Ex-Freshfields lawyer directs corporate social responsibility

We caught up with Erin Lyon, an ex-Freshfields lawyer, now a Director at CSR Asia, a social enterprise and the leading provider of Corporate Social Responsibility information in Asia.  How did she get here?



mtl: Hi Erin.


Erin: Hello.


mtl: Let’s start at the beginning – how did you get to where you are?



Erin: I studied English literature at Exeter and was heavily involved in student politics through the NUS.  I thought a professional career would give me a good grounding for whatever I eventually wanted to do.  I knew that, longer-term, I wanted to do something with social implications, but I felt it would be a useful start to get a job that would teach me about the business world.  After taking a number of gap years and doing some interesting travelling and working in Asia, I decided to get a professional qualification and go into the City.  I got a training contract at Freshfields and spent six months in Singapore as part of that.  I qualified into general corporate in London and, after one year, I decided to go back to the Freshfields office in Singapore, as I had really enjoyed it out there.


mtl: Sounds good, but all fairly standard for a high-flying City lawyer.  Less than one year on and you are heading up the newly formed CSR Asia office in Singapore.  How did that happen?


Erin: A little bit of networking and a lot of luck is what happened.  I knew soon after arriving back at the Freshfields Singapore office that I would not want to be doing that for much longer, so I started to look at other options.  I knew a bit about CSR Asia through a project I had been involved in at Freshfields and I went along to a seminar given by the directors in Hong Kong.  I was the irritating one at the front asking lots of questions.  I found the CSR Asia Directors to be very experienced, knowledgeable and passionate about their field, which I found really inspiring.  After the seminar, we got talking and that eventually led to us agreeing that I would set up the CSR Asia office in Singapore.

Career timeline




Graduated from Exeter (English Lit.)



CPE/LPC (College of Law, Guildford)



Commenced training contract at Freshfields



Qualified into general corporate at Freshfields



Freshfields (Singapore)



Joined CSR Asia  




mtl:  What exactly is CSR Asia?


Erin:   It’s a social enterprise, which means that, though a privately-owned company, any profit is driven back into the business to expand its staff or to carry out research and development.  My co-directors, who are both academics, set it up in Hong Kong two years ago.  

"..from being a junior lawyer in a big firm, rarely leading meetings, I’m now in charge of everything I do and I’m the one giving the presentations."



CSR Asia strives to be the leading provider of information about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in the Asia-Pacific region.  We are involved in supporting and training companies and their managers to promote corporate social responsibility in order to advance sustainable development across Asia.  Our work is wide-ranging, from employee relations to environmental issues.


mtl:  And you are in charge of all this?


Erin:  As far as the Singapore office is concerned, yes!  I officially opened this office and I now run it with a staff of three.  At this stage, I am mainly involved in business development with clients, and in providing seminars and support to existing ones.  It feels like a big step up – from being a junior lawyer in a big firm, rarely leading meetings, I’m now in charge of everything I do and I’m the one giving the presentations.  It’s exciting and much more rewarding.  There is a pay cut, but Singapore is cheap, relatively.  The work is also incredibly interesting and varied.  I find it fascinating – learning about our clients’ operations and then helping them to become better corporate entities.  It feels really worthwhile.


mtl:  Give us an idea of your average day.


ErinWell, it’s always busy. I work more consistently and probably longer hours than I did at Freshfields, though the hours are more manageable.  And, as I am in charge, I work on my terms.  I work hard when I need to but, if I have the time, I can also pop down to the gym in the middle of a Friday afternoon. 

"I work hard when I need to but, if I have the time, I can also pop down to the gym in the middle of a Friday afternoon."



My day will involve a variety of things: providing practical advice to companies on a wide range of issues and doing presentations or training sessions on CSR.  For example, I might get an e-mail from a managing director in Indonesia who wants to find out more about our seminars and consultancy services and then I might have a meeting with an NGO in Singapore (yesterday I had one with a charity which takes old computers from businesses and supplies them into the developing world). We also put together a free weekly newsletter and daily blog on CSR issues in Asia to which I contribute.  I have to do all the small things too – managing the office and the staff and all the administration that comes with that.  It is like running any small business – there is a lot to do.


I am also the only in-house lawyer here and my legal skills were useful from the start in drafting our shareholders agreement.  I now deal with all the legal issues involved in our work.


mtl: Yes, well, we’ve put you in our Morelegaloptions section (rather than our Morethanlaw section) because of the legal side to what you do.


Erin:   Yes, my legal training has really helped.  I have no regrets about starting out in law.   The level of service you are trained to provide at somewhere like Freshfields is invaluable.


mtl:  Any advice to lawyers who like the sound of your job?


Erin:  Keep your eyes open and talk to other people connected to the areas in which you are interested.  Network, basically.  Some of the best opportunities never reach the jobs pages – you’ve got to get out there and start talking to people.


mtl: Erin Lyon, thank you very much indeed for your time.


You can find out more about CSR Asia at www.csr-asia.com.


If you know any other lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives or who have a great work/life balance then please get in touch.





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