Learning Civil Procedure Makes Me Feel Like an Alien

In US law practice (as a litigator at least), you do get exposed to different state jurisdictions and might need to have a glance at that jurisdiction’s civil procedure rules, but it is more often similar than not, or you are otherwise just dealing with the Federal Rules, so it’s never too disorienting.  Plus, coming from New York, most of my cases, even if it involved out-of-state parties, would require New York law contractually anyway.  However, as I have been learning the rules of civil procedure in Hong Kong, I find myself feeling like an alien who has come to another planet.  The over-arching ideas are the same (e.g., service of process, statutes of limitations, pleadings), but then the vocabulary used to describe these ideas and the methods themselves can be so different, I’m not even sure what’s going on, despite having practiced law for enough years!

I would hear words thrown around that seem familiar, like “writ” and “summons”, but then find they are a bit more complicated or nuanced than I realized.  I am constantly asking my office mate questions, but find myself unable to communicate as I have no way of explaining these terms of law without using those words I’m used to — which he obviously doesn’t know!

Though I’ve been practicing Hong Kong law for the past 8+ nonths now, I haven’t had to bother with much procedure.  A lot of the work I do involves strategy and client communications, so my past experience is very easily applied.  But when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of litigation, I found I was lost, and was grateful when a partner agreed to assign me a project involving an application to serve outside of the jurisdiction.

I think I’ve finally got it —

A writ is the equivalent of a summons in New York.  But be aware that there are apparently certain actions in Hong Kong that are initiated by originating summons.

A statement of claim = a complaint.

A summons is a notice of motion.  And the supporting affidavit to said summons is our motion.

Other idiosyncracies of Hong Kong practice? For a document to take effect, it has to be sealed by the court — i.e., this red stamp with the bauhinia flower is stamped onto it by the Court.  Not all documents need this (e.g., documents in evidence), but  for certain documents to take effect, e.g., the writ and orders, the court needs to stamp that red flower  or it means nothing.

Also, while Hong Kong has similar terms of statute of limitations, it seems that once a writ is issued, and an action number (what I’m more accustomed to calling an index number) is assigned, you are allowed 12 months before completing service — and even then you can make an application for more time.  That is definitely not the way it works in the US (your statute of limitations runs accordingly, and if the action isn’t started within that time, that’s it).

All these idiosyncracies might not seem like a big deal and yet they really feel like it.   As I navigate myself through learning terminology and these rules of procedure, I feel like a fish out of water or an alien on another planet.  There are lots of familiar things, and yet I feel so foreign.

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One response to “Learning Civil Procedure Makes Me Feel Like an Alien

  1. Pingback: It’s A Small Small Law World | Because It's Time

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