On 26 October at the Conrad hotel in Hong Kong, Deacons hosted the In-house Corporate Counsel Forum with nearly 300 delegates in attendance. The seven sessions, led by Deacons partners, discussed political risks in the region, cyberspace and Fintech, increased complexity in tax structures, in-house litigation, Hong Kong’s new Apology Ordinance, harassment and bullying in the workplace, and the changing role of in-house counsel. Senior Partner Lilian Chiang opened the forum with a warm welcome and Deacons partner Annie Tsoi tied the sessions together as emcee.
We would like to express our gratitude to our presenters and panellists for their contribution in making the event such an overwhelming success. We also would like to thank those who took time out of their busy schedules to attend.
Showcased below is a brief overview of the panel sessions, including the list of guest speakers and Deacons moderators.
Keynote address: How politics is affecting business in Asia and what to do about it?
Speaker: Dane Chamorro, Senior Managing Director, South-East Asia, Control Risks
Dane Chamorro gave a lively and interesting overview of how the socio-political climates of each major economy in the region affects its investment and business. He explained how the personalities at the top will influence the way their governments are run, from “predictable” leaders like Xi Jinping to those “strongmen” like India’s Narendra Modi or the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte.
Dane recommended the robustness of the emerging market economies (eg. Vietnam, India, Thailand, Philippines, etc.)as they are all rapidly urbanising. However, he noted that as some intra-region and global tensions remain unstable, one of the safest investment opportunities were those in defence systems.
Session: How the Law is keeping up with Technology – Latest legal issues in Cyberspace
Moderator: Machiuanna Chu, Partner, Deacons
Speakers: Syren Johnstone, Director, Keel Consulting; Fiona Phillips, Associate General Counsel, HSBC; David Swain, Senior Associate, Deacons; Stephen Wong, Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data
Machiuanna Chu raised a number of engaging and relevant questions with our speakers regarding the evolution of technology and how in-house counsel should handle any impending legal risks. Stephen Wong discussed the importance of educating the public on understanding the need to protect their personal data, the effects of the soon-to-be-enforceable General Data Protection Regulation and new recommendations by his Office to the Hong Kong government. He drew from Alibaba’s Jack Ma, to say we are moving from an era of IT to one of DT (Data Technology).
Fiona Phillips said she was keen to engage with Fintech advancement as long as it is done in compliance with laws and after proper consultations. She described the benefits Fintech could have on customising financial services to individual clients and that it could have knock-on effects to improve society as a whole. She also felt one of the most significant disruptors-“a game changer”- in the future for financial services would be when a government issues its own cryptocurrency to replace cash.
Syren Johnstone was the panel expert on robo-advising and he explained how it is becoming a cost-effective solution for financial services companies to engage with and provide for their clients, as it is a system that is able to provide real-time feedback and solutions. But, he cautions that the question that must always be asked is how suitability is ensured for the client.
The session ended with a vigorous discussion about Hong Kong’s support of Fintech development through recent trial sandboxes and an overview from David Swain regarding IP licensing issues in this age of technological advancement.
Session: The end of “low and simple” – Hong Kong tax law in the era of BEPs
Moderator: Stefano Mariani, Counsel, Deacons
Speaker: John Timpany, Partner, KPMG
The key point Stefano Mariani and John Timpany emphasised repeatedly throughout their informative session was the importance of documentation.
They also discussed recent Hong Kong tax forum developments, including suggested measures for a two-tier profits tax regime. These tax cuts are aimed at helping SMEs and John reinforced that for conglomerates, only one company within a group of enterprises would be allowed to benefit from the reduced tax rates.
Another topic broached was whether or not proposed research & development (R&D) super deductions may encourage startup businesses to take root in Hong Kong. Both speakers felt that more likely it would be large companies and not startups that would gain from the R&D super deductions offered, so the tabled cuts may not be as instrumental as hoped to increasing Hong Kong’s competiveness in the region.
