A taste of the trainee solicitor life in Hong Kong
Read my Article on LinkedIn.
Group photo with my fellow summer interns Athena and Bowen.
Within the first hour of my arrival, I was assigned tasks for the next few days, including research about Hong Kong’s regulations on autonomous vehicles, checking several dozens of pages of Chinese-to-English translations, and reviewing a thick case-bundle comprising several hundred pages of a contract law case. Although it felt slightly overwhelming, it was also reassuring at the same time because my position as a “legal intern” had already begun.
Hong Kong awaiting level-three approval for autonomous cars
I was particularly intrigued by the research on autonomous cars and driverless license policy in Hong Kong. To come up with a thorough conclusion, I compared the legal developments on self-driving vehicles in several countries. To classify different levels of autonomy in vehicles, a five-level classification system has been developed and used across different countries.
Among them, level-three autonomous vehicles, meaning vehicles with conditional driving automation, can drive from Point A to Point B under certain conditions; only in an emergency are human drivers required to intervene. It was eye-opening to observe how law intertwines with other disciplines, such as car manufacturing and scientific advancement. In Hong Kong, while the technology for level-three vehicles is ready, we are still waiting for the city’s legislators to develop the legal and regulatory frameworks for such autonomous cars.
“Piercing the corporate veil”
A few days later I received another research task about “piercing the corporate veil”, where courts can put aside limited liability of a parent company and hold its shareholders personally liable for its subsidiary’s debts. I drafted an internal legal memorandum on this topic. When Stefan, the managing partner of the firm and responsible for this case, explained this novel concept to me, he broke it down into simple terms which a layperson could grasp.
This principle, as well as the continuous legal evolution in safeguarding creditors' rights, aroused my interest as I worked on the research. Unlike the limited application in Hong Kong, scenarios for “piercing the corporate veil” to operate in Mainland China are more extensive, including mixing corporate personalities, significant capital inadequacy, withdrawal of registered capital during the operation, and excessive control and manipulation by the parent company.
After I confidently sent my legal memorandum to Stefan, he asked me to go to his office. For a second, I thought I was in trouble and braced myself for a scolding. Thankfully, all he did was recommend that I take another look and patiently explained what I could improve. After some further revision with the help of Chloe, an associate at the firm, we sent the memorandum to the corresponding client. When I saw the well-written final draft and the client’s thank-you message, I felt a great sense of accomplishment.
Article publication and video production
Additionally, I had the chance to co-author a series of legal articles on Hong Kong’s Limited Partnership Fund and Open-Ended Fund Company regimes with Anna, one of the firm’s partners. The exposure to the area of private funds and the process of researching the similarities and differences between the two funds allowed me to gain new insights and aspects of corporate law.
Behind the scenes of our video production.
And I took part in a video with my fellow summer interns Athena and Bowen, which will be published on Ravenscroft & Schmierer’s LinkedIn and YouTube soon.
Skeleton arguments and civil procedure
I was taught how to make skeleton arguments, documents to be submitted to court and exchanged with the opposing party before a court hearing, and prepare a case bundle a few weeks prior at university. Thanks to this, I was able to understand the heaps of legal papers in front of me when reading through a particularly large case-bundle of a contract law dispute. I found my contract law lecture notes useful as well, since revising them helped me recall legal principles which were applicable to the case.
Different from the simplified, hypothetical scenarios used in law exams at university, real-life cases can involve more nuanced details and confusing facts. However, seeing how academic knowledge has been flexibly applied in real life was gratifying. After reading the complete case file and discussing the key legal issues involved with my colleagues at Ravenscroft & Schmierer, I gained a better understanding of civil proceedings, especially regarding the conditions of issuing default judgments.
A court of law can issue a default judgment when a defendant does not respond to a court summons or fails to attend court. Yet, this does not necessarily signify a lost case for the defendant. Because the court retains a right to set the default judgement aside. This could be based on irregularities in the service of the writ, a formal written order, through judicial procedure. Such a mechanism illustrates how the law strikes a balance between the rights and interests of both parties under special circumstances.
Behind the scenes of trial preparation: printing, printing, printing
I was glad to be able to assist Michael, a solicitor at the firm, in an ongoing adverse possession case. Apart from translating exhibits, a piece of documentary evidence to be used in court, I created and reviewed a few chronologies of key events based on witness statements. This was to facilitate the communication with the barristers and preparation for cross-examination. While not the most exciting task, it helped establish connections between intricate facts in the case that occurred over the past 70 years.
Court bundle preparation with Michael and Vanisha.
There was a lot of printing and documentation involved in preparing court bundles for an upcoming trial. While I appreciate the value of hard-copy documents, it is not environmentally friendly. This made me wonder, in this digital age, if electronic copies would be a better replacement in judicial proceedings. I learned that the mode of files to be delivered is usually determined by the judge, and only a few judges in Hong Kong prefer digital copies of court documents. And they would give a detailed direction for the parties to comply with when compiling the electronic materials.
My tasks here were less consistent or systematic than at university, and my knowledge of certain assigned topics was vague. Therefore, I found it critical to clarify any ambiguities with my supervisors promptly and to prioritise my work based on urgency. I assisted my colleagues with this case across almost my entire internship period.
Throughout this process, my supervisors frequently checked in on me to ensure that my workload was manageable. They were busy yet always willing to lend me a helping hand whenever needed.
Heading out on a high
On my first day, before heading to the office, I did a home workout, hoping my brain would release some dopamine to help me ease the stress. Like any student intern on their first day, the mix of excitement, curiosity, and fear of the unknown was nerve-racking. However, it turned out that being anxious was in fact unnecessary as my new colleagues were welcoming and approachable.
Throughout my internship, I did not have the time nor opportunity to fetch my superiors any coffee (as I heard from my friends is still common at some places). Instead, I had the chance to engage and deepen my understanding of different disciplines of law under guidance and support from my colleagues. It felt rewarding to cross things off my to-do list and realise what I had achieved each day. The diverse and open-minded environment here allowed me to work comfortably and confidently, without hesitating to ask questions or seeking assistance. Although my internship lasted only seven weeks, I believe the gained experience and knowledge will come to my aid in many of my future endeavours.
Chloe Tan is a year-two LLB student at the University of Hong Kong and completed her internship at Ravenscroft & Schmierer from May to July 2022. You can read her article, co-authored with Anna Lau, on Hong Kong’s Limited Partnership Fund and Open-Ended Fund Company regimes here.