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Inauguration of the Academy

Speech by Mr. Lester G Huang, President of the Law Society of Hong Kong
on the Inauguration of the Hong Kong Academy of Law

Chief Justice, Secretary for Justice, Justice Anthony Kennedy, Judges, Legislative Council President Mr Tsang Yok Shing, Director General of the Legal Affairs Department of the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government Mr Feng Wei, Past Presidents,  Chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association, Mr Rimsky Yuen, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

The inauguration of the Hong Kong Academy of Law this evening marks a significant milestone for the Law Society of Hong Kong. I would like to thank all for coming to support us as we move forward in this important endeavour, especially the Chief Justice and the Secretary for Justice as well as our distinguished visitor US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy who has traveled from the United States to witness our inauguration and to share some thoughts with us this evening.

If we look back to the Law Society's Position on Legal Education and Training in 1998, we will see the genesis of a vision for an Academy of Law. It is in that year that we implemented a scheme requiring solicitors and trainees to undertake continuing professional education on a mandatory basis.  We rolled that scheme out over the following 5 years, and so since 2003 all in the profession have been required to attend courses, conduct research, pursue on-line training or undertake other forms of learning to enhance professional competence. We propose an Academy to build on this foundation, so that the legal education and training needs of all who decide to pursue law as a profession will be catered for from the time they are still studying or in training, until they retire or die, whichever is sooner.

Why this emphasis on education and training? The philosophy behind introducing mandatory CPD and now providing enhanced educational and training activities under the auspices of the Academy of Law are much the same. As a professional body we must encourage all solicitors in Hong Kong to not only keep abreast of legal developments, but to develop expertise of an international standard.

This emphasis on quality and enhanced professional competence is not only desirable, but necessary. We live in a knowledge-based world and the events unfolding in the last few weeks remind us how new trends continue to shape the global and domestic challenges we all face. These changes arise not only because of a fierce pace of globalization; there is also the emergence of new technology, changing awareness of rights and responsibilities, and an evolving emphasis on creativity.

Hong Kong lawyers have to keep abreast of these developments so that we can offer a competent professional service to local and foreign clients. And we must do more – for those who wish to specialize or focus on particular areas of practice, we will bring the best that we can arrange to come to Hong Kong to develop our repertoire, and hone our skills. We will consult the profession continually and deliver what lawyers tell us they need to enhance their professional competence.

The deliverables to benefit the profession will not be limited to courses and seminars. We hope that in time the Academy will sponsor and publish a range of practitioner manuals, guides and other literature. Whereas there has often been considerable hesitation for the Law Society to issue such literature, the Academy can fill this role more comfortably. We will engage both academics and practitioners in compiling materials and precedents that will assist lawyers, particularly those who are in smaller firms which make up 80% of those who are in practice today.

In particular, we hope that the Academy will be a platform on which lawyers at the Bar and from outside Hong Kong can interact with solicitors. With plans to extend higher rights of audience to solicitors just around the corner, we can collaborate with our barrister colleagues to jointly promote advocacy skills, not unlike what we did in the former Advocacy Institute.  Both branches of the legal profession will benefit from working more closely together on this and all other aspects of legal education and training.

It is also our hope that our counterparts in China will interact more meaningfully with us on a professional level when we engage in training programmes together. Their understanding of the common law and the principles of equity will be as important for them as it is important for us to better understand the Chinese legal system, and the workings of the Courts in our sovereign country. Today our collaboration and interaction in training is somewhat limited, but we can hope that the Academy will address this important task before too long.

We also hope that the Academy will play an important role for the Hong Kong community. There is something special in Hong Kong - many in the community wish to know more about the law. I would like to think this enthusiasm is a result of the Law Society’s persistent efforts in promoting law during the last 15 annual Law Weeks, but I would not be fair if I failed to mention the many other community projects launched by the Government and other NGO’s, as well as the courses and seminars organized by the local universities.

We solicitors have to maintain this interest in the law and serve the demands for more legal knowledge in the community better. Many cannot commit the time to formal educational programmes, but do have a wish to acquire more legal knowledge on topics such as consumer rights, the world of finance, human rights and so on. Not only do we hope that the Academy of Law will meet these needs, we hope to instill in all the importance of the rule of law and the principles of natural justice. This is most significant for us, and a deeper understanding from more lay people in the community will make our task as lawyers and defenders of the rule of law that much easier.

To achieve all this, we shall need to call on friends and supporters from all sectors. Today we enjoy a good working relationship with the Chief Justice, the Chief Judge and their colleagues, particularly in training for the forthcoming civil justice reforms. We thank the many members of the Judiciary who have given up their time to enlighten the profession. In time we hope that we can work together in the Academy of Law even more closely.

We shall also be calling on our friends at the Bar and in local universities to help us. Many give of their time and effort generously already and it is our hope that we can do more to our mutual benefit.

The Committee Members of the Academy will also search for overseas expertise and where possible bring it to Hong Kong to benefit the legal profession. As an example, we have exciting new law that is just around the corner – laws on racial discrimination and competition are just two examples. Lawyers will benefit from learning from overseas academics and practitioners who have experience and particular expertise in these areas. And these are just starters to illustrate the possibilities. There are many others which we will uncover over time.

All these exciting plans will call for financial resources. Through the wise financial management of my predecessors in the Law Society, the Law Society Educational Trust holds a reserve which the Academy can make good use of. But we start off on a strong footing through the boundless generosity of Mr Billy Ma. He is on stage with us to present to the Academy, in memory of his mentor the late Peter Vine, our very first donation – a sum of HK$1 million. Let me ask you to thank Billy for his magnanimous gift and his endorsement of the value of legal education.

Last but not least, I wish to say a word of thanks to our Chief Justice for accepting our invitation to be the Patron of the Academy of Law. Chief Justice, your support in this meaningful way gives us encouragement, and on behalf of the Academy, I ask that you continue to advise us, and I pledge our full effort to live up to the aims and vision I have outlined here this evening. We trust we will not disappoint you.

Once again I thank all for gracing us with your presence this evening. Do give the Hong Kong Academy of Law your good support. Thank you.

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