Session: The role of In-house counsel in managing litigation and investigations
Moderator: Richard Hudson, Partner, Deacons
Speakers: Fiona Stewart, Head of Claims, Aon Asia; Jonathan Witts, Head of Litigation & Legal Investigations Asia, BNP Paribas
Richard Hudson led this conversational and candid session that touched on why litigation work in-house has increased due to cost pressures and how mediation as a dispute resolution tool is evolving in Hong Kong. Increased financial regulation and scrutiny has led to the growth of financial services in-house litigation teams over the past decade.
One key takeaway echoed by Fiona Stewart and Jonathan Witts regarding working with external counsel on litigation was that lawyers had to truly understand their business from all aspects, commercial and legal, and be attuned to the company’s history and strategic objectives.
Session: Hong Kong’s Apology Ordinance – sorry, but you need to know
Speaker: Paul Kwan, Partner, Deacons
“Just do it, no big deal,” said Paul Kwan, of apologising amidst a dispute, because the new Apology bill should protect you from legal consequences. “You will not feel sorry to say sorry.”
His enlightening overview of the long-awaited Apology Ordinance (which goes into effect December 1), detailed the nuances of the legislation. As Asia’s first jurisdiction to have an apology law, Hong Kong will be closely watched on how effective it is in promoting and encouraging parties to apologise with the objective of preventing an escalation of disputes and fostering an amicable settlement.
Paul delved into the definition of what an apology exactly consists of and what it is not, its range of applicable proceedings and he finished by troubleshooting some challenges that decision makers could face.
Session: Risky business: Is your company doing enough to prevent harassment and bullying in the workplace?
Speakers: Cynthia Chung, Partner, Deacons; Fiona Nott, CEO, The Women’s Foundation; Peter Reading, Legal Counsel, Equal Opportunities Commission
Cynthia Chung moderated a compelling discussion regarding how in-house counsel can assist in preventing workplace harassment and bullying. With the recent string of sexual harassment cases dominating the media headlines, all the panellists stressed the importance of establishing company policies and protocol that specifically tackle harassment in all its forms.
Fiona Nott highlighted the need for companies to build a culture of awareness and support through training as a preventative measure and she encouraged senior management and “male allies” to spearhead these efforts.
Peter Reading emphasised that companies needed proper independent investigation processes and he challenged why in most harassment or bullying cases it was the victim that left the company or was marginalised while the perpetrator remained.
Cynthia noted the importance of having an anti-retaliation policy to protect the victims.
The panellists also touched on the debate surrounding the legal structure of how complaints are handled through non-disclosure agreements.
Session: The changing role of an In-house counsel
Speakers: Jeremy Lam, Partner, Deacons; Gill Meller, Legal and European Business Director, MTR Corporation
In this fireside chat, Jeremy Lam and Gill Meller discussed how in-house counsel could bring extra value by adding input on business management, strategic planning objectives and other more commercial areas beyond the legal purview. Referencing her own experience, Gill shared how being a lawyer gave her a platform to escalate upward to getting a seat at the management table. She recommended in-house counsel to “step out of their comfort zones” and be confident in providing a broader scope of advice. Gill additionally reminded that in-house counsel needed to engrain a culture of compliance right from the start to meet the standards of increasingly aggressive regulators. In-house counsel should institute policies and provide regular training as a proactive measure.
Offering a unique perspective, Gill coloured the intricacies of her role by describing how her team managed the arson attack on the MTR that occurred in February earlier this year.
For smaller to mid-sized in-house legal teams, she recognised that upward progression may be difficult and she counselled how important it was for team leaders to find other ways to develop their members. For those in-house counsel looking to expand their role, as Gill did, she recommended they share with others their desire to expand their role, volunteer time to advise beyond legal work, figure out what their priorities are and in summary, “don't be a pointed object, but rather be rounded in your thinking and maintain a broad perspective”.
Deacons will continue to bring people together at various functions and events, and we look forward to welcoming you in the future.
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