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Investing in youth is not optional, but essential

Whether inspiring students, recruiting law school graduates or promoting young talent through the ranks, BC&C demonstrates a clear commitment to developing the lawyers of tomorrow, writes Senior Partner Colin Cohen.

Hong Kong, 5 February 2018: Last week I received an email enquiry and accompanying CV from a keen young law student asking for an internship at Boase Cohen & Collins. He apologised for troubling me directly, possibly thinking a Senior Partner has more important things to do, but I was far from aggrieved, in fact I admired his initiative. We receive similar enquiries all the time and long may this continue.

It is almost 33 years since BC&C was established and I believe one of our finest achievements has been our outstanding record of nurturing talent, encouraging young lawyers and providing a clear career path from trainee to senior position. We don’t just talk about giving youth a chance, we practice what we preach.

A prime example of this is the annual HKU-Boase Cohen & Collins Criminal Law Lecture, the second edition of which took place recently at the University of Hong Kong, with award-winning barrister Edward Fitzgerald QC delivering the keynote address.

Ed – as we know him – is a genuine giant of the international legal scene and, true to form, delivered a brilliant talk on “Criminal Appeals and New Evidence” to an audience of some 200 people, many of them students from Hong Kong’s three law schools, namely HKU, Chinese University and City University. If his lecture alone wasn’t inspiring enough, the students were encouraged to attend a reception immediately afterwards where the great man was more than happy to pass on his wisdom and knowledge.

Ed had travelled from his London base to Hong Kong at our invitation to deliver the lecture and also, two nights before, to address a private dinner at the China Club for our firm’s friends, business associates and clients. Guests at this event included several young lawyers and emerging barristers keen to hear him talk in a more informal setting. Once again, he was generous with his time and expertise, making the evening a memorable experience for those present.

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The BC&C contingent at the HKU-Boase Cohen & Collins Criminal Law Lecture.

For the week he was in Hong Kong, Ed worked out of our offices and so we assigned one of our trainees, Joshua Tong, to be his assistant as he prepared his lecture. This was an invaluable opportunity for Joshua to learn first-hand from someone memorably described by his contemporary Lord Pannick QC as “a Rolls Royce in the cab rank of barristers”. I’m sure it was quite a learning curve for Joshua and hopefully he was inspired by the experience.

BC&C’s ties with HKU date back more than 35 years to when I was a lecturer at the Faculty of Law before founding the firm with Melville Boase. One of our Consultants, Michael Jackson, who has been with us almost from the start, is still a lecturer at the university and almost half our lawyers studied there.

Hence, it is natural that we should be strong supporters of the HKU Foundation, a charitable organisation that does fantastic work in making education accessible for outstanding scholars of all backgrounds, encouraging students to attain even greater heights and implementing valuable exchange programmes.

Since its inception in 1995, the Foundation has launched various schemes including Endowed Professorships, the First-in-the-Family Education Fund, Culture & Humanities Fund, SERVICE 100 Fund, Centennial Campus and the Centenary Scholarship Fund.

Just over a year ago, our continuing support for the Foundation saw us elevated to Senior Member level, a formal recognition for our efforts of which we are justifiably proud. The continued health of the legal profession is dependent upon the quality of its new recruits. By supporting the HKU Foundation, we are committed to nurturing elite-level graduates who can pick up the baton in our industry and make an important contribution to society.

It is in this same spirit that we sponsor an award, the BC&C Prize in Accounts and Financial Management, which is presented each year to a law student at HKU who has shown outstanding performance.

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BC&C sponsors an annual Prize in Accounts and Financial Management at HKU.

While supporting tertiary education is commendable, the real proof of any law firm’s commitment to young talent is its record of recruitment and training. I’m pleased to say that since October 2014 we have seen eight of our trainees admitted as Solicitors in Hong Kong while we currently have on our books four trainees plus a young paralegal who is studying part-time to complete her PCLL – at HKU, as it happens.

Of course, a consequence of an excellent training programme is that young lawyers sometimes leave, usually for a bigger firm. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking, “Why should we do this, when we train them but other firms benefit?” In fact, the best way to combat talent drain is to offer a career path and, again, I believe this is an area where we score highly. Four of our nine Partners joined us as trainees while a fifth arrived as a paralegal.

Lest all of this makes us sound more like a charity, I should stress that it makes perfect business sense. Young lawyers bring enthusiasm, passion and fresh ideas. They are liable to be more proactive with regard to out-of-office activities and community outreach. And they are more likely to develop an affinity for the firm.

This summer we will, as usual, be running a strong internship programme since we know that it benefits both the students and ourselves. They gain valuable experience while we get to know them better and earmark those who we might consider taking on as trainees. In short, internships are an essential part of our overall recruitment policy.

Going back to the student who wrote to me last week, I responded positively and we expect to welcome him to our offices soon as he takes his first steps in the legal profession. The message is clear, we ignore young talent at our peril.