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On my first day at work of my summer internship with Ravenscroft & Schmierer in Hong Kong, managing partner Stefan Schmierer gave me my first task – writing an article about offshore taxation of internet business profits in Hong Kong. Upon introducing the topic, Stefan asked, ‘Do you know what offshore taxation is?’
I did not have the slightest clue what it was. I had probably never heard of the term ever despite one year at law school. ‘No’, I meekly told him and wondered how bad of a first impression I was making to a senior lawyer at the firm.
He paused and smiled before admitting, ‘That does make the task slightly more difficult.’ Much to my surprise, however, he did not ask me to go search it up on Google, but grabbed a thick book from the bookshelf next to us in the conference room and sat down again.
‘As you might know,’ he patiently explained, ‘Hong Kong only taxes profits that are derived from Hong Kong, so profits derived elsewhere are not taxable under our law. However, this is made much more difficult by virtual transactions that can take place anywhere.’ He paused, then asked, ‘Do you see where I’m going with this?’
In fact, I did – a lack of a geographical presence likely complicated the sourcing of profits, and the ambiguities of Hong Kong’s taxation rules was probably quite confusing for the many companies which operate online. I explained that I did, to which he answered, ‘Very good. Please write an outline for an article explaining these rules.’
He handed me the thick book in his hand – HK Master Tax Guide and a document titled ‘Departmental Interpretation and Practice Notes No.39’.
Hong Kong Master Tax Guide.
I spent the next day sitting at home and going through the documents. To my surprise, the reading was not half as dull as I had imagined. It was interesting to understand the rules that the IRD (Inland Revenue Department) – the government department responsible for collecting taxes and duties – had established to clarify things for the many companies its rules affected. For example, it listed what would constitute a company’s ‘core operations’, which meant that the company’s profits were derived locally and were taxable under our laws. As a result, I learnt not only about the law, but also about the behind-the-scenes of businesses.
My research on e-commerce taxation.
One more day later, my task was complete. I produced a short two-page outline presenting my in-depth research in a clear and structured manner that was digestible for our clients. Or, at least, that was hopefully the case. Before sending Stefan an email containing my outline, I was slightly worried: what if my usual academic approach to this sort of article was unsuitable?
The next day, however, when I visited the office, Stefan and I sat down in a conference room, and he said, ‘The outline is good. Now please write the draft.’ My relief was immediate. Later in the day, I wrote the draft, and two days later, it was approved with minimal changes. Our article was published on Lexology, a content aggregator service in the legal industry, on which I was listed as co-author and a little picture of me was placed next to Stefan’s.
Screenshot of the final article as it appeared on Lexology. Full article available here.
The feeling of success was immense. I had spent several days learning and writing about a topic I had never heard of before, producing an article that was then published on the company newsletter and on a public platform. The rollercoaster of feelings I felt as a first year law student were encompassed by this experience – lots of confusion, maybe some panicking, but also feelings of success upon learning a great deal and producing an end product I was proud of.
Intern group photo – from left to right: Myself, Shirley, Ashley, Michael.
Most importantly, I was at no point alone whilst working and feeling nervousness or success. Working with my fellow interns to research legal developments in various jurisdictions, translate documents, read through witness statements, research the legality of various contract clauses, and so on, were incredibly rewarding experiences from which we found camaraderie in our shared struggles and successes. And for all these opportunities, I am immensely grateful to the firm. Thank you to Stefan Schmierer, Anna Lau, Julian Tam and the rest of the team who guided us throughout this process!
Tips for those who want to apply:
For all those looking to apply to Ravenscroft & Schmierer or other internships, here are several tips:
Follow up on your application, rather than assuming that you were unsuccessful if you have not heard back.
Assume that firms are still in the process of considering your application. This is likely true where there are many applicants and it will take some time to review all the applications. In that case, send a follow-up email or – even better - follow up with a phone call during office hours where you offer to provide more information. This will show that you are enthusiastic and persistent, which are good traits to have when applying for a job. Maintain an active LinkedIn presence with a professional photo and details about your academic, working and extra-curricular experience. Once you join a law firm as a trainee or as a qualified solicitor, these details will likely be listed on the firm’s website anyway.
Engage with the firm consistently via LinkedIn – even if it is simply liking or commenting on their posts. This will remind the firm that you are an enthusiastic applicant who will bring that same mindset to their firm, and they may look more fondly on your application.
Apply as early as possible, state your exact dates of availability clearly and follow up if there are any changes to the information you provided.
When you follow up, keep your emails short and when you call, ask some questions about the firm, the internship or the application process.
Karen is currently studying at Columbia Law School for her Doctor of Law (JD Law) and completed her Internship at Ravenscroft & Schmierer in June 2021.