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A firm foot forward, at home and abroad

Between managing clients and handling cases, BC&C lawyers have enjoyed a hectic year of travelling, networking, attending seminars and fund-raising. Senior Partner Colin Cohen reflects on 2017.

JANUARY

Two developments underscore our close ties with the University of Hong Kong, a place I know well from my days lecturing at the Faculty of Law in the early Eighties. First, we are elevated to Senior Member level of the HKU Foundation, which does excellent work advancing educational opportunities in Hong Kong and beyond. It is gratifying to have our support recognised in this way.

Then the inaugural HKU-Boase Cohen & Collins Criminal Law Lecture proves an overwhelming success with award-winning international barrister Clare Montgomery QC delivering an electrifying address. More than 250 people attend, including the great and good of the legal profession who join students from Hong Kong’s three law schools. Our vision is for the lecture to transcend academia and become an annual highlight of the legal calendar. We could not have made a better start.

Review LECTURE

With Clare Montgomery QC at the Criminal Law Lecture.

Between these two events I make a lightning trip to London to give a presentation at Edwin Coe LLP, our colleagues in global legal services organisation Ally Law. My audience includes Senior Partner and old friend David Greene, who will feature later in this piece, although not necessarily for his considerable legal expertise.

At month’s end I find myself in Florida, where my devotion to motorsport sees me attend the Rolex 24-Hour Race at Daytona as a guest of client Henrik Nielsen, whose Flex-Box company is sponsoring a team. I file this trip under “Client Management”.

FEBRUARY

More good news as we are ranked in Asia-Pacific for 2017 by Chambers and Partners, publishers of the world’s premier legal guide. We are listed as a Recognised Practitioner in the Family/Matrimonial (International Firms) category while Partner Usha Casewell, who heads our Family Law practice, is named as a Ranked Lawyer. I’m delighted for Usha and her dedicated team while the achievement reflects well on the whole firm.

Four of my younger colleagues – Rachel Wong, Angeline Chan, Kristie Wong and Wendy Kwan – attend a fund-raising dinner for Amnesty International Hong Kong. It is part of the organisation’s CARNIVAL festival focusing on freedom of expression and featuring an art exhibition, workshops, theatre performance and seminars. While I joke that the quartet are off enjoying a nice meal at the company’s expense, of course I don’t mean it. Acquiring knowledge and broadening experience are essential for a young lawyer and we have always encouraged such activities.

MARCH

A weekend of glorious sunshine makes for a wonderful BC&C Inter-School Sailing Festival at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club’s Middle Island facility. Why do we sponsor this event each year? It is about putting something back into the community, encouraging youth participation and promoting a healthy, outdoor lifestyle. It also offers an excellent platform for us to interact with business associates – we host almost 50 guests to a superb buffet in the clubhouse followed by a champagne cruise on a luxury yacht. Amid the networking and fine dining I’m tasked with handing out trophies at the regatta’s close and the sheer joy on the young sailors’ faces reminds me why we do it. We are making a difference.

Review SAILING

Smiling faces at the Inter-School Sailing Festival.

Staying active and outdoors, our firm enters an eight-strong team in the 50km relay section of the Rotary HK Ultramarathon, which takes place on a 2km circuit along Central harbourfront. Naturally I participate … by standing at the roadside and shouting encouragement as our determined crew jog past.

Having upset a few judges in my time the irony is not lost on me as I’m asked to be one – well, sort of – for a day. It is the 15th Red Cross International Humanitarian Law Moot, pitting law students from across Asia-Pacific in a series of mock trials, and I’m one of the judges. The standard of mooting is impressively high, indeed some of these young tyros could argue night is day and almost convince you. The Bar need not worry about any future talent shortage.

My colleague Rachel Wong spends two weeks with a law firm in Japan under an internship programme co-organised by the Law Society of Hong Kong and the Japan Federation of Bar Associations. I’m always pleased when our young lawyers seize the opportunity to travel and gain experience. The fact that Rachel can drop in on our Ally Law friends in Tokyo, Blakemore & Mitsuki, is the icing on the cake.

