Lawyer switches focus from the practice to the word of law

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 January, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 January, 2004, 12:00am

Not many lawyers would be willing to give up a lucrative legal career to enter the world of publishing, but that is exactly what Jojo Mo did.

Ms Mo quit her position at a Hong Kong law firm about two years ago to enter the ever-expanding arena of legal publishing.

'I was working as a corporate commercial lawyer, but the truth is I wasn't very interested in commercial law,' she said. 'In fact, I found this area to be the least interesting bit. What interests me is the law, not the practising bit, which is why I thought I should try publishing.'

The legal commissioning editor now works for Sweet & Maxwell Asia, the Hong Kong equivalent of the British-based legal publishing firm and part of publishing giant Thomson. In her time with the firm, Ms Mo has worked on some key law books, such as the criminal law text Archbold: Hong Kong 2004, a rebranded version of an important British publication used often in criminal courts in Britain.

Working on the book helped Ms Mo overcome any inhibitions she may have had. The job required her to work closely with some of Hong Kong's leading legal figures, such as Mr Justice Frank Stock, Gerard McCoy SC, and director of public prosecutions Grenville Cross.

Ms Mo warned that a career in legal publishing was not an easy way out for those who may be weary of the case-file mentality. She said it was a project-management job that involved careful monitoring of the market, often long hours and a gift for sweet-talking busy legal professionals into submitting their manuscripts on time.

'This job is very different to being a lawyer, but it is not an escape from being a lawyer. At Sweet & Maxwell Asia, we work really closely and we share a lot. There is teamwork in practice, but lawyers tend to work behind closed doors, alone and on their files.' she said.

'You also have to expect a pay drop. It is a different industry and you definitely will not earn as much as lawyers in practice do, which is an important point to think about,' Ms Mo said, while pointing out that her views did not represent those of Sweet & Maxwell Asia.

Apart from an in-depth legal background, the job demands qualities such as the ability to be outspoken, persuasive and patient.

'Communication skills are really important. I have to talk to lawyers, barristers, judges every day. So my job can be quite difficult when I have to push them for things,' she said.

The flip side to all the cajoling is the networking element, which involves working with some of Hong Kong's leading legal names.

'One of the perks of the job is that you get to know a lot of interesting people, who are also leading figures in the field. This is not an everyday thing that just anybody [or any lawyer in practice] could do. I also enjoy reviewing people's work, which is part of the job,' she said.

Ms Mo is clearly happy she has made the change from the practice of the law to the word of the law. She is optimistic about her career path at Sweet & Maxwell Asia, and believes it is possible to advance to the role of publisher in time.

She said that the job's marketing element could be a stepping stone for a sideways move into a marketing job at a law firm, should the desire to move back to the firm mentality ever arise.

Sweet & Maxwell Asia offers former lawyers more than just commissioning positions, which should be good news for those intent on staying in publishing. It also employs a team of legal editors to work on the Authorised Hong Kong Law Reports and Digest, which is the judiciary's official law reporting service, and other related products.