REPRESENTATIVES OF the Australian Bar Association (ABA) will embark on a trade mission to Hong Kong in October to promote Australians as a genuine alternative to more entrenched local and British barristers.
The ABA is in the process of appealing to its members to make contributions that will help to fund the mission, along with a new barrister directory, website, and advertising in Hong Kong newspapers.
According to ABA president Stephen Estcourt QC, the mission will principally target Hong Kong middle-tier firms with the message that Australian barristers have greater expertise and greater relevance in specific practice areas. But first these firms must overcome a long standing tradition of looking within the city itself, or to Britain, for advice from the bar.
“There is a real resistance, and always has been, to appearance work being done by anyone other than the Hong Kong Bar, or people who are admitted and practice in Hong Kong,” Estcourt told Lawyers Weekly. “But traditionally there has been an equal amount of opposition to advice work going anywhere else but back to London.
“They are caught in a bit of a time trap. England is the old country, and we just don’t get thought of as much. Whereas we say we’ve got greater expertise and greater relevance to the sort of advice they need,” he said.
Estcourt believes Australian barristers are equal in any given field to their English counterparts, particularly in the specialist practice areas of mergers and acquisitions, commercial litigation, property and investment, and planning.
The extent of the mission and promotion of the ABA in Hong Kong will depend on the level of interest from members, Estcourt said, and he does not expect that it will have universal appeal. With the cost of entering the directory set at $3,300 for a senior barrister and $2,200 for juniors, he may well be right.
“It’s not going to benefit the rank and file of the Australian bar, and it’s not something that is going to happen overnight, but it’s something that we think is worth pursuing as a long-term project,” he said.
“Obviously not everybody is going to be [interested], and it might be a fairly rarefied field, as it were. But equally, it’s not going to come out of Hong Kong unless it is something that is really important and worthwhile, and can justify Hong Kong firms seeking offshore advice.”
Although the mission is particularly targeted at Hong Kong, the website and directory will have a wider application, Estcourt said. “We’re endeavouring to do it so that it will become a register of Australian barristers interested in providing overseas advice. So it’s not going to be designed to be confined to Hong Kong.”
Depending on the support from its members, the ABA hopes the October mission will be the first of many. “If we’re going to infiltrate this market and take it away from its traditional owners — the Bar of England and Wales — then we need to do it over a period of time,” he said.
“It’s pretty obvious that it involves a cultural change, not just flag waving. We need to establish networks and develop the friendships that we’ve made already, so that it becomes the norm for [Hong Kong firms] to seek specialist advice or major advice from somebody appropriately qualified in Australia, not somebody appropriately qualified in London.”
Immediate past president Glenn Martin SC, who began work on the mission, was in Hong Kong last week to discuss ABA plans. According to Estcourt, the new chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association, Rimsky Yuen SC, has already expressed his interest in seeing a lot of advice work heading to Australia.