HOPES were high that convicted reporter Xi Yang would be represented by a lawyer chosen by his employer Ming Pao - instead of a Beijing court - to fight for his appeal, it emerged last night. The managing editor of Ming Pao, Zhang Xihong, said in Beijing three lawyers had agreed in principle to take Xi's case. One is expected to confirm his acceptance this morning. Mr Zhang described the situation yesterday as ''positive'' and ''normal'' after a Chinese lawyer backed down on Tuesday. The lawyer had said he was not up to par for the job. He had made a verbal commitment earlier on, but later changed his mind. A court official told Xi's family on Monday that Xi would like his family to find him a lawyer. And if efforts failed, he would then request the court to assign one to him. Sentenced on March 28, Xi had already made an appeal to a higher court and the court was now handling the case, a Ms Fung of the Higher People's Court in Beijing said yesterday. ''They [court officials] said a lawyer has to be hired within 15 days. But we just don't know whether it's 15 days from the day of sentencing, or from the day [April 1] his family was informed,'' the deputy executive chief editor of Ming Pao, Simon Fung,said. Analysts in Beijing said that Chinese lawyers would try to stay away from politically sensitive cases. Though Chinese legal sources did not agree that it was because of political reasons or government pressure that the lawyer refused to take Xi's case, a Hong Kong National People's Congress delegate suggested it was political rather than legal problems that worried the lawyer. ''He must have understood that there are many areas outside the law in Xi's case which he could not tackle, those are not problems in law but in politics,'' Liu Yiu-chu, an NPC delegate and also a practising lawyer said. A legal expert with more than 10 years' experience of practising law in China also said that Xi's case was a ''troublesome'' one, mixed with political elements. Moreover, mainland lawyers were reluctant to represent clients facing criminal charges, he said. They preferred civil cases, which were much more lucrative.