Tag Archives: law

A Polite Practice

Now that I’ve practiced in Hong Kong for more than a year, I think I can adequately compare and contrast the practice here from that in NY.  One big difference I’ve noticed is that the practice is far more polite and “nice”. 

A big part of the NY legal practice is writing what one of my former partners called the “nastygram.”  Sometimes the nastygram is used to tell someone to stop infringing/breaching/otherwise affecting your client’s rights.  Sometimes it is just lawyer to lawyer correspondence in a dispute already taking place.  Either way, it is inherently designed to be “not nice” to make your point and hopefully get what you want.

I noticed a lot of the letters I would draft were being edited by my boss to take the nasty out of what I thought was meant to be a nastygram. In fact, the NY practice is so riddled with “nastiness,” that is not uncommon to include little snipes here and there in the motion papers (e.g., “the plaintiff is completely misguided in its interpretation of A vs. B…”) too.

But in Hong Kong I have found things to be quite the opposite.  Lawyers really do treat each other with much more respect and kindness, and avoid jabs at the other’s intelligence, even when it is so painfully called for. 

Even more “polite” — barristers will address opposing counsel as “my learned friend,” and tehcnically, solicitors ought to address each other as “my friend”. 

I even had this happen to me one time while doing a 3 minute hearing before the magistrate, where my very obnoxious and stubborn opponent – who LOST in my application – addressed me as his “learned friend” (I want to say I am learned, but I am no barrister”) before the judge.  I admit it just reeked of sarcasm because he was entirely disagreeable to me – but “friend” I was in the courthouse that day.

I’m not trying to say that NY lawyers are always rude and jerky to each other, and it is definitely not the norm.  Rather, you do see rude and jerky behavior here and there, whereas in Hong Kong, it is more like almost never! I’m also not trying to say that HK lawyers aren’t jerks either – but at least in the practice, the tone is rather courteous and professional – even if not always heartfelt!

Overall, I find the rude jabs and snipes do make the job less enjoyable and injects anger into my day – so the “niceness” in HK certainly helps me to enjoy my practice a lot more.

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There’s No Such Thing as a Shortcut (Part 3 – and the last part)

This is the last part of my series on the “normal” qualifying route to become a solicitor in Hong Kong.  You can go back to Parts 1 and 2 for the prior steps, but here we are in Step 3 – which is essentially the last step.

Step 3.  The  Training Contract

After the schooling (or conversions), and a year of “practical” courses in the PCLL, it’s time to start your training contract with a law firm.  This prerequisite is a 2-year term, generally with 4×6-month rotations in different departments.  The firm must be able to provide mixed capabilities, so you cannot train at a firm that only specializes in one practice. 

Getting the Contract. This actually could technically be Step 2, or maybe 1.5  because you have to procure your training contract before you complete your PCLL, and therefore when you apply in your last year of law school (or college), you’re looking for a seat two years out.

The challenge in that is that you don’t know anything about law firms – probably not unlike 2nd year JD students, and the only source of information is the internet, word of mouth, and if you are based in HK at the time, the HK Law Fair.  There is no EIW, or Early Interview Week, where you at least go through a process of meeting some faces to the law firm (though one can easily argue how superficial and artificial that is).  If you are studying outside of HK, you are at a further disadvantage.  Hopefully you’ve gotten yourself an internship or two during your summer or winter break (these are usually only a few weeks long) so that you can get to know some people at the firm, though admittedly your work is really elementary and hardly realistic.

But what makes this process really tough is that when you choose a training contract, you’re usually not given much time to accept the offer.  A firm will let you know that they’ve accepted your application, but it’s not uncommon to give you only a few days’ notice to accept – leaving you little to no room to await any other potential offers. It really becomes a game of first come first serve (for both the law students and the firms vying for the best students), and generally students will accept the first offer they get, or potentially end up with none!

Even tougher – there aren’t that many training contracts out there, truth be told.  I work at one of HK’s biggest firms (only a handful have ~100 lawyers), yet they traditionally only have a class of about 8 trainees! Therefore, it isn’t uncommon for some firms to have as few as just ONE trainee per class!

The Contract. Life as a trainee is hard work, though apparently better than in the olden days (where my boss complained of the countless hours of gruntwork he did).  But a trainee’s life is not that different from a first year associate, really – except you aren’t paid a fabulous sum as you are in the US. You are mainly doing legal research and other junior grunt work, but since rotations are only 6 months, you can only do so much.

But in each 6-month rotation you’ve got to do your best so shine.  Getting an offer after your rotations is not guaranteed.  Like with US Summer Associate positions, while chances are high that you will get an offer, it’s not guaranteed, especially in poor economies. 

Somewhere about 1.5 years into your contract you will get an offer from one of the groups you rotated in – even before you finish your last or last two rotations (which can cause you to miss out on working in a practice area or group that really suits you better), and you really need to accept asap as well (because if you don’t they may move on and find another just as eager to say yes right away).

Some firms make offers on a committee basis, and some make the decision no a per partner basis – so if you are so lucky to have worked with a partner who has a need for a junior, then that is how you will get your offer! It’s all very tricky, in the end, I am told.

So assuming you’ve made it through your two year training contract and got an offer, then all that’s left is the paperwork and admissions ceremony – which is where the OLQE passers meet up with the trainees.

So you see – I was a fool to complain about the OLQE and its arduous process. It is WAY easier to take a few exams than go through all that!!

US Depositions in Foreign Countries

I’ve recently been asked to assist in a US litigation matter (arising from Asia-based clients) in taking depositions in Thailand.  I was not sure if a work visa was needed for what would be 2-3 days of “work,” but I thought I should check. 

