Brief Encounter: Wellington Legal partner Olivia Kung is a law unto herself
Live, laugh, and love – three things that, according to Olivia Kung, make the world go around and a better place. As the daughter of a former Chief Investigator of the Operations Department Independent Commission Against Corruption, her fate was somewhat determined at the age of five when she put on her father’s barrister’s gown one night. She laughs from her gut, the way you would with family, as she recalls this significant moment in her childhood, and delivers the verdict that it made her into the woman she is now.
“I wish I had that power over my child,” says Kung, reflecting upon her father’s influence in shaping her life. “But things are just different now, aren’t they? People in 2023 create their own path, for better or for worse, defying the ‘norms’ the society or what their family might believe in. The determination of my teenage son really inspires me to do more and be the best version of myself.”
The walls of her office at Wellington Legal, where she is a partner and sits on the board of founders, are filled with watercolour paintings by her son, juxtaposing with the grey and glass walls of the skyscrapers within the heart of Central. With decades of legal experience under her belt, Kung has litigated expertly in a wide variety of areas including complex property ownership disputes, fraud cases, debt recovery and bankruptcy as well as personal injury claims. It’s no surprise that these cases, which she has successfully defended, attracted media attention.
The many charms of her life, of course, have not arrived without solid background work. Before the day of our interview and photo shoot, she did her due diligence on the magazine, the lawyer’s instinct for discovery taking hold. It was, however, the entertainment industry that gave her the confidence and wit, as well as the time-management skills, needed to present legal cases – growing up she had juggled academic studies with extra-curricular activities in showbusiness.
“I did acting and hosting stints at RTHK for their children’s TV programs. I am not sure how I managed it, but I did,” she says. “Sometimes, life really surprises us.”
Questions of destiny and volition have trailed Kung through her life. At a young age, she already knew how to distinguish a great lawyer – by their creativity. With an eye for making connections and an ear for deft persuasion, it is a quality that she has been judged to possess.
“As a lawyer, I think it’s crucial to act not only by the book but also with a heart and mind for justice. Common sense, though not so common these days, has to be played in order to win a case,” she emphasises.
For the self-confessed goal-getter, a diminutive frame belies a commanding presence. The Queen Mary University of London School of Law alumnus completed her Legal Practice Course at the University of Exeter and attained qualifications to be a solicitor in England, Wales and Hong Kong. Prior to Wellington Legal, she worked for several top-tier firms in the UK, a leading local practice in Hong Kong and as in-house counsel for a listed financial company.
While as poised as you might expect from an established lawyer, Kung defies other stereotypical traits that are applied to the legal profession; she is neither solemn nor uptight. After a few clicks for the test shots and a quick pointer on how to pose, she is nailing the photoshoot, lounging in a lazyboy in the middle of the bustling city traffic.
“I taught myself to be adaptive to any kind of situation. Whatever background you may have, school you graduated from or clan you belong to, it is important to adapt to the situation you are put into,” she says. “We must never say no easily and be done with it. We find the solution there possibly is, no matter how small or big, and we take that and make it work.”
Undeniably, this flexibility guides her as a lawyer, as does her capability to be fair and rational. Dignity is another word she often brings up. She says she has been defending a person’s right to dignity from day one and she still holds herself to that standard.
“Dignity can also mean having the right balance in every aspect of our lives. It’s not just about self-love anymore. It’s about making the most out of the situation we’re put into. I don’t function merely from 9 am to 5 pm. I am working 24/7. As a lawyer, as a mom, as a daughter, as a friend.”
Love before money
She expounds on the idea of “happiness” many times, too. It isn’t surprising language from the girl who worked in the entertainment industry, was raised by a well-off family and grew up as an only child. “I always tell my son to love what you do and do what you love. And this may also apply to everyone. Once you become good at it, then money will come in. Consider money as just a bonus. Happiness should always come first,” she says.
“Career choice is extremely important,” she continues. “If you pick something you hate, you’ll be spending so many hours torturing yourself, no matter how much a company would pay you. It’s the one thing in life that I think is the biggest determinant of happiness.
“I don’t really aim to leave a legacy once my time here on Earth is passed, but I hope I make people around me happy because I actually enjoy helping people. I help people because it makes me happy. It’s as simple as that.”
By her own rules
So what’s next for Kung? Optimism is the fuel driving every legal fight she has been in and will be involved in, and she is cooking up something exciting, yet again, in the coming months. “I cannot disclose it just yet, but it’s something that I am very passionate about. In life, you have to put in passion and dedication in order to achieve happiness and reach your full potential,” says the woman who is habitually positive about life – to the point that she is able to laugh even at the biggest of problems.
This time, though, she confesses that she might be setting up herself for criticism given the size of her ambition. Yet, there would be more people in life setting lofty targets for themselves if they had been taught to know what they believe and how to fight for it from when they first learned to speak.
Ultimately, the next chapters of her life are reading just the way she and her parents have planned, with a few tweaks and additions along the way. If there’s anything we know about attorney Olivia Kung, it is that when it comes to happiness, she will fight.
(Interview & Art Direction: Joseff Musa Photographer: Jack Law Styling: Jhoshwa Ledesma Videographer: Jack Fontanilla Hair & Makeup: Joenny Lau Venue: Wellington Legal Cover look: Janie one-shoulder cape-effect sequined crepe mini dress by Safiyaa, courtesy of Net-A-Porter)