HK Law Society President’s Opening Of Legal Year Speech ( 13 Jan 2014)

We’re a little bit late with this  but probably worth a quick shufty

http://www.malaysianbar.org.my/speeches/speech_by_ambrose_lam_president_of_the_law_society_of_hong_kong_at_the_hong_kong_ceremonial_opening_of_the_legal_year_2014_13_jan_2014.html

 

Speech by Ambrose Lam, President of the Law Society of Hong Kong, at the Hong Kong Ceremonial Opening of the Legal

Good Afternoon, Chief Justice, Secretary for Justice, Chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome

On behalf of the Law Society of Hong Kong, may I extend to you the warmest welcome to the Ceremonial Opening of the Legal Year 2014. I am most honoured to have the opportunity to speak to such a distinguished audience, some of whom have traveled long distances from different parts of the world to join us today.

Introduction

For the benefit of our overseas visitors, the legal profession in Hong Kong has two branches, solicitors and barristers. The Law Society of Hong Kong is the professional body of solicitors in Hong Kong. Out of a population of about 7.3 million, we have about 9,000 Hong Kong solicitors and 1,400 registered foreign lawyers.

With respect to the constitutional system among the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary, Hong Kong adopts a checks and balance system in that the Judiciary which is independent will ensure that the acts of the Executive and the Legislature comply fully with the Basic Law and the law and that our fundamental rights and freedoms as enshrined in the Basic Law are fully safeguarded.

Role of solicitors

We take pride in being lawyers because we have always been well respected by the public. With our keen understanding of how the law affects the daily lives of people, we promote the rule of law and facilitate the fair administration of justice. In short, we form the backbone of the legal system that affects almost every aspect of our community.

Because of our significant role in society, our profession demands high ethical standards and a commitment above all to justice, integrity and the rule of law. We help people realize their lawful rights in accordance with the law. Our precious heritage of the profession’s core principles and values places a heavy responsibility on us to maintain and safeguard them in a way that measures up to the forebearers of our legacy and to the expectation of future successors. I am proud to say that our legal profession has discharged that heavy responsibility with excellence.

An independent and competent legal profession, coupled with a robust legal system and an independent judiciary, constitutes a major factor in establishing Hong Kong as a world-renowned international financial centre. It gives investors the confidence and comfort that they can safely transact and invest in a fair and just business environment with the support of high quality legal services.

Challenges and initiatives for 2014

Future development

The legal profession is undergoing rapid changes in different parts of the world. Alternative Business Structures allowing non-lawyer ownership of law firms are already in operation in England and Wales whereas in Australia, law firms are going for public listing on the Stock Exchange. With increasing globalization, boundaries are blurred and no jurisdiction can keep itself immune from radical changes in other jurisdictions.

In times of great change, it is natural that uncertainty arises. The coming years will bring many questions, debates and challenges. To effectively steer the future development of the solicitors’ profession in the face of these transformative changes, the Law Society will be commissioning a comprehensive study to examine the impact of these changes on the future of Hong Kong’s legal profession in the years to come.

Practice management training

Further, conditions in the profession are increasingly competitive. Overheads and labour costs are soaring. One way to reduce cost is to control the economy of scale. However, solicitors’ practices in Hong Kong are still predominantly small. About 45% of law firms are sole proprietorships and 45% are firms with 2 to 5 partners. It is anticipated that the legislation introducing limited liability partnerships for law firms will come into operation later this year. Hopefully, this additional option to operate as limited liability partnerships will provide an incentive for firms to expand and grow. The Law Society will initiate more business development and practice management training courses for solicitors who are contemplating a change of their practice operation including converting to limited liability partnerships.

New markets

Hong Kong is a very open legal service market. Lawyers from other jurisdictions can provide their services to the public in Hong Kong as a qualified legal practitioner of their home jurisdictions if they are registered with the Law Society in accordance with our relevant registration rules and offer such legal services from within a law firm in Hong Kong.

However, for some jurisdictions, the situation is less clear. For example, in Taiwan, a foreign lawyer may provide legal services as a practitioner of the law of his home jurisdiction if he is registered as a foreign lawyer. To be registered as a foreign lawyer, he must have five years of practice experience in the law of his home jurisdiction or has been employed in a Taiwanese law firm as a consultant for two years prior to Taiwan joining the World Trade Organisation. This is all clear. Yet, these criteria in Taiwan’s foreign lawyer registration regime do not apply to Hong Kong, Macau or Mainland lawyers because this group of lawyers is not considered as “foreign”. There are, however, no other registration rules that apply to us resulting in an anomaly that there is no means for a Hong Kong lawyer to practise as such and provide Hong Kong legal services to the public in Taiwan because we are considered neither local nor foreign.

The lack of reciprocity in permitting Hong Kong lawyers to practise in Taiwan is unsatisfactory and disappointing. The Law Society will continue to lobby for proper recognition of our fellow practitioners’ right to practise as Hong Kong solicitors in Taiwan. We are very grateful for the assistance given by the various authorities in progressing this matter.

Networking

To build a global network and enhance the profession’s international image and capability, the Law Society has been actively promoting the culture of reaching out. One way is to encourage participation in international legal conferences. These conferences create an environment that is both rigorous and fun as well as scholarly and social. Participants with common interests in specific practice areas have the opportunity to gather and share achievements and problems in a setting that is at the same time conducive to networking.

