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“Becoming a lawyer was my childhood dream. I have always been a person who believes in justice and wants to uphold it for vulnerable groups. As I grew up, I realized that reality can be cruel.
After completing university, I initially planned to work in Kuala Lumpur, but the lawyer salary is low and after my calculation, I decided to return to my hometown, Malacca as I can save more living with my parents.
Unfortunately, after being called to the bar in 2021, there were no vacancies for litigation lawyers, so I became a conveyancing lawyer instead.
I decided to apply without hesitation when I learned about the opening of New Zealand’s Working Holiday Visa application. Facing my parents’ lack of understanding, I carried the pressure and arrived in New Zealand, never regretting my decision.”
Lee Jia Ying graduated from law school in 2018, obtained her license in 2019, and completed her internship in 2020.
After being called to the bar in 2021, she worked as a conveyancing lawyer for a year and nine months before resigning and moving to New Zealand.
Jia Ying now works as a nursery worker in the horticulture industry.
This article explores her journey from being a lawyer in Malaysia to working in agriculture in New Zealand.
A road not taken
Jia Ying decided to study law and later established her law firm. However, after almost two years of working in the legal field, she resigned and pursued a different path in New Zealand.
She initially wanted to work in litigation, driven by her passion for justice and human rights. However, she was unable to find a litigation job in Malacca and settled for a position in property and real estate law.
It was not my dream job and I felt powerless as I worked longer. Some of my colleagues who have worked for many years are still doing the same as I was doing.
For me, it’s mostly about not being able to see a path for myself, going through life in a busy and hazy manner, feeling the need to break free from this cycle and deeply reflect on whether or not I truly enjoy this industry.”
Besides, Jia Ying had always wanted to work abroad but could only pursue this dream after COVID-19 restrictions eased.
However, her decision to move to New Zealand was met with mixed reactions from her family and friends. Some were concerned about her giving up her career, while others supported her pursuit of personal growth and new experiences.
“But I’m the type of person who remains committed to my decisions and will see them through the end,” she quipped.
Life at New Zealand
Jia Ying’s visa allows her to stay in New Zealand for a year (part of New Zealand’s government special visa extension) and she’s able to extend it for another three months if she works in agriculture or horticulture.
She now works at a in purpose built environment alongside other Malaysians and earns a decent wage.
The basic pay in New Zealand is much higher than in Malaysia. We can earn a comfortable amount working there. We can also save a lot.
However, she also pointed out that the cost of living in the land of long white clouds is comparably high too.
Despite the physically demanding nature of her job, she is content with her decision as it allows her to save money and travel at the same time.
“I felt like this is a time for me to recharge, reflect and think about my career in the future,” she added.
Upset by the current norm in law industry
Jia Ying added that part of the reason as to why she chose to switch careers was partly because of her personal belief that the entire legal industry in Malaysia has a “toxic” culture coupled with low pay and high levels of stress.
Lawyers are often underpaid and undervalued, and many young lawyers struggle to make a living. This has led to a vicious cycle where young lawyers open their own firms, further driving down fees and making the profession even more challenging.
“Besides, some firms also do not provide any remuneration to their law interns, operating under the belief that interns are there primarily for learning, not earning,” she said.
This kind of mindset, she believes, not only undervalues the interns’ work but also adds to the harsh realities and challenges faced by many in the legal profession.
‘I don’t regret it one bit’
Jia Ying applied for a visa in March 2022 and despite the one-year wait, she never regretted her decision to leave her legal career behind. She also believes that fear should not hold anyone back from making life-changing decisions.
I have no regrets about leaving my legal career behind. I believe that personal growth is more important than sticking to a traditional career path, and the experiences I have gained in New Zealand have been invaluable,” she told WeirdKaya.
The 28-year-old also encouraged others to seize opportunities and not be discouraged by setbacks.
She believes that success is not defined by age or time spent in a particular job but rather by personal growth and life experiences.
*The views expressed in this article are the interviewee’s own. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of WeirdKaya.