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Hamilton lawyer Victoria Loh
Hamilton lawyer Victoria Loh

My Career

This lawyer’s advice: learn from the mistakes of others Add to ...

What is your full name and title? And how long have you been in this role?

Victoria Anne Ming-Lai Loh, B.A. (Criminology), LL.B. I have been a practising lawyer/small business owner since I was called to the bar in Ontario in 2004.

What exactly do you do?

I have a general practice in the legal fields of family law, criminal law and residential real estate. Imagine you were accused of threatening to kill your spouse and suddenly you were charged with uttering a death threat, needed to get a divorce and had to sell your house. I would be the one to call.

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Describe what you do on any given day.

At 9 a.m., I am in criminal court remanding a client to a new date after having previously reviewed the client’s disclosure and presenting him or her with their options for trial or a guilty plea based on the resolution position of the Crown Attorney. At 10 a.m., I am in family court attending a conference, hopefully negotiating a temporary agreement that will govern the family situation in a stable way until we can get to trial. At 12:30 p.m., I am having lunch with colleagues commiserating and encouraging each other to go on. At 2 p.m., I am meeting with a new client and I spend an hour going through their personal history, making notes and figuring out what the first step is in their litigation process. At 4 p.m., I am meeting with a real estate client to conduct a “sign up” where they sign a large pile of documents to complete their purchase or sale transaction. At 6 p.m., I go home with a briefcase full of the work I need to prepare for tomorrow.

What’s your background and education?

My parents immigrated to Canada from Singapore. I was born and raised in Toronto. I attended high school in North York where I fast tracked. I then attended the University of Toronto, majoring in Criminology. I then attended Queen’s University for law school where I graduated in 2003 as the Law Students’ Society president and co-editor in chief of the student newspaper, New Queen’s Counsel. I articled at a boutique Bay Street firm and was called to the Bar in 2004.

How did you get to your position?

My father is a lawyer with his own successful practice in Scarborough. He speaks at least four Asian languages and in the Chinese community, he has a solid reputation. When I got called to the bar, I was not rehired at the firm that I articled at and there weren’t many employment opportunities for newly minted lawyers. My father wanted me to get experience working for someone else and I didn’t want to work for my father because I wanted to make my own mistakes and achieve my own success. I was pretty stubborn, thought I knew it all and so, I surprised us both and announced that I was moving to Hamilton to open my own practice with two friends from law school. I had never even visited Hamilton before! We opened up as a three-lawyer partnership, which over time, became two partners and then it was just me.

What’s the best part of your job? And what do you like best about it?

I like figuring out what the bigger picture is in my client’s situation and advising them about what to worry about and what not to sweat. Like in family litigation, I usually advise my client not to waste money over the possession of this vase or that lamp and focus on what tax advantages can be had with the different ways you can equalize their net family property. I am privy to the most personal details of my clients and I have the privilege to coach them out of their darkest times, which I try to do with some legal knowledge and a few jokes along the way. Who says divorces can’t be fun?

What’s the worst part of your job? Be honest.

I don’t argue well with others who aren’t focused on problem solving, so I’m not a big fan of having my time wasted, especially on my client’s retainer. Besides that, I get yelled at a lot in this job: clients; other lawyers; assistants who know more than me and need to let me know it; people in authority. I don’t yell at other people. Never. It’s embarrassing for the person who is yelling and horrifying for the person being yelled at. If I’m mad, I take great care to bite my tongue in front of other people and save it for the privacy of my own office. Why can’t others be that considerate?

What are your strengths in this role?

I never thought my string of failed teenage and angst-ridden 20s romances would come in handy, but they were my education for practising family law. I can relate and empathize with almost anybody. I am also honest with people about their chances at their goals, which some like and some really really hate.

What are your weaknesses?

I wish I was one of those lawyers who can name important cases relevant to whatever their client’s situation is, off the top of their head (e.g. “…like the stare decisis in Yada vs. Yada…”). I heard Einstein didn’t know his home address but figured he was OK because he knew where to look, so why waste time memorizing a small detail like that? I don’t know if that’s true, but that’s how I lessen the guilt I feel that I’m not That Lawyer.

What has been your best career move?

Hiring my fantastic assistant. She is an amazingly motivated, upbeat and hardworking person who makes my life easier. That and moving to Hamilton. Hamilton is a great city with a small town camaraderie. The legal community is really inclusive and friendly and I have a lot of mentors here and an opportunity to build a solid reputation quickly.

What has been your worst career move?

I was too much of a know-it-all when I started, so I didn’t listen to my father. He said I should keep my expenses low and not to go into a partnership, a structure that really makes the ongoing expenses high. I’m not entirely sure why I insisted on making all my own mistakes instead of listening to other people who have already made them but let me tell you now: I’ve got open ears.

What’s your next big job goal?

I’d like to really focus on developing my cross-examination techniques. I’m the litigator that prepares all her cross examination questions ahead of time but I would love to be the litigator that can do a fantastic job of it without a single piece of paper in front of them, like a couple of my heroes. I am always looking for seminars and articles on that topic because it is really a science.

What’s your best advice to others who might want to follow in your footsteps?

A big part of this career is learning by trial and error, so keep humble. You’re not going to know everything. If you mind your manners with everyone, you might be able to get advice from people who know more than you and who knows – maybe even a referral.

Do you know an executive or leader who has an interesting career story for My Career? E-mail mycareer@globeandmail.com

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