Jaclyn Jhin, managing director and chief legal and compliance officer, CLSA, tells Asialaw about what it takes to be a successful in-house counsel, and the value of mentoring.

Career path

Jhin joined CLSA three years ago where she manages a global team of over 70 legal and compliance professionals on all legal matters outside of China. Her career path hasn’t always been focused on legal issues though, as it has zigzagged from law to an NGO to starting her own sportswear business and back to law.

Jaclyn Jhin

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Arts degree, Jhin came to Hong Kong to work through a paralegal program at Coudert Brothers in the mid-1990s and loved the city. She went to law school back in Pennsylvania and took five years off to raise her children. It wasn’t easy returning to the job market. She felt she had to try harder than newer, younger graduates just to catch up. After a short stint at   Daiwa Securities in Hong Kong as an equity sales broker, Jhin joined Milbank Tweed in Hong Kong. She is thankful for her mentor Anthony Root, who believed in her ability and offered her the opportunity to be a M&A and capital markets lawyer there, mostly covering the southeast Asian markets.

Jhin was then drawn to the non-governmental organisation (NGO) world through a position as director and head of Asia Pacific fundraising at The Nature Conservancy. While she liked the NGO’s model of buying and preserving land, she felt that she would be happier in the for-profit world and could return to the NGO world later in her life. In 2004, she took on an in-house role covering investment banking at Morgan Stanley Asia Pacific, later becoming COO and chief risk officer of global capital markets Asia Pacific.  After eight years in banking she felt her creative itch too strong to ignore and in 2012, she became an entrepreneur and started a sportswear company. “I first did it as a hobby and then it turned into a real business that was selling globally but I found it difficult to get really passionate about it,” explains Jhin.  Then a “perfect opportunity” opportunity came up at CLSA in 2014; managing a team in a firm covering global investment banking, sales and brokerage, and research. Her top priority in the role was to integrate the two legal and compliance teams of Citic Securities International and CLSA after Citic Securities International bought CLSA from Crédit Agricole in 2013.

Working at CLSA

During her time at Morgan Stanley, Jhin knew that the biggest threat to the investment banking businesses in Asia were the Chinese financial institutions. In fact, one of the reasons she went on to join CLSA was the fact it had a Chinese parent. Jhin saw that if Chinese financial businesses could strengthen their global mindset, they could dominate the market because of their strong connections with mainland clients. She believes Citic Securities’s ownership of CLSA gives the firm “quite an advantage in its relationships in Asia, especially for HK IPOs”.  In addition, because CLSA is headquartered in Hong Kong, it can move relatively quickly when there’s an opportunity, such as a strategic investment, for example. 

Issues in Jhin’s in-tray include compliance with the EU’s Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID) II and two new sets of regulation in Hong Kong: over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives reporting requirements and the Manager-in-Charge (MIC) regime, particularly how it affects the organisational structure of the business. She notes that clients are increasingly expecting that the companies they work with to have strong corporate governance.

What it takes to be a great in-house counsel

The path that leads to an-house role isn’t easy. Once you’re on that path, you need to be improving your performance continuously, Jhin says: “You’ve got to be pro-active, know your regulations and what impact they have on the business and be a good problem solver. Now more than ever before, there are more general counsels on executive committees. CEOs and COOs are getting their general counsel involved earlier, whereas before, they just got involved when it was too late.” In-house counsel have more opportunities than ever to influence  a company’s decision making process and take on a more integral role in the business, but only if they are prepared for it.

The ability to draft proper documents and developing their commercial sense are integral to an in-house counsel’s success. “Companies often end up in arbitration or in court because of poorly worded documents,” says Jhin. “One needs to look at a document carefully to make sure it makes sense because ambiguity can cause problems later. Being commercial and being able to understand the business units’s strategy and needs are also important.” When asked about the weaknesses she spots in in-house counsels, Jhin points out the ability to understand financial statements, being able to see the entire picture and understand a company’s strategy can help them become business advisers, not just legal advisers. Having team spirit and helping others go up the ladder as much as possible is also useful. “You just never know, you can learn from them and they could be your supporters in the future,” she says.

Being the only woman on an executive committee of 10 at CLSA makes Jhin want to help other women succeed in finance and law. She has mentored many women through her connections with The Women’s Foundation, Women in Law in Hong Kong and University of Hong Kong, but she stresses that mentorship can also happen through informal networks, not only official programmes. She believes one of the reasons why so few women who make it to executive positions is because of the “queen bee” syndrome where some women don’t want other women to succeed because they know how competitive it is to make it to the top. She emphasises the need for women to help other women and that businesses need to have more women to choose from for executive positions.  She mentors women to encourage them and help them through challenges at work-women need to “stay in, push forward and persevere”.

Jhin has come a long way as a manager. Her interest in professional development has seen her go through Stanford University’s executive management programme. “Being a great manager is about leading by example,” explains Jhin. “You don’t use your title to get respect. Respect needs to be earned. To be a good manager, you have to stop thinking about yourself and think about how to build your team to be better lawyers and compliance people and how to keep them motivated.”

Looking back, Jhin has learned a lot from all her roles at multiple organisations and likens the journey to running a marathon, not a sprint. She has not focused her career on trying to be a managing director at a certain age but to “always tell yourself to like what you do, be good at it and be willing to take risks”.