HKCCA promotes cause of local in-house legal community as the landscape changes

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 November, 2009, 12:00am

Jasmine Karimi has come a long way from her days as a litigator in Singapore and a corporate lawyer in Canada. After four years in Hong Kong, she considers the city her home.

Apart from her day job as senior corporate counsel for Spotless Plastics (Braiform) - a division of the Australia and New Zealand-listed Spotless Group - in which she leads the legal and compliance functions for the business in 32 countries, she also serves as president of the Hong Kong Corporate Counsel Association (HKCCA).

The HKCCA has grown from an informal network of a handful of in-house lawyers to more than 600 members. It has formed two working groups to respond to two consultation papers recently published by the government - Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing's paper on proposed changes to the requirement for circulars and listing documents of listed issuers and the paper to review the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance.

'We will also be meeting with the Law Society of Hong Kong ... to see how we can better work together and perhaps provide consultation to the Law Society regarding issues facing the in-house community. Projects such as these really showcase how the HKCCA is the representative voice of the in-house legal community in Hong Kong,' said Karimi.

Among the most critical issues faced by in-house and corporate counsel is juggling an even bigger and more varied workload with reduced resources.

'In-house lawyers are expected to shoulder responsibility for compliance, regulatory and IP issues that seem to brush almost all companies. In addition, senior lawyers are embroiled with management matters as we often sit as part of the management team,' Karimi said.

Juggling myriad - and sometimes competing - demands is a challenge, especially in an increasingly highly regulated environment with an ever-changing global legal landscape.

The other lingering issue is maintaining enough independence from the business to give appropriate legal versus business advice. As an in-house lawyer, Karimi gets intertwined with both business and legal issues. The more senior a lawyer, the greater the risk the two lines become blurred, she said.

Karimi believes the best in-house lawyers are those who have invested the time to learn about their companies' businesses.

She views her role as an enabler to the business that can provide cost-effective, commercially driven, practical solutions.

Karimi's advice to young lawyers is not to shy away from tackling tough assignments but to expose themselves to as many different areas of law as possible before deciding on a specialisation. She also reckons that a law degree opens career paths beyond being a lawyer.

Intellectual curiosity and a broad knowledge base are a prerequisite for good lawyering, and it was her curiosity that led her to law school. 'My naturally curious mind, my active participation in and passion for debates and drama, and the fact that my teachers thought I wrote incredibly well made law a natural choice,' said Karimi.

As a trial lawyer at the start of her career, she 'enjoyed the adrenaline rush of cross-examining witnesses in court'.

Karimi credits her litigation experience for making her a more competent in-house lawyer: 'I embrace risk management from the viewpoint of a former litigator and also apply a global mindset as I've been fortunate to have practised law in several countries.'

She believes the most valuable thing she has learned as a lawyer is that clients don't really want to know about legal principles - they want solutions. 'Heightened commercial acumen is a must for the job, as is the ability to translate lengthy legalese into succinct plain English,' she said.