APRIL

We are pleased to announce our experienced solicitor Patrick Chan has been made a Partner. Having been with us eight years and possessing a diverse educational background that includes a Master of Science in industrial engineering before turning to law, Patrick offers a unique set of skills to our clients. We’re delighted to see him step up.

Another business trip for yours truly, this time Israel. It’s a good chance to catch up with business contacts and old friends as well as continue the search for an Israeli firm to join Ally Law. It is a hectic but hugely productive few days, as evidenced when respected Tel Aviv firm Lipa Meir & Co is subsequently welcomed to the Ally Law ranks.

Intellectual property is one of the fastest changing practice areas in law and staying abreast of developments is a challenge. So we are pleased our Partner Susan Cheung, whose core practice areas include IP, finds time in her schedule to attend a seminar in Central focusing on trademark protection in the digital era. Times have certainly changed in the 32 years since BC&C was founded, but we know we must keep evolving.

MAY

Our busiest month so far. As always, there are seminars to attend to stay on top of the latest legal trends and so I find myself immersed in key issues affecting Hong Kong’s criminal justice system at the annual Criminal Law Conference. Around this time, our Partners Fiona Chan and Lisa Wong journey to Shenzhen for a landmark forum on family trust management in China. As well, my colleagues Susan Cheung and Allison Lee are among the record 10,600-plus delegates keeping up to date on intellectual property law at the Annual Meeting of the International Trademark Association in Barcelona.

But the travelling is far from over. Together with colleagues Usha Casewell and Catherine Lau, I attend the Ally Law AGM in New York where our firm enjoys good exposure as I give a marketing presentation and Usha features as a panelist at the Women Lawyers Meeting. I am also honoured to accept an invitation to chair the Expansion Committee. The fun really begins when I depart early, with the aforementioned David Greene, for London, where we will attend the FA Cup final between my beloved Chelsea and David’s Arsenal. During a tortuous subway journey to JFK, David confesses he has entered a Strictly Come Dancing charity event and so, out of a combination of admiration for him and sympathy for his partner, I agree to sponsor him. The next day, Chelsea lose the big match. Fortunately, I don’t run into “Twinkle Toes” afterwards.

Amid all these activities, the Law Society of Hong Kong marks its 110th anniversary with a gala dinner for 1,200 guests at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. My colleague Alex Liu, who cuts quite a dash in a tuxedo, leads a 12-strong party from our firm.

Review GALA

The BC&C party at the Law Society’s gala dinner.

From the muddy football fields of southern England to the hostile snowy peaks of the Himalayas, we are greeted with excellent news. First, the BC&C-sponsored Glebe Football Club U14s have been crowned champions of their Kent Youth League division. I’m thrilled for my old friend Danny Harris, who dedicates so much time to his role as team manager. And then we hear mountaineer Ada Tsang has become the first Hong Kong woman to scale Mount Everest, the culmination of years of sacrifice and perseverance. We have helped fund Ada’s expedition and her success is reason for rejoicing in our office.

JUNE

A welcome break! My wife Peggy and I depart for a three-week holiday that will see us divide our time between the UK and Russia – visiting family and friends in the former, enjoying a week-long Volga River cruise in the latter. But between the reunions and sight-seeing, the news is dominated by terrorism, tragedy and political upheaval. During our first few days in London, we wake to grim news of terrorist attacks at London Bridge and Borough Market and then the General Election is a disaster for the Conservative Government, which sees its majority wiped out. While in Moscow, we learn about the awful Grenfell Tower fire. Cruising the Volga, stopping to tour quaint villages and picturesque islands, we know how fortunate we are.

Review REDSQUARE

Admiring the sights in Red Square.

At least our time in the Russian capital allows me to complete two important tasks. First, a visit to the offices of law firm Sameta Tax & Legal Consulting, our colleagues in Ally Law, to give a presentation. Partner Dmitry Sherstobitov and his colleagues are excellent hosts. And then, some scouting ahead of next year’s World Cup – where to stay, how to get to matches. Strangely, Peggy fails to assist me in this latter exercise.

Back home, Hong Kong is preparing for the 20th anniversary of the Handover. We use the opportunity to publish a blog in which our lawyers offer their memories of 1997 and thoughts on how Hong Kong has changed. It reveals a rich diversity of backgrounds and opinions which, I believe, is a strength of our firm.

