Jury Trials, Armed Robberies and Drafting Wills: My Legal Internship at Ravenscroft & Schmierer
Walking along Connaught Road West.
The study of law is regarded as a rigid subject that only comes to life via application in practice. While my three years of law school at Bristol have improved my skills for logical and systematic thinking and enabled me to make valid conclusions and sustainable judgements, working in law firms is an essential part of any law student experience. I am incredibly grateful that I was given the chance to work as an intern at Ravenscroft & Schmierer in February 2023. My internship at Ravenscroft & Schmierer was unique compared to all the others, but why?
My experience at Ravenscroft & Schmierer has helped me better understand some of my limits as well as how an office runs, and how things are handled on the administrative side of things in a law firm. I learned time management techniques that helped me juggle several projects and maximise working hours. I also had the chance to enhance my teamwork skills as I cooperated on the same project with other solicitors, clerks, and support staff.
A warm welcome
When first starting at Ravenscroft & Schmierer I was warmly welcomed by everyone at the firm. Since the Chinese Lunar New Year was approaching when I first joined, I was fortunate enough to be invited to their lunch party to celebrate the Lunar New Year the following day, where I got to know my co-workers better. For the whole firm, we ordered sushi and pizza. Even though I was new to the firm, the whole team made me feel at ease.
Lunar New Year lunch at the office.
Throughout my internship, I was exposed to different areas of practice. I undertook tasks which included, but not limited to, researching and writing an article about the Hong Kong (Amendment) Companies Ordinance 2023, assisting with the drafting of legal documents such as a will and a writ of summons, conducting legal research on product and vicarious liability, and accompanying our trainee Kelly to a criminal court hearing. I was also given the chance to sit in a matrimonial case.
Is it risky to draft your own will?
One can draft their will on their own. But is it worth it to bear the risk of rendering the will invalid due to ambiguities in the will? Here, I was given the task to draft a will according to the client’s instructions. You might think that including the client’s intended desires in the will might seem an easy task.
However, writing them into legal phrases with clear legal terminology is harder than I thought it would be. In law, preciseness is very crucial in a way that an unambiguous meaning can lead to the Court having to determine the outcome for the beneficiaries. This is a bit too risky! That is why lawyers never write in a freehand style. They use precedents as their guide and apply the relevant ones to the current will.
Thankfully, one of the associate solicitors, Michael, guided me through the whole process. By learning about the current will system under Hong Kong laws and how to look for the relevant sections in the precedents, I found the task to be a lot more manageable! Additionally, I also learnt that formatting is a matter that lawyers must focus on. Thus, the preciseness and the language used are key factors in law.
Think before you divorce
Family law has always been one of the intriguing areas where I want to practice in the future. From knowing that the client’s main goal i.e. to achieve a “clean break” with his spouse, problems concerning asset distribution would naturally emerge. Normally, the husband is the bread-giver and the wife is the caretaker.
But think of this, a 50/50 asset split would then be detrimental to the husband! Although we were at the very initial stage, risks of divorce as well as the alternatives available to the husband were discussed throughout the meeting. One interesting insight I took away is that the lifestyle of both parties before and after the divorce should be roughly the same.
Behind-the-scene of a witness trial
I have watched movies whereby the prosecution called the witnesses to testify. I have also attended court trials with solicitors, much like in my previous internships. But having to witness one with the presence of a jury in real life? This is a first-timer for me. This court trial was on a high-profile armed robbery, in which a man was acquitted of being the “mastermind” behind the whole plan. Our firm represented the defendant.
As the witness was from Nepal and had difficulties understanding or speaking English, there was also an interpreter. The role of the interpreter was thus to facilitate communication when one party was not conversant with the court language. He delivers expert service and assumes a neutral position in the contest between the parties.
My visit to the High Court.
I was seated in the public area when I initially entered the High Court. I turned on my laptop, getting prepared to type out some notes. All of a sudden, a staff member approached me and informed me that the public is not permitted to use any electronic devices. I was disappointed as I was unable to take note of some of the judge's or the counsels’ insightful comments. Sadly, I could only observe from where I was seated and listen to the hearing.
The actual criminal trial and the court procedures then started (I was eagerly anticipating this moment). I witnessed many new and interesting things that are certainly not depicted in movies. An essential component of a criminal trial is the cross-examination of witnesses. Witness testimony is among the most trustworthy forms of proof since the witness has firsthand knowledge of the occurrence.
As part of the first half of the hearing, the prosecution’s counsel presented the knives the defendant anticipated using during the robbery. Detailed questions regarding the dimensions of the knives, the shape of the blade, and the material of the handle were asked.
To ensure that the witness recognised the knives, I was surprised at how meticulously the questions were asked. In the midst of my drowsiness, due to the amount of time spent on asking about the specifics of the knives, the judge suggested to the prosecution counsel that he could just show the witness pictures and ask him to point them out, rather than going through the exercise. After an hour, the judge then allowed the jurors a brief 10-minute break to stretch their legs.
During the break, I informed Kelly that I was not able to use my laptop. She then helped me to rearrange my seating, after which I could finally use my laptop. Throughout the second half of the hearing, the prosecution counsel asked the witness to identify pictures of the clothes he wore on the day of the robbery.
Likewise, much time was devoted to examining his clothing in depth and detail. The prosecution then proceeded to question the witness about what happened following the heist, such as where they went and how they managed to escape the scene.
What are your final thoughts? Whilst working at Ravenscroft & Schmierer, I felt as though I have learnt a lot of invaluable skills. Not only about the fundamental rules of the law, but also about how the law operates. The highlight of my entire internship was undoubtedly getting to see the "behind-the-scenes" of a criminal trial's judicial decision-making process.
When we were studying at university, many minor crucial facts fell between the gaps. It makes sense. The lecturers must teach us all the knowledge in the limited amount of time we have available. However, Ravenscroft & Schmierer has taught me that there is much more to the legal field and that becoming a lawyer is more than just laws and precedents.
Last but not least, some of the values I picked up from this internship were:
Do not be afraid to interact with seniors;
Be self-assured, on time, and presentable;
Hard and smart work is always appreciated;
Mistakes do occur (a lot of them);
Ask for and stick to the deadlines (but negotiate them, if given too many);
A positive attitude and good manners are crucial;
Communicate in-person with coworkers.
Sabrina Lai is an LLB Law graduate at the University of Bristol. After her studies in the UK, she came back to Hong Kong to pursue her law career. She completed her internship at Ravenscroft and Schmierer in the month of February 2023.