He had a career in journalism and communications, then opted for a second career in law by studying at TRU. He also was the 2L class representative and founder of the TRU Law Soccer Club (which is still going strong). And nothing has stopped Sunny Chiu from moving forward.
Today, Chiu is an associate at Clark Wilson LLP in Vancouver, one of BC’s largest law firms. Chiu practices exclusively family law and helps his clients navigate through the difficult processes of separation and divorce, from drafting agreements to advocating for his clients in court proceedings.
While law is a second career for Chiu, the skills he gained from his previous profession have proven essential to practice. He told us about this and highlighted the impact that his law school experiences have had, and continue to have, on his career.
As someone who had a career before law, tell us what piqued your interest in the legal profession.
Prior to law school, I had my careers in journalism and public relations. On the face of it, these three professions may seem unrelated, but they actually have a lot in common. Meticulous research skills, a sharp analytical mind and the ability to effectively communicate with a wide variety of audiences and connect with people are needed in each of these roles. Having this diverse background has actually made me a better lawyer in that I’ve done extensive interviews and public speaking, and I am able to demystify complex legal concepts and jargon into plain language for people.
How else have your past careers contributed to your success as a lawyer?
In the real-life practice of law, when a client hires us, we rarely get the perfect summary of facts, which means we need to engage in the fact-finding process before performing any legal analysis on an issue. My journalism background has helped me efficiently identify the information I need, ask the right questions, gather and analyze evidence from various parties, and persuasively advocate for my clients.
Additionally, my five years of work experience pre-law school made me understand myself better and the kind of work environment that I wanted to be in. Having clarity on my purpose at law school helped me survive some of the difficult moments at both law school and the student recruitment process.
Since your time as a summer student, you have largely worked in family law. What drew you to this practice area?
I take lots of satisfaction in resolving my clients’ matters and making a positive impact on their lives. My positive experience at the 1L moot made me realize how much I would enjoy litigation and oral advocacy. In 2L, when I learned about the potential opening of a summer student position at a family law firm in downtown Vancouver, I thought it was a fantastic opportunity and pursued it without hesitation.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of your career in law to date? What do you think is your next challenge?
I recently helped a client end a five-year nightmare lawsuit, and I still remember the look of joy and total relief on my client’s face when the court made the order that we asked for. It was a truly gratifying experience.
As a litigation lawyer, I also use different process options available outside of the court to resolve a family law dispute. This includes mediation and arbitration which could be more cost-efficient for the clients in some cases. I always challenge myself to learn more and I have been taking courses offered by the BC Collaborative Roster Society about the collaborative practice.
Practicing law in multicultural Canada means that lawyers have a special obligation to develop an awareness and understanding of their client’s cultural context. Language is an important part of culture. As a multilingual practitioner, do you have any advice for lawyers who do not speak their client’s first language?
Being multilingual is without a doubt a big plus, and there are practices lawyers can employ to ensure that their clients are meaningfully engaged in the legal process. Slow down when you speak. Use simple language. Make sure your client understands what you have just said before moving on to your next point. Use tables and charts to help illustrate your points as necessary.
Your years at TRU Law must have been full of exciting and notable moments. Can you share one of your favourite memories from your time here?
I am an immigrant, I was raised in Hong Kong and I only came to Canada when I was 22. Despite having less “Canadian experience” than most of my classmates, I never felt out of place, as everyone from TRU Law welcomed me with open arms.
I got my Canadian citizenship in September 2015, the first month of law school. As I walked into the classroom for our first FLS class, the whole class cheered for me and gave me a standing ovation. That was one of the most beautiful memories of my life.
Other favourite memories include being invited by my law school friends to my first ever Thanksgiving dinner, curling for the first time and winning the best fall of the tournament, and facilitating stronger student engagement in law school policies and faculty council meetings.
What was your biggest takeaway from your education at TRU Law?
Collegiality goes a long way, and that’s what I loved about our culture and the wonderful people that I met at TRU Law. You never know who you will end up working with again in your legal career, and you tend to trust people whom you have trusted at law school.
When I first joined Clark Wilson, I was so happy to see so many friendly familiar faces from the TRU crew. They were extra welcoming, kind and helpful to me in my first few months, and the friendship has grown from there. I am grateful that I got to know most of them during my time at TRU Law and look forward to greeting the newest recruits.
Is there anything else you would like to share with TRU Law alumni?
When I first graduated, TRU Law was still considered a very new school but now we have just passed our 10-year anniversary! I am excited about a greater engagement of our alumni network, which has grown from strong to even stronger in recent years. I very much look forward to reconnecting with you all in 2023, to share our experiences, to laugh and to achieve more successes together.