Tze-wei Ng believes her truly unique career path, blending law, journalism and NGO work, grants her a unique perspective in the realm of private wealth management.
Raised in Hong Kong, Tze-wei Ng grew up watching courtroom dramas, which led her to study law. However, her career went from lawyer to journalist, to NGO work, and then back to law again in 2021, where she is now a lawyer with Stephenson Harwood’s private wealth team, specialising in philanthropy, charity law and ESG.
“When I came back to law, it was really [about] seeing that there is room for a lawyer to focus on supporting those innovative and more strategic impact structures. Whether it is a social enterprise or whether it is an impact investment fund because a lot of the pioneering individuals and philanthropic foundations here are family-based, so it seems quite natural that I end up in the private wealth space,” she explained.
Love at first sight
Although Ng started her degree at LSE as a pure law student, she left with dual degrees in law and anthropology, finding law “very dry and abstract”. She knew that her career would follow her anthropological interests and have a close tie to people, societies and cultures.
While in her second year of studying, she took a summer internship at SCMP and described it as “almost like love at first sight,” but still chose to complete a two-year solicitor training contract in Hong Kong upon graduation. However, she soon realised that she would have to listen to her inner voice telling her to pursue journalism.
There are a lot of commonalities between journalists and lawyers, Ng believes. “That truth-seeking and being able to defend the vulnerable, all those values speak to me and as a journalist, you also give voice to the voiceless,” she explained.
After one year at the New York Times as a researcher, Ng worked as a correspondent at SCMP’s Beijing bureau between 2006 and 2012. This time included the Beijing Olympics and was a time of many changes in China.
“From a law perspective, a lot of new laws passed during those years to add some significant laws, including property law,” she said.
Her law background meant she was assigned to cover the National People’s Congress every year, covering legislative changes, human rights, socio-economic stories, and those about marginalised communities. She also covered foreign affairs and saw how these discussions played out internationally.
Shift back to law
After six years in Beijing, Ng realised that she was in a position to learn how law and policy shape the protection of individuals. She decided to do a master’s degree at Columbia Law School to gain a comparative perspective to better write about those issues.
After Columbia, she worked at PILnet, an NGO founded by a professor, which focused on pro bono public interest work. “The whole range is really about meeting the unmet legal needs in every society. I did that for four years,” she said.
At the NGO, Ng started the Hong Kong office and managed all aspects of it including fundraising, and building relationships with other NGOs and social enterprises in Hong Kong. She began understanding legal challenges faced by NGOs and social enterprises, which are not that different from a company in terms of legal needs in corporate governance, employment contracts, IP and tax considerations.
“There are so many issues that needed legal research in relation to the work that they do,” she said. “So I became very interested in the legal needs of NGOs; basically back to the role of lawyers in the public interest world,” she recalled.
Focus on private wealth
Ng realised that her strength lies in private wealth after all these years in journalism and at NGOs.
“My coming back to law seemed a natural choice. It is seeing different pieces coming together. I was working at an NGO trying to fundraise myself. And then I was working for a philanthropic foundation impact investor, a family-based philanthropic foundation, then I worked for Sustainable Finance Initiative, which is a collective of high-net-worth individuals and family offices that want to move their capital for good. So all those pieces start to come together,” she explained.
For social enterprises, Ng noted that not every social enterprise was able to find the right business model to make a social impact.
“It’s all about breaking silos. Breaking silos is about no longer thinking about doing charities and donations only, but thinking about all the tool sets that you have, both for-profit and non-profit market tools, and traditional philanthropic tools. And I realised to do that, you need to understand the law, and you also need to be creative within the realm of law. So increasingly, as a lawyer, this is an area where I can bring all that together. My experience, and passion to help contribute as little, or as much as I can do, to the society,” she said.