Liberal arts education leads Foster Yim to legal career
Programme pursued at Lingnan University: Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Translation 2002
Present career: Barrister-at-law, Liberty Chambers
Never forget your origins, and always show empathy to others. That is exactly what being a ‘Lingnanian’ entails.
Similar to the broadness and diversity emphasised by a liberal arts education, Foster Yim’s journey to becoming a practising barrister-at-law has been marked by rich experiences. He has worked as a personal assistant to a CEO in the logistics and freight forwarding industry, taught English classes, and even studied marketing. But it is the legal career path that this philosophical and passionate man is really content with.
“Lingnanian” qualities shape new career opportunities
“The legal profession was something that I hadn’t considered until I had tried several other things,” says Foster, whose legal work is strongly characterised by the humanistic approach and values he absorbed while studying at Lingnan University. “Never forget your origins, and always show empathy to others. That is exactly what being a ‘Lingnanian’ entails,” he notes. For instance, now into his fifth year in chambers, Foster divides his legal work between 80 per cent civil and 20 per cent criminal. In addition to professional satisfaction and financial security, more importantly, this apportioning of his work allows him to offer his “signature” pro bono services, not for free but at a nominal fee to those otherwise unable to afford them. “If I hadn’t studied at Lingnan, I believe I eventually would still have become a lawyer, but probably one without the same amount of empathy,” says Foster, whose professional aspirations have been deeply influenced by his mentor, the late Alexander (Sandy) King, a Hong Kong barrister respected for his conscientiousness and his compassion for people in need. In addition, Foster has benefited a great deal from his pupillage under barrister Bernard Chung Wai-keung.
Having started taking interns during recent summer vacations, Foster hopes he can contribute to the legal sector in Hong Kong by cultivating the next generation of legal professionals. He can usually be found working in his chambers even during holidays, because he is always impressed by what one wise pupil master, Alan M.S. Ng, once told him: Practising law is a “profession of discipline.” Foster says, “I strongly subscribe to that concept although I’m not even remotely close to my master in that regard.” In fact, Foster did not find his academic pursuits all plain sailing. He cruised along in low gear during his secondary school studies and in his first year at Lingnan University. However, things later changed, thanks to an opportunity offered by the university. During his second year at Lingnan, Foster spent a semester as an exchange student at Belmont University, in Nashville, Tennessee, which is famous for its liberal arts programmes.
Potential is recognised
“The different study environment in the US taught me the true meaning of perseverance, which I continued with when I returned to Lingnan,” Foster says. He is especially grateful to Professor Leo Chan Tak-hung, the then Head of the Department of Translation at Lingnan University, and Professor Barton Starr, the then Associate Vice-President Chair, Head of the Department of History, and Director of the Office of International Programmes, for their trust and support. “They focused on inspiring students’ potential, rather than just looking at the scores,” he says. After graduating from Lingnan, Foster continued his education at the University of Nottingham, UK, where he completed his MA in philosophy. Foster’s view of life is aptly summarised by a quote by the famous philosopher David Hume: “Be a philosopher; but, amidst all your philosophy, be still a man.” He also completed his TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) qualification while studying in the UK.
Back in Hong Kong, Foster continued his self-improvement by embarking on an MSc in marketing at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). During his career, Foster honed his communication and interpersonal skills with his teaching experience, and gained some useful hands-on business knowledge by working as a personal assistant to a CEO. He then decided to consolidate his language and business skills into something that would provide a challenging but rewarding career, which he did by completing his Juris Doctor (2009) and Postgraduate Certificate in Laws (2010) at CUHK.
“Through bringing my language, business and philosophy skills together, I can be a business and legal problem solver for my clients,” Foster says. A good example is the Hong Kong Translation Society, where he serves as vice-president and which he has successfully re-branded with his marketing and business skills.