JULY

The subject of airline passengers being bumped off flights is discussed as I make a guest appearance on RTHK Radio 3’s Backchat programme. There is no doubt Hong Kong is lagging behind other jurisdictions in protecting travellers and I emphasise this point to presenters Danny Gittings and Ada Wong. We need to adopt regulations similar to the European Union and ensure these are enforceable.

On a lighter note, July means the football season is coming soon and, as a keen amateur referee, I’m happy to pick up some tips from the game’s best by hosting lunch with a group of match officials from the English Premier League. Leading referees Bobby Madley and Paul Tierney and former match official Chris Foy, now senior at the elite referees’ governing body PGMOL, are in town for the Premier League Asia Trophy. We have a lively discussion.

Arbitration is becoming an increasingly attractive alternative to litigation so it is welcome news that the Law Society of Hong Kong has formed a Panel of Arbitrators, designed to be the sole database for promotion of solicitor-arbitrators’ services. Happily, I’ve met the stringent requirements and been admitted as one of its 24 members. Hong Kong wishes to be promoted as an international centre for arbitration and LegCo has recently passed a bill allowing third party funding of arbitration proceedings, which means we will see increased activity in this field.

AUGUST

Gender bias in the legal profession is a global issue but Hong Kong is hardly doing its part to reverse this outdated trend and my colleague Usha Casewell details the facts and figures to highlight this in a well-received blog. While the UK’s Supreme Court has just appointed its first female President and Australia has a female High Court Chief Justice, no woman has ever made it to our Court of Final Appeal. At present, it has 19 judges, all male. Without doubt, change is long overdue.

Another issue in which Hong Kong fails to measure up is combating human trafficking. My long-time colleague and BC&C co-founder Melville Boase, for so many years a champion of overseas workers’ rights, pens an authoritative article highlighting Government inaction and the lack of effective legislation which has led to our city being bracketed with the likes of Uzbekistan, Niger and Afghanistan for its record on human trafficking. I’m pleased to see our lawyers continue to speak loud and clear on important social issues.

SEPTEMBER

Partner Lisa Wong represents the firm at the P.C.LL. Opening Ceremony hosted by the Faculty of Law at the University of Hong Kong. The event marks the start of the Faculty’s Postgraduate Certificate in Laws programme for 2017-18 and includes an awards presentation for scholars who have completed the course. Lisa presents the BC&C Prize in Accounts and Financial Management, which is awarded to Ho Sin Yiu. We are pleased to be helping nurture the next generation of outstanding lawyers.

The Macallan ALB Hong Kong Law Awards are a highlight of the legal calendar with industry heavyweights gathering for a gala dinner at the Conrad. Usha Casewell, Lisa Wong. Fiona Chan, Allison Lee and Kristie Wong represent us and, I’m delighted to say, we are shortlisted in four categories, a record for our firm. Our associate firm Charltons is named Boutique Transactional Law Firm of the Year.

Review CONRAD

Allison Lee, Lisa Wong, Usha Casewell, Fiona Chan and Kristie Wong at the Law Awards.

Lisa Wong and Fiona Chan also head to Tokyo, representing the firm at the annual LAWASIA Conference. The gathering is LAWASIA's flagship event bringing together bar leaders, corporate members and individual lawyers from Asia Pacific to discuss developments, hot topics and trends in law across the region. We make a point of attending each year. Already the countdown is on for 2019, when Hong Kong will be host.

The month ends with a flying visit to Kuala Lumpur, where I give a presentation on China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative at the offices of our Ally Law counterparts Raslan Loong, Shen & Eow. My old friend Caesar Loong has done an excellent job inviting VIP clients – another great example of co-operation between Ally Law firms. Afterwards, I enjoy the Malaysian F1 Grand Prix, which just so happens to be on at the same time.

OCTOBER

If May was busy, October proves non-stop, beginning with my colleague Alex Liu enjoying a tour of the almost-complete West Kowloon Station which will be the terminus for the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link. Alex is shown around with his fellow directors of the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong and later waxes lyrical about what is an incredible engineering project.

On to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, where BC&C-backed mountaineer Ada Tsang gives an enthralling presentation to our lawyers, clients and friends about her ascent of Mount Everest earlier in the year. We are a firm that believes in rising to challenges and, in this regard, Ada is a wonderful example to us all.

Review ADA

Ada Tsang – mountaineer, adventurer and inspirational speaker.

We welcome three new recruits – Paralegal Vivian Yu and Trainee Solicitors Joshua Tong and Willa Wong – to our expanding legal team. At the same time, and serving as a reminder how we pride ourselves on providing young lawyers with a career path, there are happy scenes outside the High Court as trainees Kristie Wong and Stephanie Lai are admitted as Solicitors in Hong Kong.

Something the younger generation will have to get used to as they progress up the ladder is business travel. Having visited Tokyo, London, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur in recent weeks, my next stop is Washington DC for the Aon Law Firm Symposium, the world’s premier loss prevention and insurance event for law firms and the insurers that serve them. Then, after barely 24 hours back in Hong Kong, we head to Perth for the Ally Law Asia Pacific Regional Meeting. A convivial evening among old friends eases the jetlag.

After all the travel, some R&R. We are delighted to team up with our friends at Somerley Capital Holdings Limited to host clients and business associates at the Hong Kong World Sixes at Kowloon Cricket Club. A fabulous tournament, although we have a few narrow escapes with cricket balls flying into our box. Memo to organisers: please put us in a different spot next year. The following day, golf! We host almost 40 guests in our annual BC&C Golf Day and, at the same time, raise a healthy sum for the Hong Kong Society for the Protection of Children.

NOVEMBER

My colleague Alex Liu is becoming a familiar face to TV audiences as he offers legal analysis and advice on property matters in a TVB documentary series. Fame at last for Alex. I’m tempted to ask for his autograph.

Review TVB

Alex Liu is interviewed at our offices for TVB.

One person whose signature is certainly in demand is former Newcastle United and England soccer star Alan Shearer. I have the pleasure of meeting him at a fund-raising dinner at Hong Kong Football Club. He’s very gracious to me, even after I reveal I’m a keen referee and Chelsea fan.

We are thrilled to announce award-winning international barrister Edward Fitzgerald QC as guest speaker for our next HKU-Boase Cohen & Collins Criminal Law Lecture in January. Ed – famously described as “a Rolls Royce in the cab rank of barristers” by his contemporary David Pannick QC – says he is relishing the challenge of giving an address that will entertain the audience and be of value to the many students who attend. I have absolutely no doubts he will deliver on all fronts.

DECEMBER

We have a fantastic time at the Wednesday Afternoon Golf Society (WAGS) 2017 Charity Day at Kau Sai Chau where our BC&C Beat the Pro competition, staged on the East Course’s picturesque par-three 13th hole, proves a popular attraction. Players donate generously to the cause and the tournament generates HK$1.1 million for the Christina Noble Children’s Foundation. Raising money for charity has rarely been so much fun.

Review WAGS

Fun and fund-raising at the WAGS Charity Day.

If he’s not donning a tux or appearing on TV, Alex Liu can sometimes be found at a seminar. This time he addresses a group of senior PR professionals on the subject of the new Apology Ordinance, a piece of legislation which, while welcome, does require some explaining.

Alex pops up again at the Law Society’s Pro Bono and Community Work Recognition Programme awards ceremony, picking up an individual Gold Award for the fourth year running, a superb achievement. Melville Boase, Lisa Wong and myself gather Silver Awards while there is also a collective Silver Award for the firm. Over the course of a year, our lawyers have provided almost 500 service hours of pro bono and community work. Well done, one and all.

Naturally, December would not be complete without our office Christmas party. We are joined by family members, friends and former colleagues at chic Maison restaurant in Star Street, Wanchai. In the obligatory party games, where the winners are determined by level of applause, Team Cohen triumphs – a victory for seniority over skill.

Review XMAS

Time to celebrate – staff, families and friends at our Christmas Party.

Before the year is done there is still one last business trip for me to complete, a flying visit to Jakarta on behalf of Ally Law, before returning to our office where spirits are high and the atmosphere festive. Time for us to relax a little. On behalf of everyone at Boase Cohen & Collins, may I wish you all a wonderful Christmas, continued good health and a peaceful and prosperous New Year. See you in 2018!