From Overseas Student to JP and Lawyer

Karen Tam (’78) 

It is an extreme honour to share my experiences with Ying Wa alumnae.  Thankfully, with a serving spirit, I have advanced from an overseas student to a Justice of Peace (JP) and a lawyer, and from an ethnic minority person to a mainstream professional.  I headed to Australia for university education after completing my matriculation in 1980, and have been staying here for most of my life.  I am now an alumna of three major universities in Sydney: B.Sc., Graduate Certificate in Financial Planning and Juris Doctor (Doctor in Law) from University of New South Wales (UNSW), University of Sydney and University of Technology Sydney respectively.  

Memorable experiences

After graduating from UNSW, I worked in managerial capacities for big banks and NSW Government.  Nominated for business trips to Silicon Valley, USA by my company was one of my most memorable work experiences. Admitted as a Lawyer to the Supreme Court of NSW and the High Court of Australia, and as an authorised Migration Agent were enjoyable moments in my life too.  As for community work, I was nominated as a JP of NSW.

Understanding the past illuminates the present

Australia is neither the wealthiest nor the strongest country in the globe.  Most people are quite laid-back.  However, it is beautiful and blessed from Inside Out: the iconic Opera House and Harbour Bridge where spectacular New Year firework is hosted; the beautiful sweeping white sand crescent of Bondi Beach; and the foreshore parks and residences where you can moor your yacht in your own jetty at your own backyard.  Golf clubs, tennis courts and yacht clubs (for foreshore suburbs) are basic and affordable facilities not restricted to the affluents.

Compassion for those in need, mutual respect and tolerance for all are the national values.  The year of 2020 was inarguably difficult for most people.  How everything was acted upon very promptly including business incentives, JobKeeper Payment (A$3,000 a month initially), free testing kits and video witnessing by lawyers all reinforce these values and spirits. 

Experience in adjustment

Life was simple but joyful in the 80s.  Study was tough and high standards were expected.  There was no internet and no email services to communicate with family and friends in Hong Kong.  Walking was the primary means of transport because I could not afford a motor vehicle.  ‘Yum Cha’ at Chinatown was a big event because it was expensive. 

Challenges were balanced by the friendly atmosphere where university staff were always ready to provide assistance.  They understood how difficult it was for young people to study overseas.  Further, friendship was established through events organised by church and overseas student associations.

Road to a lawyer

On the contrary, life at Law School was harsh and helpless, partly because of the stringent and high expectation for legal professionals.  In fact, some students dropped out in their first year of study while some suffered from depression.  The perseverance and strong desire to serve people drove me through the course fortunately with some distinctions. 

Helping the vulnerable at their most difficult time in life and meeting new challenges are what I enjoy most.  This would however mean that I do not make much money from work.  For example, I prepared wills for a client who was diagnosed with terminal cancer within short notice just before her treatment.  Further I did not charge her for most of my services so that she could save up for hospital bills.  I also turned impossible migration cases to possible ones without charging extra.

Swimming in the little beach inside the Park
Golfing next door
COVID Activities – bush walking in the local Oatley Park with water sports

Last but not least, members of the Ying Wa community are welcome to visit me in Sydney and have a cup of tea in my garden (email: