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Bonnie Chan, who once led the Listing Division's IPO Transactions Department of HKEx and was once the Executive Director of the Legal and Compliance Department of Morgan Stanley, returned to working in a law firm again in 2010. Since her initial admission, Bonnie has witnessed the many ups and downs in the global market but she firmly believes Hong Kong's financial power is still as strong as ever and talent is still the hardest thing to find.
After graduating from the Faculty of Law, the University of Hong Kong in 1991, Bonnie Chan studied in Harvard Law School, USA and obtained a master's degree in law. She is a winner in life in the eyes of many.
“I entered the legal industry in 1993 when I got my first job as a trainee solicitor in a law firm. Since then, I have been extremely lucky, as the number of deals in the market has grown exponentially.”
“We are in a time when we are seeing a lot more exciting deals – not only their sizes are getting bigger, the deals themselves are getting more complex and interesting.”
“To be ahead of the game, lawyers should command beyond law and legal concepts.”
As the gateway of China and overseas markets, Hong Kong has been the door for foreign capitals to enter mainland China and the stepping stone for Chinese enterprises to "go out". While some are worrying about Hong Kong's advantage diminishing, Bonnie thinks the opposite. She points out straightforwardly that not only that Hong Kong will remain the conduit to China, but it will also present numerous business opportunities in the Asian region.
“Hong Kong is uniquely placed within Asia and is a hub for executing cross-border transactions for Asian-based companies. Take my firm as an example, a significant portion of our business, may be 30 to 40%, is generated from the rest of Asia.”
Bonnie is not shy to admit that the competition has intensified but she thinks the market has also become larger and there is room for more talents.
“Every deal is interesting in its own ways.”
Having once been a solicitor, a banker, an in-house counsel of an investment bank, then the head of the IPO Transactions Department of the Listing Division of HKEx, and eventually became a solicitor once again, Bonnie Chan can examine and handle various deals from the perspectives of corporate clients, investment banks and authorities. Bonnie can even have fun from doing so.
"I think it is mostly because of curiosity. The legal profession is a very respected and much talked about profession. I was eager to find out as an insider what the profession is about.”
“Every deal is interesting in its own ways. There is a lot of innovation in the practice of law and in the practice of finance. The attraction of coming up with a new deal structure and doing something unprecedented motivates me greatly.”
“Young lawyers shouldn’t be content with doing the cookie-cutting plain vanilla deals.”
As a partner, Bonnie selects the cream of the crop for the firm every year and she holds university students to high standards.
“When I graduated from law school in 1993, there were only two law schools in Hong Kong which together produced fewer than 200 lawyers per year. Now we are talking about many times more lawyers qualifying each year. In addition, we are seeing a lot more lawyers from other jurisdictions coming to Hong Kong to practice.”
“Undoubtedly, there is more competition now. However, there is still a shortage of talents at the top end of the profession. So, if a young lawyer manages to stay ahead of the game, the rewards are much higher than before.”
Bonnie reminds graduates that although knowing the laws and legal concepts is essential. Lawyers’ textbook knowledge is far from enough for lawyers to become the elites in the business. As the market and deals are getting more complicated, lawyers need to also understand areas such as technology, regional politics, corporate social responsibilities, etc. All these must be considered in deal structure planning.
Tips for Interview
1. Show Your Curiosity
“I want to see young lawyers who are very interested and engaged in what they are doing. I want to see lawyers who are not content with simply doing the cookie-cutting plain vanilla deals, but are instead not afraid of operating outside their comfort zone.”
2. Reveal Your Character
“I think the most important thing is to let your personality come through during the interview. During the recruiting season on campus, sometimes I would see as many as 10 to 15 students in one session. My rule of thumb is that at the end of each session, I asked myself which of those students do I remember the most. I often found myself giving an offer to the person whom I felt I had a very engaged conversation with.”
3. Set Priorities Right
“Students sometimes tend to focus too much on trying to find out what they can get out of the prospective employment. While it is very fair to ask questions about the culture of the place, remuneration, work-life balance, etc., one should not lose sight of the objective, which is to get hired. My suggestion is that students should explain and let your interviewer understand what you can bring to the table if you are hired.”