EARLY IN life, Audrey Eu Yuet-mee learned all about the rule of law. Her chief instructor was her mother, who ruled her home with a rod of iron. She would stand over her children while they did their homework, acting as investigating counsel, judge and jury, and pouncing on even the smallest mistake. Behind her mother's insistence on best performance was the determination that her two daughters would not miss the opportunities she never had to excel academically. The two girls were expected to achieve at least as much, if not more, than their two brothers. It was not enough simply to do well; you had to excel all round, in all subjects. Coming second was not an option. Although her memories of childhood may seem dominated by school work, with little room left for fun, Ms Eu now sees how living up to her mother's expectations shaped her success in later life. 'Everything in our life was about coming first in class,' she said. 'Life was pretty black and white.' Not surprisingly, when it was time to leave school and think about further education, Ms Eu was not short of maternal advice. The directive was to win a place at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), preferably as a medical student. However, Ms Eu felt that science was not her field, and for once she was able to negotiate a compromise. She chose to study law instead, and she can now confidently say it was one of the best decisions she ever made. The first year at university was something of a revelation. She thoroughly enjoyed her new-found sense of freedom and the strong collegiate spirit of what was then a very small law faculty. 'It was great fun,' she recalled. 'The biggest decision of the day was where to have lunch!' Despite all the socialising, Ms Eu sailed through her first-year exams, getting distinctions in all her subjects. Her success persuaded her that she had found an area that truly suited her. So, drawing on the discipline gained as a child, she set about preparing for the demanding career of a barrister. But there were initial concerns. At the time, there was not a lot of work around for barristers, partly because Hong Kong people had little inclination for resolving legal problems in court. Moreover, young female barristers were almost unheard of, so finding clients and getting briefs was bound to be an uphill struggle. 'I thought it would be better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all,' Ms Eu said. 'I didn't want to be asking myself for the rest of my life: Would I have made it? I had to convince myself that nobody was going to laugh at me if I couldn't make it.' To improve her prospects, Ms Eu headed to Britain after graduating from HKU to do her pupilage and bar exams. The thinking was that British-trained barristers had better chances of finding consistent employment. But she took the precaution of getting a master's degree so that, if all else failed, she could work as a teacher or lecturer. On returning to Hong Kong, Ms Eu gave herself a clear plan and a deadline. If she saw no significant progress in her career after five years, she would cut her losses and admit defeat. Fortunately, it never came to that. Having secured her first few clients and, more importantly, won a couple of cases in court, she felt she could start to relax a little and enjoy the independence of life as a barrister. Word of her success quickly spread, and her future seemed assured. The barrister's life was what she had wanted, and now she had it. 'There is no other profession like it,' she said. Studying the facts of a case, applying relevant legal principles and then persuading client and court to accept her analyses gave her deep satisfaction. Of course, legal matters are seldom straightforward, and there were bad days when a case would go against her or she would have to face a particularly difficult judge. 'Sometimes, especially when I had just started out, judges could be really mean and unreasonable,' she said. 'They would shout and make me want to cry.' Overall, however, she was happy and accepted everything that came with the job. After a two-year stint as chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association in the late '90s, she was poised to return to full-time practice when fate intervened. She had never considered the possibility of a career switch to politics, even though she felt strongly about the need for greater democracy in Hong Kong. However, when legislator and Democratic Party founder Martin Lee Chu-ming suggested she run for office in a by-election in 2000 for the Hong Kong Island constituency, she responded - and was rewarded with a resounding victory. As a member of the Legislative Council, Ms Eu quickly made a name for herself by taking a strong stance against the proposed Article 23 of the Basic Law, which was eventually shelved after huge demonstrations in 2003, and for her support of universal suffrage. Having now assumed leadership of the pro-democratic Civic Party, her life has become a blur of rallies, fund-raising activities and long hours in Legco. Every weekend, there are functions and commitments, some of them essential but often thankless. Her time is spent resolving differences of opinion within the party, keeping finances in order, improving the party organisation and presenting a coherent public platform. Conveying complex messages can be frustrating at times, but Ms Eu believes that full democracy is something that will be achieved not by people wanting it but by making it happen. Ms Eu still works as a barrister, but only part time, to keep her hand in and earn an extra income, but she can accept only a limited number of the cases that come her way. She is grateful for the support of her husband, a neurologist who actively backs her, sometimes joining her in the street to hand out leaflets to members of the public. 'Not every man could have a wife who is a politician,' she said. 'Having a wife who is a lawyer is bad enough.' As a mother of three, Ms Eu is anxious not to be like her own mother and is constantly advising her children not to work too hard. On that front, however, she seems to be fighting a losing battle. The children are already clearly demonstrating that they can be as hard working and keen to achieve the highest of standards as their mother. Tips You can't force everyone to like you, so the least you can do is like yourself. Never underestimate yourself; women have unlimited possibilities. The future is unknown, the past is irrelevant, so at all times maintain a loving heart.