Face to Face with Huen Wong

Chairman of the Editorial Board for Hong Kong Lawyer, reflects on the past decade of the journal

Hong Kong Lawyer, the official journal of The Law Society of Hong Kong, serves to educate, enlighten and entertain its readers. As a monthly mode of communication that reaches the entire legal community, it has been guided and informed by a strong, diverse Editorial Board – one that Huen Wong, the current and longest-serving Chairman of the Editorial Board, has assembled strategically over the years. On his tenth year of serving as Chairman, Wong goes into detail about the past, present and future of the publication.

THE END OF THE PRINT ERA?

To say that Hong Kong Lawyer has evolved over the years would be an understatement. The journal we see and read today looks and reads almost entirely differently to earlier issues. Moreover, the way it is perceived and handled has changed too. “I noticed in the earlier years that the journal was not very popular, in fact it was ailing,” recalls Wong. “During my time as the Managing Partner of quite a large firm in the 1990s, I would walk around the offices of the lawyers and often see that Hong Kong Lawyer was stacking up on the desks or even in the bin – sometimes unopened!” he adds. When Wong enquired a few lawyers as to why they were not interested in even opening the journal, he found that they found the journal unappealing – both in terms of look and content. It was facing comparisons to similar publications in the United Kingdom and was deemed not up to that mark. With this in mind, one of Wong’s first goals when he joined as Chairman of the Editorial Board in 2011 was to simply “tempt readers to at least open the polythene bag the journal arrives in and at least read a few pages.”

And so, in 2011 began Wong’s mission of revitalising the journal, something he took on with gusto, thanks to his prior interest in writing. “I loved writing as a student in secondary school and would contribute a lot of articles to a local parish,” shares Wong. “In one of my previous roles, my firm sent out a bi-weekly global newsletter with news about people working at the firm, trivia and other columns,” he adds. Wong was responsible for the China section of the newsletter and wrote articles on the subject as well as oversaw the layout. These experiences along with his stints as an Editorial Board member of other legal publications in the past, heavily influenced Wong’s willingness to take up the invitation to become Chairman of the Hong Kong Lawyer Editorial Board. “I was never a member of the Hong Kong Lawyer Editorial Board, I was parachuted straight into becoming its Chairman,” shares Wong. “I treaded very slowly in the beginning and did not want to step on anyone’s shoes. Gradually, I made some big decisions like changing the Editor and publisher of the journal and added new sections,” he adds.

It might be surprising that a lot of Wong’s inspirations for the re-imagined Hong Kong Lawyer came from social and lifestyle publications like Tatler and LIFE Magazine. Ultimately, lawyers are social beings and tapping into this fact, Wong wanted to create a publication that readers would not just read but look forward to receiving in the mail. “I wanted to make the journal more interesting and not just a collection of feature articles and law reports,” explains Wong. “As humans, it is our nature to want to know what our peers or better-known figures in our field are up to. It is our nature to want to see photos of events and happenings and to also see photos of ourselves,” he adds. Hence, “The Law Society News” section was launched, a Tatler and LIFE Magazine style section with all the buzz and happenings as well as some light-hearted content about The Law Society, along with plenty of photos. “You will be curious to see photos of your peers and you will definitely want to see your own photos,” explains Wong. And indeed, “The Law Society News” section has long been a key element of the journal till date, keeping readers informed but also satiated with knowledge of what their colleagues and competitors are up to.

Drawing inspiration from social publications again, Wong also wanted a more appealing cover for the journal. “Earlier covers of Hong Kong Lawyer were extremely boring, with lots of black at the top and bottom and an uninspiring illustration in the center,” recalls Wong. “Magazines like Tatler are appealing and widely-read because they have faces of renowned figures on the cover,” he adds. As a result, the “Face-to-face” interviews commenced, with the cover featuring the interviewee. “Through the face-to-face interviews, we have featured a lot of high-flyers on the cover,” shares Wong. “We have been able to share their inspiring stories with readers, about their background, their life and how they got to where they are,” he adds. All of Wong’s previous hard work for a range of different legal and social committees proved very useful in this regard because it is thanks to his contacts that the journal has been able to feature top names in the legal and government sector over the years. From eminent lawyers to leaders of prominent government agencies, the “Face-to-Face” section continues to inspire and engage readers.

Another desire of Wong’s was to provide readers with “intellectual relaxation.” While a lot of the journal’s content is aimed at keeping lawyers abreast of legal trends and developments, Wong believed advocating work-life balance was also crucial. Therefore, sections like “Lawyers at Leisure” and the legal quizzes and trivia took form. “I used to enjoy doing the crosswords in the Times and the Daily Telegraph when I was studying in England,” recalls Wong. Wanting to re-create a similar experience for readers of Hong Kong Lawyer, Wong created the first ever crossword for the journal himself. Besides this, he was also heavily involved in finding topics, contacts and activities for the “Lawyers at Leisure” section. “In earlier issues, we started [the section] off with articles on luxury Italian and German motorcars whereby we would ask a young lawyer to go test drive these sorts of cars and write about their experience,” recalls Wong. “Eventually, I used up all my motorcar contacts but thankfully we were able to have articles on other activities such as painting, calligraphy, bike-riding etc.,” he adds. Wong believes “softer” sections such as these do not only send out a message of work-life balance but also help create a community of readership where lawyers can learn more about each other and discuss their hobbies.

