is a perceived notion that lawyers are stealthy and may be dishonest in defending clients and winning cases, this ignores the reality that the overwhelming majority of lawyers abide by a very strong set of ethical duties.

The other is that lawyers can practise in many different areas of law in private practice, and matters can be resolved in a day or two. This misconception may have stemmed from legal dramas such as Suits, where we see high-profile lawyers resolve contentious cases very quickly, and they seem to advise on a different area of the law with every case they manage. While this may be true for some small matters and for lawyers working in smaller law firms, generally, lawyers who work on large cases and/or in mid-tier to top-tier law firms tend to specialise in one or two practice areas and will not be resolving cases within a day. Litigation, in particular, can be a grind and can drag on for years, depending on the complexity of the issue and whether there are appeals to any judgment.

If you could change one thing in the legal profession tomorrow, what would it be?
I hope more employers value and champion the existing skills that foreign-qualified lawyers have gained through their legal experiences in other jurisdictions and provide them with more opportunities to try out different roles within the legal profession, as I strongly believe they can make a significant and valuable contribution to our community.

What is one of the biggest challenges you face in your field of work?
Competition and consumer laws evolve very rapidly, and it is important to keep updated on Australian and international developments, which can be a challenge as lawyers (including myself) can be time-poor. Related to that, it is a challenge to rethink what you already know and be clear about what you don’t know and where to find the missing information as the law evolves. So it is practising confident humility where you harness your experience but need to remain open to learning, revising and updating your frame of reference in assessing legal problems.

What advice would you give someone considering studying law at UNSW?
I would highly recommend it and I hope I have said enough above to convince you! If not, I would still recommend that you do your research, attend Open Days, talk to law students from different universities and see whether what UNSW can offer is the right fit for you. As with everything in life, university is really what you make of it, so if you do get the opportunity, be open to all possibilities and try out lots of things. Enjoy the journey, and don’t take yourself too seriously along the way!