With the rise of wide-ranging and flexible educational opportunities, coupled with the realisation of the many advantages of being dually qualified, it is no surprise that some of today’s business professionals have more than one academic credential or qualification under their belts.
Apart from determination, it takes a lot of commitment and hard work. Colin Powell, a famed US diplomat and military leader once said, “A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.”
Lau Kah Hee is one such individual, whose commitment, determination and hard work has enabled him to transform his dreams into reality. Today, he is both a qualified lawyer and an ACCA-qualified professional accountant.
We spent a morning with him to find out about some of the secrets behind his success.
You are currently a Senior Associate in Baker & McKenzie.Wong & Leow’s Dispute Resolution team AND you are also an ACCA-qualified professional accountant. Tell us how you ended up becoming both a lawyer and a professional accountant with first class honour degrees in both disciplines.
Through sheer determination and a good dose of luck!
Looking back, the journey to becoming dually qualified as both a lawyer and a professional accountant was an enjoyable one. Primarily because it was thoroughly unplanned. It started with me completing the first 11 of the 14 ACCA examinations (with the grace of God, passing on my first attempt) in the final two years of my national service. I then completed the remaining 3 ACCA papers while working at the Supreme Court as a Justices’ Law Clerk.
As for my law qualification, I entered NUS law school after completing my national service, and graduated with an LL.B. four years later in 2008. After working at the Supreme Court and the Attorney-General’s Chambers, the lure of pursuing a Master’s degree in Commercial Law at the University of Cambridge proved too great. I was blessed to be able to get a place at Cambridge which remains one of my favourite cities. Spending a year at Cambridge also brought me closer to the hallowed grounds of Old Trafford, home of Manchester United Football Club, a team that I have supported for the past 20 years.
Juggling both National Service and completing the ACCA examinations at the same time must have been quite challenging. How did you juggle both of these and some of the challenges you faced then?
I agree with you that it was indeed challenging. It would certainly have been more relaxing to catch up with friends at the movies or watch a football match in the evening with my family! But, of course, I was ready to take up the challenge in tackling the ACCA examinations whilst serving NS on a full time basis.
I have to confess though that it was both a physical as well as a mental challenge; taking the ACCA examinations is akin to running a marathon. I had to pace myself and manage my time effectively as best as I could. Thankfully, I survived and came out stronger than before. I think that experience built up my character and confidence more than anything else.
Why did you choose the ACCA qualification?
That question is easy to answer. Simply put, my dad.
My dad was the one who introduced me to ACCA and inspired me to take up the qualification. I was not sure whether I would be up to the mark in reading Accountancy as I was completely new to the subject and had never studied it before. I was certainly not craving to torture myself with the ACCA course when I was still serving my NS!
As it turned out, everything worked out well and I am grateful for my dad’s advice at the beginning. He has been an ACCA member for more than 30 years, and his advice to me 15 years ago has proved to be spot on.
When you started your law degree, you had already passed 11 of the ACCA examination papers, how did the knowledge gained from the ACCA qualification help you as a law undergraduate?
To be honest, not much.
The law curriculum at NUS was vastly different from that of the ACCA qualification in terms of the substantive content. That said, undergoing the ACCA course indubitably trained and sharpened my mind, and kept it active as I completed my national service.
Also, the ACCA course is conducted in a similar manner to my law undergraduate course (lectures and tutorials), and this helped to facilitate my transition from national service to law studies.
You have quite an extensive career both in public service and private practice as a lawyer, and you were even teaching law as an adjunct lecturer at NUS. Could you tell us a bit more about your climb up the corporate ladder and some memorable moments that you hold dear to you?
The proverbial corporate ladder is always there and I do not think that one can ever say that he or she has reached the very top, is the best and there is absolutely no further room for improvement. There is still a long way for me to go, and I intend to go the distance as long as I enjoy the journey.
You mentioned that I was an adjunct lecturer at NUS. That was in 2010 when I was teaching the Corporate and Securities Law module to the final year accounting students at NUS. That experience and the memories that followed are definitely something that I hold dear to as my ACCA qualification and experience allowed me to better understand the needs of my accounting students. I myself did the Business Law module when studying for the ACCA and it was the first time that I, as an accounting student, had to read a law module.
Looking back, the experience was exhilarating, and I gradually developed a real interest in law. I tried to pass on that experience to my students, and I think, based on the appraisal forms I had received, that they enjoyed the module and my lessons.
Another memorable experience was qualifying for the New York Bar before I left for Cambridge on my Masters programme. Taking the NYB examinations was memorable, simply because studying well over 30 U.S. and New York law modules in the space of a few months was painful. It was, by far, the most challenging set of examinations I had taken.
A senior American lawyer friend once told me that memories of him taking the examinations still gave him nightmares years later! I am glad to say that I passed the NYB examinations at my first sitting, and thankfully did not have to retake any paper.
I therefore do have the option of practising in New York, although I am happily settled with my family and friends in Singapore.
Many people say that the road to attaining the ACCA qualification is a challenging and arduous journey. What benefits would you say being an ACCA-qualified professional accountant has brought to your climb up the corporate ladder?
I would say that attaining the ACCA qualification is definitely a big challenge. But it is achievable with a combination of hard work, some luck, and a never say die attitude. It is only arduous if you do not enjoy the process.
The ACCA qualification is a powerful one as it is universally recognised and well regarded. It has definitely helped me in my career thus far, and I am confident that it will continue to play a big part in my career in the future.
Indeed, a few of my dually qualified friends and I are in the midst of founding and setting up an international association for dually qualified lawyers and professional accountants, which objective is to advance the common interests and professional practices of its dually qualified members.
Last but not least, would you do it all over again and why?
Definitely. Because it is fun and I enjoyed the entire process. And life (of which work forms a part) is meant to be enjoyed.
Who or what inspired you to take up the ACCA qualification? We want to hear how it all began. For more information, please leave us your details at bit.ly/acca_and_proud.
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