Asia 2.0: The Fragrant Harbour

by Jinryu

Round One

A few weeks ago, when I got the last rejection email for clerkships from Sydney law firms, in defiance of the idea that the year of applications was over for me, I started looking at other alternatives.  One of them that came up, because [CM] has family in Hong Kong, was applying to firms there.

Of the two firms that I applied to in HK, I got a first round interview with one of them.  I had indicated on my CV that I could speak English, French, Korean and Cantonese, and was intending to take up Mandarin in 2014.  In reality, my Korean nowadays is almost non-existent, and my Cantonese is pretty awful since I have barely used it in the last 3 years, and even so, that was Toisanese dialect mostly, not pure Cantonese.  It also helped that the company did a lot of work in technology and medical related law, which tied in nicely to my own background pre-law.

As I was saying, I got the first interview, which was advertised as 30 minutes by phone.  It was completely different from all previous interviews I’d done, which probably says something about the different work cultures.  While all the Sydney firms were asking a range of questions meant to fish at my problem solving ability (in mostly non-law relted situations), leadership skills, and general personality, the HK firm didn’t care at all: they gave me a problem scenario, and asked me to solve it using what I knew of Contracts and Torts law.

In short, they sprung a final exam on me for which I hadn’t prepared.

Yes, I am doing some contracts electives right now, but the bare meat of the fundamentals that I needed to really nail the answers were from Conctracts 1, which I took in first semester: almost 3 years ago.  Ditto for Torts: I’ve only ever done one torts related class before, and that was Torts 1 in first semester.  The problem scenario asked me to deal with the client situation and advise them in terms of suing through torts and contracts; why I should use one or the other, or both; and what did I think our prospects of success were.

An interview to get a training position at a firm has never before asked me to pretend to be a lawyer to this extent.

The other questions were things like, “do you keep up to date with current affairs?”

My only real possible answer was “I try.  Anything in particular that you’d like to talk about?”

In my head, I’m thinking: oh shit oh shit I never even watch the news because Australian election politics have been on for the last 3 months… if they ask me about the German financial problems or Syria, I’m fucking screwed!

Their question: “You’re Canadian, right?  Well, doesn’t matter, it’s still world news.  What is the reason for the government shutdown in the United States of America?”

Second question: “In light of the slowdowns in peripheral markets, especially financials, where do you see the business strategy of our Hong Kong branch being in 5 or ten years from now?

I came up with the best answers I could based on what I had been reading in legal affairs papers, counting myself pretty lucky that, it just so happened, I’d read some opinion blog on Obammacare here on wordpress just a few days ago.  I’d also been following some technology newsfeeds, specifically about Asia-Pacific emerging markets and changes to Australia’s privacy laws that will affect data protection regulations.

They asked for dinner, but all I had were some random fruits, so I made them a fruit salad.

But I think it worked– maybe everyone gave them steak and mash, but my specific angles to the answers made it, apparently, a really goddamn good fruit salad, because the lady interviewing me told me on the spot– normally there’s a bit of a delay, but they were going to advance me to the second round.  We’ll be in touch, k?

The interview ended up lasting almost an hour (instead of the annouced 30 minutes).  Of that time, 90% of the time was dealing with questions that I’d never dealt with in any of my previous interviews, law or otherwise.

The fact that I’d been on the spot advanced to round-two though made me feel good.  Really good.  So good that I felt guilty about feeling good.  It was the first time I’d been advanced to a round two, but at the same time, I knew I shouldn’t get my hopes up, because the dissapointment of coming close but not actually getting it could be bad.

But I liked that they asked me about things that I had studied 3 years ago.  Despite that I didn’t expect it, the fact of the matter is that 3 years ago, I worked my ass off in those classes.  While at least half the class wasn’t reading the cases and were just reading summaries or copying notes off the internet, I was reading these things and going toe to toe with cases that made no fucking sense.  Somewhere through that process, I’d internalised a lot of the theory and foundations behind contracts and torts.  Even if few of the Australian cases (if I could have remembered them) would be relevant to HK law, the fact that I had had principles upon principles hammered into my subconscious by just fighting with these cases all the time built my brain up to just understanding the essence of it all.

The truth is, I think I’m better than most of my classmates in Law School.  That’s not arrogance– I work harder than most of them.  It’s the ones who work harder than me that I really compare myself to– they make up the top 10% of the class lets say, but they know their shit on frightening levels.

But what bothers me about the way the Sydney firms have been recruiting is that they’ve often taken people who don’t know their stuff, who don’t work hard on the cases.  What bothers me is when those 10% upper crust students that I know try to apply for jobs and don’t get them– they often get passed up for someone who looks a particular way, or has a certain kind of personality.

I guess it speaks something of myself as a candidate– this interview didn’t ask about my personality, it only cared about my competence to do law.  If analysis of all my interviews to date can suggest anything, it seems to suggest that personality is my weakest point.


Round Two

I was scheduled a second round interview.  Second round came up.  The night before it, I was at judo, and unfortunately my cellphone disappeared.

That makes it rather difficult to conduct a telephone interview.

After wasting time trying to locate it and eventually giving up, the next morning I managed to get a new SIM card and plug it into my backup phone.  My backup phone is like something I’ve pulled out of a time warp– it’s got a monochrome LCD screen, a number pad, and a few other buttons.  Its battery lasts about 5 days on standby, but that’s because it can only do calls and texts– it can’t even manage any PUSH or email functions, nevermind apps.  It’s as if I opened up a time warp to the late 90s and stole this phone.

I used this phone for the interview.

If I thought round one was difficult, well, it was– but round two was even more difficult.

Again it was all about application of the law– another problem scenario.

And then, the big question, which I should have expected, but somehow didn’t.  The interviewer, a partner in the Finance division, could be heard to be flippingn pages in the background. “You have a history that goes all over the globe in all sorts of different industries.  That’s really interesting.”

“Sure, thanks.”

“So tell me– why should I give you a chance at my firm when my impression is that after a couple of years, you’re going to jump ship and move on somewhere else again?  Give me some assurance of your loyalty.  And don’t tell me how great this company is– I already know that, but there’s no way you do, because you’ve never worked here.  I want to know why you will stick to being a lawyer at this firm, and why you will stick to Hong Kong.”


A week later, I got the offer letter.

Looks like I’m going to Hong Kong!


It’s not a perfect solution, and actually, it doesn’t change very much.  The facts are that working is quite complicated– aside from the fact that Hong Kong has a reputation for working you to your bones, there’s the fact that I need to conversion courses, and an articling period of about a year in order to qualify for an actual job.  All I’ve gotten, really, is a winter training program invitation– yes, it’s my foot in the door to work at a huge international name in the legal areana, but in reality, it is akin to a round 3 interview.  Unlike Sydney clerkships, which boast a 99% clerkship to permanent job conversion rate, the Hong Kong firms make no such promises– the clerkship that I’ll be doing there is a final test to see if I’ve got what they want.  If I have what they want, they’ll offer me a job for 2016.  Yes, you read correctly– 2016, not even 2015, and hellllll no for 2014.  The time delay accounts for the articling period doing the PCLL exam.

That timing is difficult, because it means that CM and I would have to do long distance for about a year.  Which isn’t really an option.

But I’m going to take the clerkship anyway, and do my best with it.  I’m also going to try and get an offer, so that I can keep my options open.  I have to fight this one all the way through– and CM and I will figure something out along the way.


So yeah– looks like I’m going to be living in Asia again!