We are delighted to have Charles Chau, a corporate Partner at Jones Day’s Hong Kong office, join us to share his insights on how to build a successful legal career. As the Graduate Recruitment Partner, Charles also shares his advice on what he looks for when recruiting and the importance of giving back through volunteer work. A highly regarded partner with a career spent at top-tier firms including Clifford Chance, Freshfields and Morrison & Foerster, Charles is an inspirational mentor to young lawyers aiming to build a career in BigLaw.
KF: Katherine Fan (Managing Director, Hughes-Castell)
Charles: Charles Chau (Partner, Jones Day)
KF: What are the cornerstones of a successful legal career in Hong Kong?
Charles: A successful lawyer in Hong Kong must be a bridge between the East and the West, no matter whether he/she is working in private practice or as an in-house counsel. In Hong Kong, a substantial portion of legal work (transactional or contentious) in large and mid-sized law firms are cross-border and multi-jurisdictional in nature. We may be acting for Chinese companies or international corporations. We have to speak both Chinese and English. We have to understand both China and the outside world. We will need to apply an international perspective in the problem-solving process, and explain our views in a Chinese way to our clients. Only with these mixed cultural / education / professional background, can we be presenting well to both Chinese and international clients, and can we be a good cultural fit to take up these types of work.
KF: What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced throughout your career? How did you overcome them?
Charles: Many years ago, when I was still a senior associate, the junior associate working with me failed to track accurately the terms of a lock-up undertaking in the “Underwriting” section of a prospectus. I thought that was a simple task for the junior associate and did not check the language before the bulk printing of the prospectus. The error was only discovered when the printing machine was turned on. I had two choices: either to inform the client, re-print that page and replace with the new sheet (which would cause embarrassment to the firm and incur additional printing cost to fix the error), or to keep my mouth shut, hoping the error was not discovered by the regulator or the investors. However, if the regulator discovered the errors at the time of registration of the prospectus, the whole share offering could be put in jeopardy. This consequence is not something the firm can bear. As a result, I took the blame and took all necessary actions to fix the errors. That was a good lesson to me. After that, I repeatedly and carefully check the work done by my juniors, even after I became a partner.
KF: What has been the most memorable deal/experience of your career so far?
Charles: It should be the A+H concurrent IPO of China CITIC Bank in 2006 to 2007. I was then with a Magic Circle firm that served as the underwriters’ counsel, and I was the lead associate of the transaction. There were five underwriters and the relationship amongst them were quite tricky. I was required to station at the issuer’s office in Beijing for almost four months. All the five underwriters were clients. Whilst acting fairly to all of them, I had to make sure all of them were happy and satisfied with our services. There were new issues almost every day and some of them were outside my knowledge and experience. The matter partner was busy and not always reachable; I had to apply my judgment and common sense to solve these matters instantly on the spot. To me, it was both a big challenge and a golden opportunity. I earned respect and trust from the bankers, as well as the issuer. I joined another law firm shortly after completion of the deal, and many of these bankers instructed my new firm for new matters. That paved the way for my subsequent admission to the firm’s partnership.
KF: What are your top 3 advice to junior lawyers?
Charles: Firstly and the most importantly, maintain the highest standard of integrity. Lawyers, in particular, corporate lawyers, will face a lot of temptation. We see people making a lot of money every day. We get a lot of inside information on different companies. Law is an honourable profession and our rewards are not merely measured by money. Thus, we have to maintain the highest professional standards and reject any form of unethical shortcut. Secondly, junior lawyers have to be committed to excellence. Work hard, work smart, and take responsibility of our self-development. The knowledge and experience gained become our own assets, not our employer’s. Career advancement will then take care of itself. Thirdly, stay hungry for different types of work. Learn something new every day. Expose yourself to a wider range of legal practices. The world changes very quickly and one can no longer survive specialising in a very narrow practice area.
KF: When recruiting, what are the traits you look for in candidates?
Charles: You are asking the right person. I have been serving as graduate recruitment partner for many years and have met numerous candidates.
These are my key criteria:
- Attitude – We like a person with positive attitude and enthusiasm for the work. This is of paramount importance.
- Common sense – I am not joking. Quite a number of candidates with very impressive CVs do not have much common sense!
- Presentation – Candidates should express themselves with clear and well thought out language. Speak up to the point; avoid blathering. I will get impatient if people are not answering my questions. Also, one will be better assertive, not aggressive.
- Uniqueness – Reciting standard answers at an interview would not get me to give you an offer. Show your uniqueness and distinguish yourself from others, for example, by your experience, your hobbies, or your character. I would love to work with interesting people, not with boring people.
KF: You have always been very active in volunteer services; we’d be keen to know why it is important to you?
Charles: I was educated in Wah Yan College Kowloon which was run by the Society of Jesus. We were taught by the Jesuits priests to be a “man for others” since our teenage years. I regard myself a very lucky guy. Thus, I have to contribute my effort for the betterment of our community. In fact, I have learnt a lot from these volunteering experiences. They are rewarding.