The Department of State website has significant information on Judicial Assistance abroad (including service of process), and also comments on several countries specifically.  The DOS website does not include anything specific on whether or not I would need to obtain a work visa to conduct those depositions, but when I look at other websites with consular information, I fear that not having a work visa could put me at risk of jailtime!

I called the Royal Thai Consulte-General in Hong Kong to ask specifically and was told, “up to you!” when I asked if I needed a work visa! That was such an odd and overly-relaxed suggestion, but if it were up to me, I would not want to go to jail, so I will gladly pay the fee (HK$600) and not mind the 2-day processing time.  (Apparently, it may be more difficult from the US, where my colleagues had to go through far more trouble.)

I did learn through this process that Japan has a specific visa for taking/defending depositions – so that is good to know in the event I end up in Japan for such purpose.

But this made me wonder whether all my friends ever bothered when doing business abroad – whether it be lawyering (attending client meetings, signing deals, etc.) or sales (marketing, training) or everything else that includes short-term work. I somehow doubt most people go through the trouble and wonder how often people get in trouble for it.

The reason I am going to get my work visa for Thailand for this 3-4 day trip is because I had read somewhere that Americans have been jailed for violations, though I doubt for taking depositions.  But given it isn’t that much trouble, I’d rather not take the risk!

Law Society Annual Cocktails

Last night was the Law Society’s Annual Cocktail event, which was hosted at the Hong Kong Club – Hong Kong’s oldest private club (Hong Kong is all about the private club, and anyone who’s been in Hong Kong long enough will be a member of something – whether it be the Ladies Recreation Club, the Foreign Correspondent’s Club, the China Club, the American Club, etc.).  The event was pretty packed, and though I haven’t been practicing law in Hong Kong that long, I recognized a few familiar faces – including a couple of judges too. 

The food was not bad – definitely get the dim sum and the mini samosas, and the wine was free flowing. 

But I was most hopeful of getting a glimpse of the recently elected Chief Executive, CY Leung! I received a fax just a few hours before the event informing me that the Chief Executive “has agreed to grace us with his presence” for 20 minutes. 

I got to the event at the appointed time, but at most saw what may have been the back of his head!  I was really hopeful of posting a photo here of Mr. Leung.

He may be terribly unpopular (I’ve seen footage where masses of people just won’t even allow him out of his car to attend talks), but it’s still always interesting to see what heads of state look like in real life.

Oh well, maybe next time.  In any case, it was useful to attend the event and interesting to see such a huge turn-out.  If you’re a member of the Law Society, whether as a registered foreign lawyer or aHong Kong solicitor, it’s worth coming down to check it out.  At the very least, the siu mai is quite delicious at the Hong Kong Club!

CDotD – The Karaoke Establishments Ordinance

Hong Kong has an entire ordinance dedicated to karoke establishments! Need I say more?!

You Asked – I’m Answering! Seeking a Head IV Exemption

I have noticed a slowly increasing readership of my blog, but primarily for the purposes of following some of my practice pointers on becoming admitted in Hong Kong.  Many of you have asked me specific questions on my “About” page, and I have tried to answer some there.  But now I wonder if it might be useful to take some of those questions and answer them generally in individual posts.  Plus, it gets a bit cumbersome to scroll through all those Q&As on the About page.

So here goes my first such Q&A –

JP asked:

What sort of explanation you were able to use to obtain an exemption from Head IV (Accounts & Professional Conduct)? I have been a practicing corporate/commercial lawyer for the past 4.5 years and was toying with the idea of taking the QLQE next year. I’m hoping to be able to obtain the exemption for everything except for the Conveyancing Head.

At the time I did my aplpication, I had no guidance as to how to draft my exemptions letter.  I tried searching all over the internet for examples, but to no avail, so I hope that my advice here helps.

As to Head IV on Accounts & Professional Conduct, I kept it pretty simple. First, I cited all my reference letters, which I of course also drafted for my referrers, as evidence of my experience, knowledge and training generally. 

Then I attached copies of CLE certificates for all ethics related courses, and reminded the Law Society of my continual obligation to receive regular training on the subject.

And that was that! It doesn’t seem to be a head that mandates a high threshold to achieve an exemption, despite it being one of the harder heads to pass.  Or perhaps I was just extremely lucky. 

Anyone else able to write in on what worked for them?

And JP – good luck!  Do let me (and anyone else watching) know if this works for you too, and how things go generally!

HK Wealth and the Practice of Law

The extreme welath gap in Hong Kong and the insane concentration of wealth in Hong Kong is well known and not news, so I should have anticipated that when working for one of the better known litigation practices in Hong Kong, I’d come across lots of ultra wealthy clients.

Perhaps this is just one more perk of practicing in Hong Kong, since I can’t imagine ever being staffed on the kinds of cases I am now if I were practicing in New York.  Even if I were so lucky (or perhaps unlucky, depending on your perspective) to be working at the top litigation firms in New York, the chances of working for the likes of say Bill Gates or Warren Buffett are still close to nil.

I’ve had very wealthy clients before.  Your typical white collar defendant will be banking at least a mill or so a year, but the wealthy clients I deal with now are seriously above and beyond that, with net worths of up to billions USD!

What I have found, unfortunately, is that these are not easy clients to work with!  Something about the insanely wealthy just makes them, well, insane! They are very much used to getting their way, always being right, and having an army of yes-men around them.  This makes it really hard to advise them when navigating risky legal waters.

The other thing about the insanely rich — at least in Hong Kong — is that their lives are insane too!  These folks live dramas that are way better than anything you’ve seen on tv or the movies — wild kidnapping plots, tragic deaths, disappearing persons, fantastic murders, you name it – they live that!

So to all those who aspire to come to Hong Kong to become lawyers, get ready — it can definitely be the wildest ride you’ve ever had (as lawyers, at least)!