Courting the next generation

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 February, 2010, 12:00am

If tearing apart the weaknesses in your opponents' arguments while presenting the strengths of your own is your skill and interest, then become a barrister.

This was the message conveyed to pupils at the finals of a debating competition organised by the Hong Kong Bar Association.

Identifying the city's brightest legal talent is usually a job cherished by Chief Justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang, but yesterday it was Chief Judge of the High Court Mr Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li - in what might be a prelude of things to come - who cast his eyes over youngsters who could one day be advocating before him in court.

The final debate was fought out at the University of Hong Kong between 15 year-olds from the Diocesan Girls' School and the South Island School, and DGS emerged the victors.

Ma, as one of the main adjudicators, commented at the end that the debating skills honed during the competition would stand the pupils in good stead, especially should they choose to become barristers.

'There will be many occasions where you will have limited time ... to persuade the court that your argument is the right one,' he said.

Martin Lee Chu-ming SC, another adjudicator, added: 'I hope all of you will become barristers one day.'

Jolie Chao, chairwoman of the Bar Association's young barristers committee, said that becoming a barrister was still the profession of choice for people who were self-motivated and independent and wished to do meaningful work.

However, she said barristers were now expected to do much more than merely argue in court. Many were also seeking master's degrees and qualifications in arbitration and mediation to stay competitive, she said.

'We are getting more cases in Chinese and we are preparing more written documents in Chinese,' Chao said. Barristers might need to know simplified Chinese characters, she said, because more and more mainland elements were cropping up in cases.

Queenie Lau, who worked as a solicitor before being called to the Bar and has also become a mediator, said: 'The trend now is that mediation is being actively encouraged ... I act quite regularly as a mediator; it's certainly become a part of my practice.'

While both Chao and Lau welcomed more talent entering the profession, they also warned that it was undoubtedly a case of 'survival of the fittest' in an age where barristers were expected to command a broad range of skills. 'Work hard, and be adaptive,' Chao said.