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Rachel Zeng is an early career lawyer practising in insolvency and restructuring at Johnson Winter Slattery. Zeng is particularly interested in litigation and dispute resolution. She was a former NSW Golden Gavel finalist and is the co-creator and host of ‘Women in Suits’, a podcast showcasing trailblazing women in law. Zeng discusses her career and advice for young lawyers.

What made you want to pursue a career in law?

The honest answer is to get as far away from maths as possible. The second, is because my mother always said to me, “Why are you so good at back chatting? Maybe you should become a lawyer?” And I thought, you know what? Maybe I should.  I’d say my homegrown argumentative skills as a teenager helped me to pursue law under the guidance of my parents’ recommendation. I always found law interesting because it intersects with every aspect of life. I pursued litigation and dispute resolution because I’m good at articulating my thoughts with conviction.

What has it been like launching your own legal podcast?

Creating the podcast has been really fun and a great creative outlet. Multimedia, radio and television has always been my second passion, so making this legal podcast was the perfect mix of both. The premise is to interview trailblazing women who young lawyers, such as myself, look up to and wonder how they got to where they are. We have had some guests who are international barristers, lawyers turned book writers and criminal lawyers. I think it’s helpful for younger lawyers who want to know what the end goal might be. We’ve learned a lot about the thought process that goes behind certain practice areas and how to land a job in particular areas of law.

How do you deal with failure?

I’ve had to embrace it because I’ve realised that some of the best lawyers in the industry have failed more times than any other lawyers have. People who are at the top often made the most mistakes. It’s about learning from your mistakes and not tripping over the same stone more than once that gets you the right amount of experience. It can be challenging because I was used to not failing at university. It is a steep learning curve after university and many lawyers, who are a bit further ahead in their career, have told me they felt the exact same way. They were lost at the beginning of their career and the penny didn’t really drop until five years post admission.

How important is having a community within the legal profession?

I think having a legal mentor that you trust who is also in your profession or in your practice area is really important because you can bounce ideas off of each other and tell them what you’re worried about. They can reassure you and build up your self-esteem and confidence because starting out as an early career lawyer can be really tough not knowing all the answers. It’s indispensable to have at least one friend, who is a bit older than you, or a mentor who is making sure that you’re okay and that you have a support system.

Have you got any advice for young lawyers starting out in their careers?

I would say the advice that best helped me is to understand that not everyone knows what they’re doing, and confidence comes with time. Failures are not disasters, they’re just a learning curve. Don’t worry about how other people are doing, just worry about how you’re progressing and if you’re gaining new skills. That’s still better than not having learned anything the year before or the week before. Aim to learn one new skill every time you go into work, whether that be drafting a simple piece of advice or even using an Excel spreadsheet.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I am weird, so my favourite things to do are really weird. I am an avid indoor plant grower, so I’ve got a whole semi hydroponic system going. It’s just exotic house plants and I don’t mean that in the illegal sense! I enjoy reading about philosophy and politics. In my spare time, I meet up with friends and I have a healthy work life balance. I really like the outdoors and I think everyone should take time to relax, whether that be doing something outdoors or just lying on the couch.

Is there anything you wish I’d asked?

I love to ask this question on my podcast – do you believe in aliens? Because I totally don’t think we’re alone…