Florence Chen, Barrister, Level Twenty Seven Chambers, presented at our 33rd National Convention in March. Following her presentation, Florence spoke to The Tax Institute about her career in tax, challenges she’s faced, work-life balance, her advice to other women in the profession, and more.
Florence was called to the Bar in early 2014 and has a general commercial practice. Florence studied a law and commerce degree with a major in accounting at the University of Queensland, and found tax to be the perfect blend of law and accounting. She says, “I undertook internships at Deloitte, PWC, as well as law firms and tried different areas of tax and found that it was a specialty that I was particularly interested in. Currently, I do commercial, but probably 40% of my work is tax.”
Florence has advised and acted in matters relating to payroll tax, land exemptions, petroleum royalties, stamp duties, income tax, preference payments, and corporate restructures. “What I found as a challenge, especially being a junior barrister, was to position myself as a tax barrister. When I first started, I visited a senior Junior who specialised in tax and shared with them that I was really interested in working in tax. What they said was it was difficult to get that kind of work, I probably won’t get into it for many years, and they couldn’t help me. That was a huge blow because it was something I wanted to specialise in at the Bar”. Florence’s perseverance, keeping herself open to opportunities and continuing to talk about her career aspirations drove her success.
The same as most professionals, Florence’s career has progressed over time, starting as a Judge’s associate for three years and then moving on to the Bar, mainly doing commercial work. She has been at the bar for four years. “The advice that I would give women just beginning their career is to find a really good mentor. Find someone who is practicing in the area that you are interested in, find out what their journey was, see how it fits in with yours, but obviously adapt it.”
She also advises that if you have an interest, that you should study in that area. For example, at an undergrad level, taking a tax law subject or accounting subject. The importance of tax can't be understated, and there's many different areas that you can specialise in.
Another challenge for Florence is finding her work-life balance. “Work-life balance for a junior barrister, I think, is very challenging. You don't really have any in the first couple of years, but I think that doesn't mean that you don't at least try. What I do is I have interests outside of law. I play on a social soccer team.” Florence said. Another tip she gave for finding that balance is to build some breaks into your routine, like making time to have dinner with your partner, even if it means logging back on to do some work afterwards.