The 2018 Ceremonial Opening of the Legal Year was held on 8 January 2018 and was attended by many well-known legal professionals from numerous jurisdictions. The Hong Kong Lawyer had the pleasure of interviewing three eminent leaders – Mr. Wiebe de Vries (President of International Association of Young Lawyers (AIJA)), Mr. Denis McNamara (President of the Inter-Pacific Bar Association (IPBA)) and Dr. Pedro Pais de Almeida (President of Union Internationale des Avocats (UIA)) during their stay in Hong Kong.
Wiebe de Vries
President of AIJA
Wiebe grew up in Haarlem, which is 17 kilometers from Amsterdam in the Netherlands. He studied Dutch Civil Law in Leiden and Tax Law in Amsterdam. After he graduated he worked for a Big Four tax advisory firm and subsequently for a top ten Dutch law firm. In April 2014, he launched his own international tax boutique, BloomTax.
Wiebe knew that he wanted to go to law school. As his studying further developed, moving into the legal / tax advisory business was a natural step. He hadn’t dreamt of becoming a lawyer. It was naturally developed from subjects he enjoyed studying such as tax law. During his civil law study, the curriculum included an introduction to tax law for civil lawyers. Although this was seen as a challenging course, he enjoyed it. “That woke my interest for tax law, and I decided to also enroll in the tax law curriculum.” Once he started at the law firm in 2005, it became clear that he was on the right path. “This was my best way in terms of people, atmosphere, and involvement with clients.”
Wiebe spoke about AIJA and its role. “AIJA is the only global association of young lawyers, for members up to 45 year of age. Our young membership base, mostly associates, senior associates and young partners, keeps a dynamic and vibrant atmosphere without losing focus on content. We organise some 20-25 events every year all around the world, and also have cooperation with other associations such as IPBA and UIA. Our main focus is to provide high quality events to our members, to give them the experience to organise events, to present for an international crowd, and to attend panels with a mixed group of members from all around the world. Due to the age limit our positions circulate quicker than with other international associations so it is relatively easy to get involved and be part of the AIJA team. Apart from this, AIJA is recognised by its welcoming attitude to new people, and it’s social vibe - I know numerous AIJA friendships, AIJA relations, and AIJA weddings!”
How does one become president of AIJA? What are the responsibilities of the president like? “The AIJA presidency actually comprises three years, in which one moves from being the incoming president (first vice president) to the current president and subsequently to the immediate past president. This system allows retaining knowledge of the association and gives the president some lead time before taking over responsibilities during the most important “president” year. The AIJA president is mainly responsible for three things: leading the organisation in terms of members’ appointments in committees and commissions and leading the commissions and committees, internal representation at our events, being at the opening and attending of all our own seminars and conferences over the year, and finally external representation towards other organisations: we have various events hosted by other organisations where we are invited to join, such as the Opening of the Legal Year here in Hong Kong, but also for example annual conferences of other international legal associations. At these events, mostly the president tries to represent AIJA if the schedule allows. Since the presidency comprises three persons in our structure, in most cases we are able to have someone from the presidency to attend one of the many events that take place every year.”
Wiebe also described the benefits of becoming a member and how AIJA provides a platform for members to discuss their career paths. “AIJA does not necessarily focus on individual countries’ challenges. However, I believe that one of the great assets of AIJA is the occasion it creates for all its members to talk freely about their career and future opportunities with other members who might be in the same market but are not biased unlike their colleagues or fellow practitioners in the same country. The insights in how you move your career by someone that has no ties with your market but still works in the same profession can be very eye opening and can provide for independent feedback.”
What does this mean for members of the Hong Kong legal community? What can they expect from AIJA and how can they be involved? “One of the largest assets for our members, and their clients is the network that you build. I always feel it as a luxury to be able to offer my clients a network around the globe of friends that are reachable and respond to me by mail or frequently even by whatsapp within less than some hours, and it always surprises my clients. Being part of such a network works both ways, it can be used to serve your Hong Kong clients with legal matters in other countries better and in the other way around our members’ clients in other countries have better access to the Hong Kong legal community and find their way through Hong Kong better.”