In other aspects, Wong aimed to not change anything too drastically but enhance and improve it. The “Features” section previously consisted of articles that were lengthier and authored mostly by barristers. “Not many solicitors or partners wrote for the journal but more recently, we now also have partners from law firms willing to write multiple articles for us and moreover, we have young solicitors who are very keen on contributing,” shares Wong. The length of feature articles has also been cut down to 2,000 words, allowing them to be more concise instead of having readers “confounded by a ten-page article.” Today, Wong is proud of the diverse, high-quality, academic and practical feature articles the journal publishes and believes it is an essential way for lawyers to sharpen their legal knowledge. “As lawyers, we should aim to have at least some knowledge of developments in different practice areas,” explains Wong. “Even though I for example do not practice family law, it is useful to be aware of key updates and changes in the area so that you can be a more informed lawyer and also provide guidance to family and friends if needed,” he adds. With the journal covering articles on a range of practice areas from Company Law to Animal Welfare, Wong hopes that lawyers can use the journal as a tool for being as well-rounded as possible.

Wong is aware that such positive changes and outcomes would not be possible without the members of the Editorial Board. “I am so lucky that the Editorial Board is comprised of such talented individuals from all sorts of backgrounds,” shares Wong. “We have lawyers who work in private practice, in government agencies as well as in-house. We have lawyers with tech and IT experience, with journalism experience. We have academics as well as linguists,” he adds. A multi-faceted team such as this one has equipped the Editorial Board to advise and deliberate upon an array of issues – ranging from editorial and content related discussions to matters about policy and data. “The work we do is never-ending because just when you have examined and scrutinised the current issue to ensure it is apolitical, grammatically and factually sound, laid out correctly, translated accurately and has no glaring mistakes or abnormalities, and just when you utter a sigh of relief the work for the next issue begins,” shares Wong. “Nevertheless, the Editorial Board members still take out time from their busy schedules to first read the journal in its entirety and then share their thoughts during our monthly meetings,” he adds.

While Wong has been successful in improving the perception and readership of the journal, there have been setbacks, especially due to the pandemic. One major one has been the loss of advertisements. “We have at times had ten pages of advertisements from recruitment agencies,” recalls Wong. “The media landscape has anyways been changing, with many print publications switching to online and we did always have plans to move to an e-journal format too,” shares Wong. “However, the loss of advertisers did make this happen sooner than imagined,” he adds. Another major drawback due to the pandemic was the halt in distribution of the journals in airline lounges. “After a lot of effort, I had finally managed to have Hong Kong Lawyer journals be kept in airline lounges at the airport. This was a great way to introduce our legal system and profession to international business travelers. However, the pandemic brought a stop to international travel and with that, our journal was also no longer needed in these lounges,” shares Huen. With the journal switching to an e-journal format from November this year, Wong hopes such a change will not take away everything he has worked hard to achieve. If the situation does improve though, the possibility of coming back to print around this time next year does exist. On the positive side, switching to an online medium brings the opportunity to experiment with content and launch new initiatives. One such aspiration on Wong’s part is having a Hong Kong Lawyer podcast. Wong even has a name for it – “A Journey on the Go” and has done his research – noting that there are currently 1.5 million podcasts globally and so the need for his to stand out is a must. Wong is also hopeful that an e-journal may be accessed more widely and hopes for the readership to increase by thrice the number. Regardless of the format, Wong is confident that the journal is here to stay, something that was verified by a recent survey in which only three hundred subscribers, out of more than 13,000, selected the option to opt out of receiving it.

Besides the Editorial Board, Wong believes the continued support and contribution of the legal community has been vital in making the journal what it is today. From valuable contributions authored by lawyers to the feedback offered by readers, Wong is extremely grateful to all members of the profession. “To the contributors, I would like to say that without you, the journal would not be the same. Thank you for sparing time, it is much appreciated. Please keep writing and sharing your expertise,” says Wong. “To readers, this is your journal as much as it is The Law Society’s, it is the journal that represents the entire legal community. All contributions and feedback are welcome,” he adds.

Looking back at the evolution of the journal so far, Wong is satisfied with the fact that it has come a long way from being disposed of without even being opened. “The perception seems to have improved a lot, I see people discussing the journal and we even mail copies of it to other jurisdictions,” shares Wong. While he has become accustomed to all types of feedback, some disproportionately negative at times, Wong is taking them all in his stride and has his eyes and goals firmly set on making the journal the best version it can be. 

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Editorial Board Members in 2017

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