Hong Kong Law Society president seeks senior counsel status for solicitors

Law Society president hopes that leading lawyers can be given 'recognition' of senior counsel, a title now only given to barristers

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 February, 2015, 2:27am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 February, 2015, 2:27am

The professional body for solicitors has made a fresh call for its senior members to be given proper recognition by according them the status of senior counsel - a title which is currently only given to barristers.

Writing in the monthly publication of the Law Society, which has more than 8,000 solicitor members, president Stephen Hung Wan-shun expressed the hope that he could congratulate the first batch of solicitors becoming senior counsel later this year.

"A lot of our senior members have already had more than the experience needed to become [senior counsel]," Hung wrote.

"It will be a positive development if these senior members of the solicitors' branch of the profession could be given the proper recognition that they deserve."

Hung added yesterday that he had discussed the issue with the judiciary, but admitted that it remained a preliminary idea and there was no timetable for implementation.

The chief justice currently appoints barristers as senior counsel if they have sufficient ability and standing, as well as enough knowledge of the law and experience. Senior counsel can charge substantially more than other lawyers for their services.

As of last month, there were 1,275 barristers in private practice, but only 93 of them were senior counsel.

The United Kingdom allows solicitor advocates - who are entitled to represent clients in the higher courts - to become Queen's Counsel, which is the equivalent of Hong Kong's senior counsel.

Eric Cheung Tat-ming, a principal lecturer in the University of Hong Kong's law faculty, questioned whether there were any solicitor advocates in Hong Kong who had enough litigation experience to handle complex cases.

"A solicitor advocate needs an excellent track record in litigation in court to prove his or her standing," said Cheung, who himself is a solicitor. In 2013, only 15 out of 90 solicitors who applied to represent their clients in the higher courts were granted the status of solicitor advocates.

"Even those who have obtained the higher right of audience do not appear in the higher courts very often," Cheung added.

But Hung said appointments in Hong Kong should not be confined to solicitor advocates, but to others who have made a significant contribution to the profession.

Barrister and lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah SC echoed Cheung's comments, saying there might not be many qualified solicitors as the scheme allowing them to represent clients in higher courts had only been in place for a short time.

But the former Bar Association chairman said the appointment of solicitors would maintain the competitiveness of the legal profession as barristers would have to ensure their services were up to standard.

Neither the Bar Association nor the judiciary were available for comment last night.