There will be events taking place in Asia this year. “We have a strong ambition to underscore the fact that AIJA is a global association. For this reason we have decided to invest in being more present outside of Europe in the recent and upcoming period. We were in Tokyo 2017 with the highlight of our annual calendar, the annual congress. We have planned two events in Hong Kong in the near future: we will have a seminar in April 2018 and we will have one of our annual Half Year Conferences in May 2019. We really look forward to these events and we hope these events will attract a lot of new Hong Kong members as well as new members from the region, to create a lasting AIJA presence in this fascinating part of Asia!”
President of IPBA
Denis was educated in New Zealand and Australia. His secondary education was at a boarding school in Wellington, St. Patrick’s. He went to university in Auckland where he completed his LLB (Hons) degree. “In my schooling days I wasn’t very good at maths or science. But I did enjoy debating and history and it seemed to be a natural progression to go into something with the humanities. I didn’t see myself as a school teacher so law was the next option.”
He started working for a law firm when he was 19. “I started practicing before I qualified.” The law firm gradually grew to become one of the biggest firms in New Zealand, now known as Simpson Grierson. In his late 50s, however, he had a stroke and then left the firm he was working at. He was subsequently invited by Mark Lowndes who set up Lowndes as a firm to join him, which he did. Lowndes specialises in commercial corporate work. Denis specialises in foreign investment such as hotels, major commercial property, mergers and acquisitions, “and all that sort of good stuff” into New Zealand.
The IPBA was formed in 1991. Its first conference took place in Tokyo. Denis happened to be in the region at the time, heard about the meeting, and decided to attend. He made lots of interesting contacts and at the time IPBA was formed because there was no organisation that was catering for the needs of business lawyers in the Asia-pacific region. “Bigger organisations were concentrating on Europe and East coast America. You had LAWASIA and organisations like that who did a very good job but they tended to be more law society oriented. The idea of IPBA was that membership was individual. It’s a meeting place for lawyers who are doing business or have an interest. It is not a big organisation. Rather, it is very lean and mean - at each annual conference which varies between eight hundred and a thousand people, probably fifty percent have been to previous conferences. It also works very well as a referral network. Over the years that I’ve been a member, I’ve certainly had a good share of work coming up. It moves around year on year so it is not fixed in terms of where the conferences are.”
There are 24 committees in IPBA. They include cross-border investments, dispute resolution, aviation, international construction, international trade, finance, etc. “So, it caters for the needs of lawyers who are doing international business.”
When Denis was president-elect, he had to organise the conference, the logistics such as the venue and entertainment, and ensure that the committees were coming up with what they wanted. His responsibilities as president have changed. “My role has probably been sort of almost a ceremonial one, representing IPBA at various international meetings which seems to becoming more and more common. I was here in Hong Kong shortly after I became president for the 110th anniversary of the Hong Kong Law Society. I’ve also been to the American Bar Association conference in New York. Our Mid-Year Council meeting which I presided over was in London. So, I’ve got lots of frequent flyer points.”
IPBA is an international organisation. “The problems that IPBA might deal with are more ones of international significance rather than domestic.” Membership is individual. “I don’t have the authority to speak on behalf of individual members.” IPBA is not like other organisations that regards itself as the voice of the legal profession. Working with businesses and making sure business goes smoothly is the contribution it makes to the general good. “Supporting and encouraging business transactions. For example if you take the tax committee, sharing ideas of taxation at the committee, I know that individual members of that committee are then involved in their own law societies in making submissions to government. It’s a learning curve in using that knowledge base to enhance what individuals might do. The brainstorming is done through the IPBA.”
In terms of what members of the Hong Kong legal community can expect from IPBA: “There have been conferences in Hong Kong and presidents from Hong Kong. Huen Wong is the last one who is very well known. It is up to the members. You only get out of anything as much as you put into it. I think probably the biggest thing that any member has got out of it is work referrals or in other ways has been able to pick up the phone to someone they’ve met and say, ‘look I’ve got this problem can you help me’. Lawyers who sit in their offices and think they know everything are not doing anyone a favor.”
