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Jean Lee

I joined A&O’s Washington D.C. office in 2012 as a lateral hire from a well-respected U.S. based law firm. The entrepreneurial spirit and collaborative nature of A&O was evident from the day I joined. I have tried to seize each opportunity that has presented itself to grow both personally and professionally, and today, I am a partner in our Global Projects, Energy, Natural Resources and Infrastructure and Global ECA practice groups. I represent agencies, commercial lenders, and sponsors in complex project financings across a variety of sectors around the globe. 

In 2013, I was expecting my son, and as I was heading into my maternity leave, heard about the firm’s interest in opening an office in Seoul, Korea. Born in Washington, D.C. to Korean immigrant parents, I was very interested in a secondment opportunity to help with this new, exciting endeavor. Introductions and discussions took place during my maternity leave, and they made sure the new posting coincided with my return to work. 

With an infant son, and a husband who didn’t speak any Korean, we decided that my mother would join us for the first few months. She was so helpful getting us settled in and showing us how to navigate the fast-paced, dynamic city that is Seoul. We met up with extended family and visited her old haunts, which provided a great balance between family time and my challenging new role. 

The transition was difficult at first as I was acutely aware that my Korean language skills were far from perfect. However, as the culture is very much focused on relationships, as long as clients and colleagues could see that I was willing to invest my time and make the effort, I found them to be open and warm. As we set up the Seoul office, additional experienced associates and partners were brought in to bolster the team on the ground and it is now very well integrated within the region and across the A&O network.

After five years in Seoul, we repatriated back to Washington. Even after such an incredible experience in Korea, including my promotion to partner while there, it was great to reconnect with friends, family, and colleagues. With a clear succession plan and a five-month overlap with my amazing successor Henry Sohn in Seoul, my move back to the U.S. went smoothly. 

Since returning home, I am appreciative of the support we received while living abroad and wanted to give something back to the firm. In doing so, I have become a mental health advocate in the Washington office, as I understand opening up about the stresses we face in our personal and work lives can be difficult in the industry we work in. There is a reluctance to show vulnerability, which adds to the stress we carry and has a compounding effect. I encourage open and honest conversations within my team, and I hope colleagues know that I am available to discuss their wellbeing in confidence.

Extending my interest in mental health, I also support pro bono work in the area and am currently involved in a multi-jurisdictional project for an NGO involving a number of offices across the A&O network. The project involves desk research on the laws of 15-20 countries as part of a wider initiative to catalyse global mental health.  Although we might not have access to all the relevant laws and there are some language barriers, as a global firm we have made good, important progress on this project. 

At A&O, there are many opportunities to get involved in matters and initiatives that are important to you, and your colleagues will provide encouragement and support every step of the way.

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