Staying connected is an important element that leads to success in a globalized market. We all appreciate very much the efforts of the international organisations in creating the various platforms that make such valuable exchanges possible and convenient. Nevertheless, every time I participate in these exchanges, I always feel that something is missing – that there should be a wider representation from jurisdictions in Greater China in these global platforms.

In the course of attending the events organised by international organisations, I have always wondered why Hong Kong, being a renowned international city, does not host any international legal organisations itself. We have the appropriate infrastructure and an admirable track record of hosting large-scale conferences for international organisations; a recent example was our hosting of the Commonwealth Law Conference in 2009 that coincided with our centenary celebration. As the legal services hub of Asia, Hong Kong is well placed in housing the headquarters of an international organisation that attracts more active participation from practitioners in our neighbouring Asian jurisdictions.

The Law Society is actively exploring this initiative which, if materialized, will heighten further the global reputation of our legal profession and reinforce the status of Hong Kong as the leader of the legal service market in Asia.

Entrance to the solicitors’ branch

Another important aspect to the future development of the profession is the admission of new entrants to the profession. Currently, entrants to our profession comprise the following:

i. Firstly, graduates of LLB degree, double law degree and JD programmes from the 3 law schools in Hong Kong who have successfully completed the Postgraduate Certificate in Laws (PCLL);
ii. Secondly, graduates of a qualifying law degree from an overseas institution who have successfully passed the Conversion Examination and the PCLL in the 3 law schools in Hong Kong;
iii. Thirdly, graduates of law programmes through external study in Hong Kong, principally the LLB from the University of London, the Manchester Metropolitan University and the Common Professional Examination of England and Wales through HKU SPACE, who have successfully completed the PCLL.
These three categories comprise those with local or overseas undergraduate and postgraduate degrees who gain professional admission as a solicitor by completing the PCLL and 2 years of training in a law firm as a trainee solicitor.

In addition, there is a fourth category of entrants who are overseas qualified lawyers and they gain admission as a Hong Kong solicitor through the Overseas Lawyers Qualification Examination (“OLQE”).

These entrants to the solicitors’ branch of the profession are examined by different examinations and are tested by different standards. The PCLL has to be completed before the trainee solicitor training while the Conversion Examination is to be taken by those with overseas qualifying law degrees to ensure they are competent in substantive law issues and have attained a comparable standard to those with a qualifying law degree in Hong Kong. The Conversion Examination is taken prior to the PCLL, but for the OLQE, candidates are tested on the standard of a newly qualified solicitor in Hong Kong.

In recent years, views have been expressed by our members that there is a lack of consistency in the standards of entrance to the solicitors’ branch of the profession. Queries have also been raised as to why entrance to the profession is not administered by the profession itself since the Council of the Law Society has been given the statutory power to prescribe the admission requirements including the passing of examinations under the Legal Practitioners Ordinance.

As a result, the Law Society has resolved to undertake a consultation with the stakeholders on the question of a common entrance examination (¡§CEE¡¨) for solicitors. The consultation document sets out the different routes to admission as solicitors, considers the problems to which a CEE might be a solution and whether there might be alternative solutions. If a CEE is appropriate, then there are questions about when it should be taken and at what level; what should be assessed and how the CEE would relate to existing qualifications such as the law degree and the PCLL. The consultation period closes in mid February 2014. I have already received a lot of comments from our members and obviously this is a question that every member of the profession as well as the community at large has a keen interest. In conjunction with our consultant, the Law Society will study the responses very carefully when deciding the way forward.

Support for the profession

The share of legal services provided by solicitors and barristers taken together contributed 0.7% of the overall GDP of Hong Kong in 2011. The percentage is very low and there is certainly room for improvement taking into account the high quality and level of sophistication of the legal services on offer in Hong Kong.

The resources allocated by the Government to facilitate the development of Hong Kong’s legal service market are inadequate. Take alternative dispute resolution (¡§ADR¡¨) as an example. The policy direction of the Government is to fully support ADR, yet despite repeated requests for better quality and more affordable mediation venue, nothing has been forthcoming. Concrete actions are what we need, not simply words of support.

Another example is the lack of action to stop the growing divergence between the normal average chargeable hourly rates of solicitors and the recommended allowable hourly rates for solicitors in party and party taxation. This growing divergence means that a successful litigant is being disadvantaged in that although he succeeds in his court proceedings and we adopt the “loser pays” principle, what he recovers from the losing party under a costs order is substantially insufficient to cover what he actually pays his solicitors. This widening recoverability gap erodes the principle of “loser pays” and effectively diminishes the attractiveness of Hong Kong as an international dispute resolution centre. The Law Society has commissioned external consultants to prepare a report on how the party and party rates should be updated to narrow the recoverability gap for the benefit of successful litigants. We hope that the anomaly can be rectified as soon as possible.

Conclusion

The future is challenging and exciting. A lot of uncertainties lie ahead of us, but I have no doubt that one thing remains certain – as a solicitor, we are committed above all to justice, integrity and the rule of law. I conclude by reiterating our role as a member of the solicitors’ profession and as an Officer of the Court, our duty is to advise people how to realise their lawful rights in accordance with the law, not in contravention of the law, let alone to engage in illegal activities.

Lastly, may I take this opportunity to wish you all a fulfilling and prosperous 2014!

Thank you.