“This year’s conference will be in Manila in March. Last year’s conference was Auckland. Next year will be in Singapore and after that we go to Shanghai. But in terms of keeping everything if you like lean and mean, the individuals who host the conference are the ones that do all the organisation. So, membership is actually very reasonable.”
Dr Pedro Pais de Almeida
President of UIA
Pedro started his training as a lawyer in 1990. He is a practicing lawyer in Lisbon, Portugal. Both his law graduation and post graduation in Portuguese tax law were completed in Portugal. The international flavor in his career as a lawyer was offered upon joining UIA in 1995.
Pedro decided to become a lawyer at a young age, contrary to his father’s advice. “My father, an 80-year-old lawyer still practicing to this day, has always told me never to become a lawyer. In doing that he inspired in me a drive to challenge authority, to work to achieve my goals, persistently, but never to the point of breaking down and especially to always have the courage to fight for what I believed to be right.”
Pedro is a partner in the Lisbon law firm Abreu Advogados. The firm promotes a policy of the 3Qs: Human Quality, Technical Quality and Organizational Quality and has an active pro bono policy and undertakes a great number of initiatives on social responsibility issues. They have offices in other parts of Portugal and are in associated with Portuguese speaking jurisdictions around the world.
“The UIA is the oldest International Association of Lawyers incorporated back in 1927, with its registered office in Paris.” The office is located at a former 17th century mansion house, l’Hôtel de la Porte. “We have two types of members ie collective (like the Hong Kong Law Society) and individual members and all together we represent around two million lawyers worldwide. UIA has an observer status at the UN and other International Institutions as an ONG (non-governmental organization) and develops two main activities. Through the UIA-IROL (UIA - Institute for the Rule of Law), we promote the rule of law and the core values of the legal profession around the world. Also, UIA contributes and promotes to the training of lawyers in a perspective of comparative law, which, I must confess played a very important role in my career.” The UIA is committed to defending the cause of lawyers who may be pressured or threatened anywhere in the world for exercising his or her profession. “It is the defence of the defence.”
“In practice, given that UIA has members and representation all over the world, it is usually our local representatives or sometimes even a relative of the lawyer who will contact UIA through their head office which provides multilingual administrative and logistics support in all areas of the association’s work.”
Pedro described his responsibilities as the president of UIA. “The president of UIA is the voice of our Association and, of course, this involves full commitment, dedication and coordination of many different tasks working together with our staff based at our registered office in Paris. Among other responsibilities, the president represents UIA and this is the reason why I have the pleasure of receiving this kind invitation from the Hong Kong Law Society for attending the Opening of Legal in Hong Kong this year.”
Pedro was asked about the main challenges faced by legal practitioners in Portugal which UIA could help overcome them. “The new Portuguese law on the combat against money laundering that transposed the last EU Directive on this matter, imposes additional obligations to lawyers. Now, in the case of suspicions, lawyers are obliged to denounce their clients to the Portuguese Bar Association and after evaluation, should transmit these suspicions to the Public Prosecutors and/or Criminal Investigation Police. I believe that this is against the Constitutional Law of Portugal and that also jeopardises the access from the citizens to the legal system. If clients can or should be exposed by their lawyers, instead of trusting their lawyers they will fear them and will not require their advice. This is related to access to justice. Lawyers generally are not trained to detect suspicious activities especially the sophisticated kind such as money laundering.”
“UIA welcomes the engagement and participation of all Hong Kong legal community members at the different events organised by the UIA. I would like to invite Hong Kong legal practitioners to attend the next annual Congress of UIA, in Portugal and become actively involved in our working sessions and in case they find that this was a positive experience (I’m pretty sure it will be!), then register as members of UIA. Two events that I would like to highlight the Hong Kong legal community. A UIA seminar in cooperation with the Macao Lawyers Association, to be held in April 2018 in Macao on Management of Law Firms. Also, I look forward to welcome a strong representation from Hong Kong at the 2018 UIA Congress in Porto (Portugal), to be held between October 30 and November 3.”