Editors’ Note: Read about Sheryl George, an associate in our New York office, in the latest installment of our ongoing Faces of MoFo series.
I love what I do. What a privilege to be able to say that; that I genuinely enjoy my practice. The joy my field of work affords me came as a bit of a surprise, because I did not set out to be an investigations and white collar lawyer. I set out with a very different plan for my path in the law.
I’ve known that I wanted to be a lawyer since I was about 16 years old. I think my family and friends knew it would happen for years before that. In a class picture as a teenager, my class had labeled me “most likely to become a lawyer.” In Singapore (where I grew up), students who aspire to become lawyers pursue a law degree right after high school (quite different to the U.S. route, where law is pursued at the graduate-level). So, at 19, I moved to London for law school. I quickly discovered a particular love for two things—mooting and public international law. I took part in every moot open to me and was elated when I got into my university’s Philip C. Jessup International Moot Court Competition team; the perfect marriage of my two loves. At 22, I thought, “When I grow up, I am going to be like Amal Clooney (then Amal Alamuddin).” (Don’t laugh!) So sure of my aspirations, I enrolled in NYU for my Master of Laws (LL.M.), specializing in international legal studies, right after I received my Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.). Amal received her LL.M. from NYU as well! I continued immersing myself in public international law – I took the classes and I coached the (successful!) NYU Jessup team. I was charting a path for the career I was then planning.
I returned to Singapore from New York and joined the government. I so badly wanted to join the International Affairs Division (IAD) of the Singapore Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC). Back then, however, fresh graduates could not begin their time in government in IAD. The view was that young lawyers needed to get some basic legal training before taking on the more specialized work of the IAD. I was disappointed, but I figured I would do two or three years of training in a different department, and then transfer to IAD. I (somewhat reluctantly) picked criminal prosecution. I thought—at least I get to do part of what I love: advocacy and being on my feet in court.
I may have been reluctant, but I kept an open mind and looked for opportunities to learn. I remember an open call for prosecutors to take on “extra work” (on top of our already heavy caseload) to handle cybercrimes. At the time, AGC was developing a dedicated team of trained prosecutors to handle the increasing number of technology and cyber-related crimes. I volunteered. I knew nothing about computers or cyber hacking, but I told the team’s director during my interview, “The extent of my technological know-how is how to operate my iPhone, but I will learn what I need to learn, and I will become good at this.” I got the job. I worked hard at learning, and eventually, I was part of the team that led the Singapore government’s inquiry into the country’s largest data breach: a foreign state actor perpetrated a cyberattack that saw the theft of 1.5 million personal and medical records of patients in the public health system. A commitment to learning and a willingness to stretch myself continues to serve me well.
While in government, I ended up specializing in the prosecution of financial and technology crimes. I handled significant trial and appellate matters. I was surprised to find myself enjoying the investigations work (remember, it was not part of my grand plan!). I discovered the field of investigations to be the exciting work of storytelling: an investigation is an exercise in reconstructing a story; you look back in time to uncover the characters, places, things, motivations, and actions that come together to tell that story. No two stories are the same; they each raise unique (and often unexpected) issues, and I found myself drawn to the problem-solving challenges each presents.
A few years into the job, an opportunity arose to ask for a transfer to IAD. I chose not to. I had found an area of practice that had gripped me; one that made the way for the practice I have today. When I was ready to leave government, I knew I wanted to join a firm that had a strong investigations practice, where I could continue to do high-value work and where my experience as a prosecutor would be valued. MoFo was just the place. A chance meeting with a MoFo partner while lifting weights at the gym (a story for another time!) led to my joining the firm. I started in the firm’s Singapore office and am now based in the New York office. Leveraging my former government experience, I advise clients in investigations and white-collar defense matters alleging fraud, corruption, money laundering, sanctions violations, intellectual property theft, and regulatory non-compliance, among other areas.
I have been blessed with phenomenal opportunities, perhaps because of a deep commitment to learning and seeking excellence, but more, I believe, because I work with people who have seen potential in me and have made it a priority to develop and champion me. This has been true both in government and at MoFo. My mentors have had immense faith in me, often giving me opportunities to push myself and develop my skill sets—whether by allowing me to lead a difficult trial, or to present to a client in challenging circumstances. Much of who I am as a lawyer, and who I hope to be, is the product of the incredible investment others have made in me.
I was speaking on a panel recently when someone asked if I would change my pathway in the law. I would not. I had not planned on this, but I am thankful every day that I do what I do. I may not have grown up to become like Amal Clooney, but I did find my own George, and outside of work I can be found planning our next travel itinerary, exploring a different part of New York city, hosting a dinner party, or taking a golf lesson with my own Mr. George.