A law degree can take you from the highest courts of countries to Fortune 500 boardrooms. For Ivor Xian, it landed her in a Coach campaign. She said no to traditional law jobs and has zero regrets.
The Malaysian’s ascent to Key Opinion Leader for the New York brand — that counts Michael B. Jordan and Jennifer Lopez as ambassadors — was not easy. Her family had invested their life’s savings into her UK law degree, in hopes their prodigal daughter will practise law in Malaysia, where the starting pay for a first-year associate goes as high as RM8,000 (approximately US$1,907 at the time of writing).
Xian faced peer pressure to ditch her true passion (creating videos) for a more “serious” career as well. It felt like she was trapped in a job she hated, with no support from her family and no other field to take her skills to.
When she quit law, things worsened. Her parents refused to accept it. “Life at home grew toxic,” she told Study International.
Bruh I still can’t believe it that I’m in Coach campaign 😭 I wanna say mom I made it but none of my parents knew about this cuz they are still in denial that i quit law lol 😮💨 anyways – lol pic.twitter.com/FyyKbiifpi
— Ivor Xian Z (@ivor_xianz) October 4, 2021
Then, a breakthrough that allowed Xian to move out from her parent’s home, relocate from Penang to Kuala Lumpur and most importantly, find a job she love. We caught up with Xian — who was on a taxi on the way to an event for a major bank in Malaysia — to learn more about her inspiring journey:
1. What made you want to study law? Would you say your parents pressured you to choose this subject?
I didn’t know what to study so I chose law. I thought it would make a lot of money. There’s a misconception among Asians that lawyers make a lot of money so my parents sort of suggested for me to study and practise law.
If I could go back in time, I would study music production at the London College of Music or animation at The One Academy. I find them so much more valuable now.
2. Tell us more about your law degree and experience.
After my twinning programme in Malaysia, I went to complete my final year at Cardiff. It was ok but I felt out of place in the sense that everybody else knows what they’re doing. They were asking questions during classes. Me? I was just struggling. I didn’t know what was happening during class. Final year in Cardiff was one of the toughest times of my life.
My second year was preparing for a bar at a law school in Bristol. That was the most tough — the toughest, toughest, toughest — year of my life so far.
I had to do Advocacy and take part in mock trials. There were presentations every week. I had to get out of comfort zone. In my first Advocacy class, I blacked out for 10 minutes — my mind was blank. The judge/lecturer asked me “Do you need a moment?” I had to step down from the stage and gather myself.
Every week, I had to do 1:1 sessions with lecturers. They gave advice like recording yourself or talk in front of mirror to become more confidents. Slowly, I changed and even surprised them with a “Very Competent” grade (80 marks) during my final exam.
3. You wrote that the best job you had was as a student in the UK. Want to tell us more about it?
I was a part-time waitress and gelato scooper on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I worked as cashier, cleaned and mopped. The best part is we could test new flavours when there were no customers. That was the easiest and most peaceful moment during summer break.
That was when I got my confidence — I got to brush up my social skills. By talking to non-Malaysians, I got to pick up their accents.
I worked in a Chinese restaurant on Tuesday and Thursday nights. It was a total culture change. The customers are different. Gelato customers are more keen on small talk, asking me about my day, etc. In the Chinese restaurant, they’re more “I want this beef noodles” and you dont get to brush up your social skills. Chinese bosses are less chill too. If you make any mistakes, you get told off.
4. When you returned to Malaysia, you took on several law jobs. Tell us more about it.
The pupillage (the final stage of training to be a barrister) was hell. The first law firm I worked with was a personal injury firm. I dealt with many kinds of injuries — it was so traumatising. After three months, I changed to an Intellectual Property firm even though this meant I had to extend my pupillage by an extra three months.
I thought I would be dealing with copyright, trademarks, the works. I didn’t know it included patents — which was very technical — and litigation which I didn’t like as well. It was very hard. The working hours at these law jobs were so crazy.
These three months and nine months felt like hell. There was a lot of research I did that they didn’t use as well.
Once I worked until 5 a.m. So crazy. Thank God it was a Friday so I did not have to work on Saturday. Still, it was draining that I had to wear officewear until 5 a.m.!
@ivor_xianz Barbie cafe in 💗🇲🇾 get free Barbie dolls too 🥺 #BARBIExGHKL @grandhyattkualalumpur #barbiecafe #barbiegirl #ivorgoing #grandhyattkualalumpur ♬ Barbie Girl – Lady Aqua
5. If you don’t mind me asking, what was the pay like?
The pay was atrocious. I got RM1,500 at the first firm and RM1,200 at the second firm. They were both firms in Penang. Some people are getting only RM500 now — can you imagine?
6. Tell us more about all the career trajectory after that.
I left after my pupillage. Then, Malaysia went into lockdown. I continued to apply to other law firms but they were not recruiting. That was the time I got to pick up with my hobbies and learning new skills like video editing.
A skin centre recruiter saw my YouTube video — Why you shouldn’t study law (by a Malaysian lawyer) which blew up — and offered me a job to edit their videos. That was two years ago and I’m still working with them. This helped me get money to move from Penang to Kuala Lumpur and get my own place.
7. You now have three to four jobs. Which is your favourite?
I work for the skin centre, run a lip balm company, help brands with their ad campaigns and create my own content on TikTok. I would say my favourite is creating my own content.
So funny that I wanted to quit nine-to-five job but I’m now working 24/7. Non-stop.
I am definitely happier thought because you know you’re working for yourself. You see the progress in you. I see the progress in me. Like you’re investing in something that has potential growth.
If you’re working in a regular nine-to-five job, the most you can get is a promotion? I don’t know. I feel like the directors and bosses won’t let you get to the highest positions, especially in a big company.
@ivor_xianz Reply to @dor4emono ‘what do u do for living?’ Existing but sleep deprived with @hygr.my 😭 #whatdoyoudoforaliving ♬ Aesthetic Girl – Yusei
8. Do you use any of the knowledge and skills in your law degree in your current jobs?
No. Well, maybe when reading through agreements and copyright acts. Some influencers will get into trouble if they don’t fully read or comprehend those agreements or acts. I could even send counter agreements if I’m not satisfied with the initial clause.
The Bar School really helped me out with public speaking a lot and now I can apply that for my content creation. It has helped me a lot in terms of knowing what I need to do or talk about, and the structure and flow.
9. It can be scary for a law graduate to venture beyond law jobs. Any advice for those thinking the same?
I would say that you shouldn’t leave law completely, especially when you haven’t found the passion to do what you love. Only when your side hustles are growing, then you can consider quitting it.
I’ve seen many quit without a Plan B and it’s difficult to live without another job, especially with the current economy. If it wasn’t for the full-time job that I’m having, I don’t think I would have been able to sustain myself for my own content creation and side business.
I see a lot of my friends quitting their full-time jobs and decide to just watch Netflix or laze around when they can use the precious time to do the research on their passion and see how they can make a business out of it.
In the end, it all comes down to passion. If you don’t love the work that you do, you’ll just go back to square one.