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Written By:

Judy M. Lam

Los Angeles, CA

As one of 30 delegates traveling with the California State Bar Litigation Section program entitled Legal Hong Kong, I was well-prepared for a weeks worth of continuing legal education, visits to the courts in the Hong Kong court system, and some of the worlds best Chinese and other international food. However, every visit to Hong Kong still brings new awe when seeing the city and feeling its very palpable electric energy, intensely emanating from this tiny metropolis, recently restored to Chinas rule after 100 years as a British colony. The program was poised perfectly as China is rising and Hong Kong is the ultimate east-meets-west hub great timing for our delegation to experience Legal Hong Kong.

I arrive bleary-eyed after a trans-Pacific flight through the night and am whisked through Hong Kongs sleek Chek Lap Kok Airport, filled with every convenience and desire for modern travelers. My luggage and a million carts make solo travel look easy, and I am processed quickly by a sea of smiling faces and white gloves. This very smooth arrival marks the first of many times I will admire Hong Kongs signature efficiency, speed and modernity.

Approaching the city, I see the frothy harbor glistening in the morning sun, then majestic glassy skyscrapers reaching toward the misty hills of Victoria Peak. Any remaining jet lag vanishes. I am awed by the Citys grand architecture and its history; the electric current running through this fast-paced international center is quickly infectious and builds upon my excitement for the week ahead. It felt as if all of my senses (all six of them) were completely wired. This trip was definitely the best way to jumpstart a new year (the Year of the Tiger) and the best vaccine or antidote to our U.S. economic (and law practice) doldrums.

Small Group Finds Quality Experiences, Educational and Cultural

The approximately 30 participants in the Legal Hong Kong program were a diverse group of lawyers from throughout California, with a broad array of litigation experience and subject matter specialties. We each joined the delegation in ones and twos, which created an ideal atmosphere for easy participation, getting acquainted, and for quick mobility. For many of us, this was a repeat visit to Hong Kong. For others, it was their first time in Hong Kong after a long list of other adventurous travels. For every one of us, it was the first time we experienced such high-level access to dignitaries and officials, and an insiders view of Hong Kongs justice system that even local Hong Kong practitioners had not seen.

The law applied in Hong Kong is a unique combination of current Chinese law, some laws enacted specifically for Hong Kong (as a special administrative region of China), as well as the common law that developed while Hong Kong was a British Colony.

We enjoyed intimate discussions comparing/contrasting the two systems, seeing lawyers and judges approaches to the law, each interaction building a humility and deepening respect for shared values and best practices across the Pacific Rim.

The tapestry of experiences educational, social, culinary, and adventure were punctuated by the following high points:

  • Visit to Buddha and Po Lin monastery at Lantau Island. On the lush and sparsely populated outlying island called Lantau, we hiked to a giant Buddha and temple and began our first day with some Buddhist teaching. This casual beginning presented a wonderful non-legal orientation to the traditions and philosophies dominant in the Far East, in a picturesque and serene environment away from the bustling city life. The principles of Buddhism, emphasizing freedom from attachment, rejecting materialism and selfish desires, giving way to things we cannot control, presented a stark contrast to the adversarial, aggressive, high stress qualities that have come to define most of the litigation in the US. Beginning our trip with this backdrop encouraged us to look beyond our usual palette and to suggest a different paradigm.
  • Personal visit with the Chief Justice of Hong Kongs Supreme Court, Hon. Andrew Li. We spent time in chambers, in intimate group conversations with judges in all the courts in Hong Kong. Most notably, we enjoyed a personal visit with the chief judge of the entire Hong Kong region, Chief Justice Andrew Li, who spoke to us privately as a delegation of lawyers from California. The Chief Justice is scholarly and yet accessible, even humorous, as we found most of the judges in Hong Kong were, as they welcomed us into their chambers to enjoy tea and conversation. The personal interaction with the judiciary was truly unanticipated and remarkable for our groups very first trip to Hong Kong.
  • Dinner at the China Club with Hon. Elsie Leung. We were inspired to have dinner with the Hon. Elsie Leung, Hong Kongs first Secretary of Justice (equivalent to the US Attorney General), at Hong Kongs historic and exclusive China Club. In her keynote address, she covered the dual legal paradigms in Hong Kong under China rule, dubbed One Country, Two Systems, further explaining the resilience and adaptability in Hong Kong. A gracious and elegant woman, she wore a neat chignon and bright red lipstick, poised and radiant. I was deeply touched when she squeezed my hand and said, with a smile and a co-conspirators voice: Please come back and visit us again soon.
  • Murder trial in three languages. In visiting one trial court, our group observed the trial of a deaf mute man charged with a murder, a crime he did not dispute that he had committed. We entered just as the prosecution rested and the defense began with the defendant taking the stand before a British presiding judge. The languages used in this trial were (nearly simultaneously) English, Cantonese, and sign language another display of Hong Kongs signature efficiency and proficiency in a global and multicultural metropolis.

New Business Opportunities Will Your Next Client be Chinese?

Business development and entrepreneurship are second nature in Hong Kong. The zest for life and progress is appears at every level, from the tycoons to street vendors, from the tea ladies to the tai tais (aka the ladies who lunch). Everyone is in on it. It must be in the water. The intensity of business is seen in the 24/7 schedule, the efficient pace of business that continues into the night and wee hours of morning, the incredible zest for work and can do spirit, and the growth of new ideas from fashion to trade to food to technology to new legal frontiers. The inevitable rise of China and the Far East is obvious when you are here on the ground. Beneath the layers of diplomacy, legal and cultural exchange, and friendship lays an inherent desire to grow mutually beneficial business relationships.

We were hosted at receptions in prestigious law firms, large and small, wanting to develop ties to US lawyers and to build networks for new business across the Pacific Rim. The participation and connections were immediately fruitful and many referrals have sprung up already. Those who may have considered Legal Hong Kong just another boondoggle trip missed out on a uniquely rewarding experience and promise for actual business-getting. We had ample and fruitful exchanges with local contacts and with each other, which produced several leads and prospects for real business.

Asia is a hotbed of opportunity, attaining record growth numbers even in these last few down years. California and the west coast is the natural first stop for business coming from the Far East. While all the businesspeople in Hong Kong speak perfect English (even Queens English), and some of us spoke Chinese, nothing serves to bridge the gaps as much as being there in person, experiencing the landscape firsthand, and building the personal relationships that could lead to new clients seeking your professional advice and advocacy. The HK1 Vaccine definitely enriched me and my practice; I cant wait for HK2 season next year.

About the Author: Judy Lam is a partner with Los Angeles-based Rutter Hobbs & Davidoff ( and has previously worked for major law firms of 100-200 employees, as well as for smaller firms of 30-40 employees. She represents large and small companies and entrepreneurs in complex business litigation matters, including business torts, class actions, franchise, construction and real estate cases. Lam is particularly experienced in real estate disputes and banking litigation, as well as general business disputes of all kinds including fraud. Fluent in Cantonese and conversant in Mandarin Chinese, she represents many Asian clients in all aspects of their business and execution, and many companies seeking to do business in Asia or with the Asian community.