PETALING JAYA - He was just 17 when he left for England.
On Feb 26 in London, Jern-Fei Ng, 38, was appointed a Queen’s Counsel, joining the top 10% of Britain’s 17,000 barristers.
But the story is more than just an inspiring one – it is about resilience and hard work.
Not one to give up easily, Ng believes that he can always reach beyond the horizon.
An old boy of La Salle Petaling Jaya, Ng graduated with a BA Honours in Law from Cambridge University. He was called to the English Bar (Lincoln’s Inn) in 2002 and has been in practice at Essex Court Chambers, London since 2004.
Like many Malaysians who read law overseas and return to practise, Ng said he was planning to do just that – practise “in Malaysia or somewhere in Asia”.
“It did not really cross my mind to pursue a career at the English Bar, in part because I did not really fit what would be considered the traditional mould of an English barrister.
“The idea that someone with a background like mine, coming from Malaysia, who went to a government school in PJ and who only started living in the UK at 17, could ever dream of a career at the English Bar was inconceivable.”
Never one to conform to orthodoxy and the more he was told the English Bar was not for him, the more it made him determined to try, said Ng.
He applied for pupillage and was pleasantly surprised to have a few offers.
“I was advised, again by those who mean well, that I should consider turning down the offer of pupillage from Essex Court Chambers, which is one of the magic circle sets in London, and that I should instead be more modest in my ambitions by going for one of the smaller sets which had offered me a pupillage, as this would boost my chances of being retained after pupillage,” said Ng.
He ignored the naysayers, went ahead for the firm he wanted and was accepted as a pupil to Vernon Flynn QC at Essex Court Chambers. And they retained him.
“The number of cases in which I was acting as lead counsel was steadily increasing and my opponents were invariably QCs, so I started thinking about the prospect of applying for QC.” said Ng.
“The catalyst was when I had clients who candidly told me that I had lost out on an appointment as counsel, not because of my ability as advocate but because they felt the case needed someone with the magic letters behind their name.
“That was when I thought I would take the plunge by applying. This is notwithstanding the fact that I was applying at what many would consider a young age and, at 38, I was, in fact, one of the youngest to be appointed as QC this year, even more so given that, at the time I submitted my application form, I had only been in practice for some 12 and a half years.”
Ng specialises in commercial disputes and arbitration. While he does a lot of energy cases, he also takes on commodity, civil fraud and joint-venture disputes.
Married to Soong Mei Jean, a fellow Malaysian, Ng said he was fortunate to have had what was effectively a QC’s practice before he applied.
“I hope that having the letters after my name will mean I will never be passed over again just because I did not have those letters.
“The absence of role models with backgrounds similar to mine almost deterred me from applying to the English Bar all those years ago.
“One of the things I look forward to life as a QC is not so much in terms of having new doors opened to me but more in terms of using my new status to open doors for those of the younger generation so as to ensure that those with the skill and passion to succeed as advocates have the courage to pursue their dreams irrespective of their background.
“If an average person like me who went to my neighbourhood school in PJ can compete with the world’s best on the global stage and
help inspire others with similar (or even different) backgrounds to reach for the stars, then I would have achieved more than simply becoming a Queen’s Counsel.”
Looking back, the father of two said the story of his entire career thus far has been one of resilience.
Being knocked back was just another opportunity to pick himself up and throw himself back into the challenge, wiser and stronger.